From the Lesson Tee: Wounded Warriors and the Golf Swing

Chad Pfeifer in the classroom of Tralee Golf Club, Ireland.  Photo by Caroline Quinn.

I’m sitting on an Irish tour bus with a dozen wounded US veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who all experienced a serious battlefield injury.  The group includes amputees and sufferers of traumatic brain injuries and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, among other things.  Jim Estes, a golf pro from Maryland who teaches golf to injured veterans as part of their rehabilitation (and who shot 71 at Waterville in a three-club wind today!) is talking about fast hands, and loading, and spinal turn, but all I can think about is Chad Pfeifer, who I played golf with at Tralee yesterday.  In the first three holes of a Golf Digest sponsored tournament, Pfeifer won the long drive contest and the closest-to-the-pin prize on a 150-yard par three that required three-wood into a four-club wind blowing cold rain in our faces.

Pfeifer lost his left leg when an IED blew up his Humvee in Iraq. After spending 14 months in the hospital he took up golf and despite wearing a prosthetic leg he is the current armed forces golf champion and carries a handicap of, well, zero.  He’s a golf rock star.

And really, despite Jim Estes’ very obvious skills and insights as a teacher, to my mind Pfeifer is the top instructor on the bus.  Because he demonstrates with every effort just how many ways the swing can work– and most especially, in ways that we’ve never thought about.

Pfeifer has clearly learned the givens of physics and then figured out how to make those laws work best for the results he wants (length off the tee, height, accuracy, etc.) with the specific tools he has at hand– and one of the tools he’s missing happens to be his left leg.  Other of the wounded warriors I’m traveling with on this twelve-day outing have challenges such as missing limbs, impaired vision, balance issues and other of what the rest of us might call limitations, and specifically limitations that would affect any good golf swing.  So these players have learned to make the golf swings that are good for them.  Which is really what golf, at its green and windswept core, is all about

And like the best golf teachers, every one of the warriors offers subtle instruction every day, that has nothing at all to do with golf.


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