STATELINE, Nev. — Who would have thought that a girl and a guy with one leg could beat a bunch of superstar athletes on the golf course? But after the first round of the American Century Celebrity Golf Championship it’s Chad Pfeifer — an Iraq War Veteran who uses a prosthetic left leg — in the lead with women’s golf legend Annika Sorenstam not far behind.
Pfiefer had most of left leg removed after running over an IED during active duty in Iraq. The former college baseball player was despondent thinking that he may never be able to play sports again but decided to give golf, a sport he once spurned, a shot.
It turns out, he’s pretty good at that too.
"There was a lot of nerves, that’s for sure," Pfeifer said. "Just tried to play my own game and just tried to play steady golf. I know doubles are no good, obviously. But as long as I could eliminate a lot of bogeys and just, if I can play par golf, I’ll make some birdies and hopefully don’t give any back with doubles."
Pfeifer, who is trying to become the first prosthetic user to play on the PGA Tour, opened up with a Stableford score of 24. He still doesn’t quite feel like he belongs; he’s not used to hearing people chant his name, and the fans thanking him for his service has caught him off guard a little bit.
But he’s playing like he belongs and getting the full celebrity experience.
"I played with (actor) Alfonso Ribeiro and he got me to do the Carlton dance," he said. "But, yeah, he’s definitely got more experience doing that than I do."
In her first tournament since retiring in 2008, Sorenstam finished the first round tied for fourth with a Stableford total of 21 (1-under 71). She finished ahead of both of her playing partners, former Denver broncos star QB and current GM John Elway and former Atlanta Braves pitcher John Smoltz, even while playing from the same tees.
"I played with Smoltz before, I knew that his ball would be launching by the time it passed mine," she said. "But for me it’s just not an issue. I do have longer clubs in (my bag). For me, I know I can play this course. I just got to play a little bit more relaxed tomorrow and find a feel around the greens. It’s hard to feel when you’re really tight."
Former NHL star Jeremy Roenick and former Washington Redskins QB Mark Rypien, both former winners of the event, are in solo second and third places with scores of 23 and 22.
Last year, Roenick produced one the most memorable moments of the tournament and he didn’t even have a club in his hand. He forced Elway to throw a pass to him and audibled the next play, running into the sand trap and diving for a fake touchdown. It wasn’t pretty, but he says he’s been working on his route-running.
Lucky for him, he’ll play the second round in a threesome with Pfeifer and his good friend, former quarterback Mark Rypien.
"I’m going to go vertical for something tomorrow," he said. "You know I’m going to."
Oh, you again?
Former NFL QB Billy Joe Tolliver has won the American Century Championship four times, but this year he’ll have to knock off Josh Scobee, a kryptonite of sorts for him. The Jacksonville Jaguars kicker belongs to the same golf club in Louisiana as Tolliver and recently beat him in the club’s tournament.
Scobee briefly held a lead in the first round but ended up finishing in a tie for seventh. Tolliver finished way below him, tied for 16th, and it seems as though Scobee, an ACC rookie, may have used the intimate knowledge of Edgewood shared by Tolliver against him.
"He gets to see me play, I get to see him play," Scobee said. "Nice of him to tout me like that. Now I’d like to go out and play a little better tomorrow and see what can happen later on."