USDGA Championship Tees Off Monday at PGA Golf Club

April 19, 2024


Craig Dolch


Special for the USDGA

PORT ST. LUCIE – Chad Pfeifer knows he has a “target on his back” as the defending champion of the USDGA Championship that starts Monday at PGA Golf Club.

But that’s OK. He felt the same way last year when he won what was formerly known as the U.S. Disabled Golf Championship for the second time in the last three years.

The name of the six-year-old tournament has been changed. We’ll see if there’s different overall champion.

“I do kind of feel like I have a target on my back because I’m hoping to inspire others to try and beat me,” said Pfeifer, a 45-year-old Idaho resident who lost part of his right leg while serving in the Army in Iraq in 2007.

“Some people have told me, ‘If I can beat you, I’ve got a good shot at winning the tournament.’ I enjoy inspiring people to work on my game. I do feel like people are gunning for me, but I’m glad if it gets them to work on their game.”

Pfeifer won last year on the Ryder Course at PGA Golf Club despite not making a birdie during his final 36 holes. He made six of them in the first round and made enough pars in the final two rounds (32) to grind his way to a two-shot win over Jeremy Bittner at 4-over 217.

It would have been easy for Pfeifer to get frustrated about not making a birdie during the final two rounds, but that’s not his nature. His low-key nature belies how he’s playing that day.

“I’m sure some of that is through my military training,” Pfeifer said. “If I hit a bad shot, nobody is shooting at me or trying to blow me up.”

Pfeifer will be joined by three other defending champions in the 90-player field: Women’s champion Bailey Bish of Tucson, Ariz., Seated Division champion Dennis Walters of Jupiter and Senior champion Eliseo Vilanueva (the 2022 overall winner) of Fayetteville, N.C.

Walters, a World Golf Hall of Famer, won the Seated Division by 18 shots at 28-over. Walters also won the inaugural U.S. Adaptive Championship in 2022 that’s run by the USGA.

Bish, who suffers from dystonia on her right side and uses crutches to get around the course, beat Kelsey Koch by eight shots even though three years earlier she couldn’t even play nine holes because of her condition.

“This tournament will always have a special place in my heart because it was the first 54-hole tournament that I won,” Bish said. “The USDA runs an amazing event, the course is beautiful and the other participants and volunteers make it extra special.”

Other notables in the field include five-time PGA Tour winner Ken Green of West Palm Beach and Amy Bockerstette, a Phoenix native with Down syndrome who became known for making par alongside Gary Woodland in the Phoenix Open pro-am a few years ago.

Green won his five PGA Tour events in the mid-to-late-1980s and played on the 1989 U.S. Ryder Cup team. His life changed when he lost his right leg in an RV accident in 2009. At 65, he is hoping for one more victory.

“I definitely want to have that feeling one more time,” said Green, who finished tied for fourth last year. “But golf is a game of unknowns. Some days I play well, others it’s like I never touched a club. It all depends on how my body feels that day.”

The USDGA Championship is run by the U.S. Disabled Golf Association. The PGA of America is the Presenting Partner.