ORLANDO – Who would have ever imagined that an American hero whose job is to protect lives would have his own life salvaged by a groundbreaking miracle of modern medicine?
We are talking about the incredible healing powers of a little white ball.
"I believe golf saved my life," says Chad Pfeifer, a veteran of the Army's 3rd Airborne Battalion who had his leg blown off in Iraq and is now trying to become a PGA Tour golfer.
Pfeifer is in Central Florida this week competing in the Diamond Resorts Invitational – one of the most star-studded celebrity golf tournaments in the world.
There will be active baseball MVPs there (see Justin Verlander and Josh Donaldson); there will be Major League Baseball legends there (see Reggie Jackson, Roger Clemens and the Hall-of-Fame Braves pitching staff of Greg Maddux, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine); there will be NFL Hall-of-Famers there (see Jerry Rice and Marcus Allen); and there will be entertainment heavyweights there (see Larry The Cable Guy and country music stars Jake Owen and Colt Ford).
But you ask any of the dozens of celebrities competing in the event Thursday, Friday and Saturday at the Golden Bear Club in Windermere and they'll tell you who the biggest star is. They'll tell you that if you're watching on Golf Channel or buying tickets to the event, there's one guy above all others whose gallery you should be in and whose autograph you should ask for:
The guy who gave his whole heart to America and his left leg to Iraq.
Says Glavine: "Seeing Chad out on the golf course is inspiration enough, but knowing he wants to someday play on the PGA Tour takes it to a whole new level. Knowing what his will is, I wouldn't bet against him. Guys like Chad are special. The sacrifices they make in putting themselves on the line for our country and knowing they'd do it again if the situation called for it, that's what separates them."
It's like Toby Keith once sang in his song "American Soldier":
"I will always do my duty, no matter what the price.
I've counted up the cost, I know the sacrifice.
Oh, and I don't want to die for you,
But if dying's asked of me,
I'll bear that cross with honor,
'Cause freedom don't come free."
Nobody knows this better than Chad Pfeifer, whose life nearly ended on April 12, 2007. That's when his patrol vehicle was destroyed by an improvised explosive device and Pfeifer, who lay on the ground bleeding, remembers thinking his leg was asleep because he couldn't feel it. And then he heard the medic tell the sergeant the words that ripped apart his psyche like the shrapnel tore apart his body: "Pfeifer's leg is gone."
When he was flown home and began rehabbing at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, he went through the psychological torture that all amputees endure. Why did this have to happen to him? How was he going to cope? Would he be able to get a job? Would a woman ever want to marry him?
"There were plenty of times when my emotions got the best of me," Chad admits. "I was really depressed with a lot of anxiety. I felt I didn't have anything to look forward to."
It was about this time that fellow soldier Christian Bagge, a double amputee, at the rehab hospital told him he needed to get out of his room and start doing something outdoors. He invited Chad, a former college baseball player, to come out to the driving range and hit some golf balls. At first Chad balked because he always thought, "Golf was a game for old men."
But, finally, he relented and walked unsteadily to the driving range on his new prosthetic. Halfway through the first bucket, he hit one of the balls on the sweet spot and it soared forever into the wild blue yonder.
"I was hooked right then and there," Chad says and laughs. "I've had the bug ever since."
Four years after hitting his first golf ball, he won the 2011 National Amputee Golf Championship. He finished fifth in the 2014 American Century Championship – the Super Bowl of celebrity golf tournaments in Lake Tahoe. He's also played some satellite tour events and has appeared on The Big Break – the critically acclaimed reality show on Golf Channel.
"Golf gave me a purpose when I needed one the most," says Chad, who is now married with two young sons. "It was the ultimate therapy for me. When I was depressed and trying to cope, golf allowed me to keep moving forward to see if I could get better and improve my score."
Mark Twain once said, "Golf is a good walk spoiled."
He was wrong.
When you're proudly pacing the fairways on a prosthetic leg and playing a game that gave you back your desire, direction and dreams, it is the most wonderful walk in the world.
The walk of life.
This article was written by Mike Bianchi from The Orlando Sentinel and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.