Pfeifer, Villanueva Remain Tied for the Lead; Bish Leads Women’s Division by Seven Entering Final Round of 5th U.S. Disabled Open
By Craig Dolch
Chad Pfeifer splashes out of a bunker during Round 2 at PGA Golf Club.
It wouldn’t be difficult to predict the co-leaders after two rounds of the 5th United States Disabled Open at PGA Golf Club.
Just look for the last two winners.
Defending champion Eliseo Villanueva of Fayetteville, North Carolina, and 2021 Champion Chad Pfeifer of Boise, Idaho, have taken similar paths to the top of the leaderboard – both players have shot rounds of 71-73 on the Ryder Course to stand at 2-over 144 entering Wednesday’s final round. And neither player had a lot of highlights Tuesday, combining for one birdie (by Villanueva).
But someone has to shoot a lower score to beat them.
“It would be great to win again because this is always a strong field,” Pfeifer said. “It’s always nice to hoist a trophy, but it’s a lot more fun to see everyone and hang out.”
Pfeifer has become the dominant player in disabled golf, winning tournaments all over the world since he lost part of his left leg in 2007 while serving in the Army in Iraq. He’s won national amputee championships in South Africa, Japan and Australia among his many titles.
“I envisioned winning tournaments when I took up golf, but I never thought I could be this good,” Pfeifer said.
Pfeifer was given an exemption into a Korn Ferry Tour event and appeared on Golf Channel’s Big Break. Villanueva, 56, admits he’s got to be careful to take care of his own game and not watch Pfeifer’s.
“I’ve been following Chad since Big Break,” said Villanueva, who broke his left arm while serving in the Army that limits his mobility. “I just thought, ‘Wow, he’s a wounded soldier, and he’s out there playing with the pros and holding his own.’
“I tell my wife and kids, that’s my idol. He’s played a big part of motivating me to try to play better.”
Pfeifer and Villanueva have never played together in a tournament. They will be joined in the final group by Evan Mathias (72-145). Jeremy Bittner, who lost a final-round lead to Villanueva last year, is fourth after a second consecutive 73.
Bittner, who lost a part of his left leg when he was 4, knows he faces a tough task to overtake the leaders.
“This tournament is not that old, but it’s quickly been held in high regard with our community,” Bittner said. “You go to the banquet dinner and see the posters of the previous winners. Nobody is up there by accident. It’s not a fluke to win one of these things.”
Bailey Bish (90-179) of Tucson, Arizona, is the overall women’s leader with a seven-shot advantage over Kelsey Koch (93-186). Bish, who uses crutches on the course after suffering from dystonia (abnormal muscle tone), has never won an 18-hole disabled event.
“It would be incredible,” Bailey said. “Three years ago, I could swing a golf club only one time; it makes me emotional to think about how far I have come. It’s incredible to compete against people who have similar disabilities.”
Five-time PGA Tour winner Ken Green of West Palm Beach shot 73 and is eight shots behind the leaders. Green said he is struggling playing this week after his live-in caregiver passed away suddenly.
“I’m just not mentally sharp,” Green said. “It’s good to be out here; it’s the right thing to do. But I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you it sneaks into my thoughts.”
World Golf Hall of Famer Dennis Walters shot 82 and has been unable to duplicate the magic of winning the Seated Division in last year’s inaugural U.S. Adaptive Open at Pinehurst.
“The course played really tough,” Walters said. “The 82 was probably as high as I could have shot.”
The 54-hole event concludes Wednesday at PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie, Florida. The United States Disabled Open Championship is conducted by the US Disabled Golf Association with the PGA of America serving as Presenting Partner of the Championship.