04 Dec 2019 | Men's Australian Open |

'Surreal' experiences for All Abilities stars

by Golf Australia

Daphne Van Houter
Daphne Van Houter during a practice round.

For Sydney’s Geoff Nicholas, rubbing shoulders with the superstars of the sport has become almost commonplace. One of world golf’s amputee legends, he’s been a professional golfer for 27 years. But for Chad Pfeifer and Daphne van Houten, it’s something else.

American Pfeifer, who lost his left leg in the war in Iraq in 2007, is playing his first All Abilities Championship this week at The Australian. So is Dutchwoman van Houten, the first woman to make her way into the 12-person field who will play alongside the pros at the Australian Open in a 54-hole event.

Pfeifer was part of the interview panel on stage at the tournament cocktail party on Tuesday night with Sergio Garcia, a Masters winner, and Paul Casey, one of the best players in the world. “They were just normal guys, excited that I was a part of it,’’ said Pfeifer. “It was pretty surreal for me, just to be up on the stage with them and then have a little closest to the pin contest with them. That was a really cool experience.”

Out on the driving range, van Houten found herself “outnumbered’’ as the only woman in the field – either able-bodied or otherwise. She sought out Ernie Els for a photo opportunity. “I went on a picture with Ernie Els and that was a big dream for me to get on a picture with him. So, I’ve had a lot of good experiences and I hope a lot more this week,” she said.

The experience works two ways. Many of the professionals here for the Australian Open are interested in the All Abilities players; in particular how they manage their particular disabilities in a golfing context. Van Houten, for instance, has dealt with scoliosis, a spinal condition, since she was 12 years old. Nicholas and Pfeifer are both amputees.

“They (professionals) just come up to me, one congratulating me for being here and wishing me success throughout the week, but then the other kind of asked me, so how does it work with the prosthetic and golf swing?’’ said Pfeifer.

“So, I’ve been able to kind of show him how I swing and how I built my swing around the prosthetic. For them, the players of this calibre to come up to me, I guess they’re not really asking for advice, but they’re trying to figure out how we do it. It’s pretty cool. Like I said, players of this calibre, they’re asking how we golf. I’m sure they get it a thousand times over and over how they golf and they’re tips and secrets. It’s been a really cool experience for players like this to come up and ask us how we do it.”

Pfeifer made his way into the field by reaching a world No. 7 disability ranking. But as he pointed out, it is not just about trying to win. It’s about promoting the sport and the benefits that it can have for people with disabilities.

“Just being on property, walking, getting something to eat or going down to the range and then you see all these guys, the players you mentioned and just to be rubbing shoulders with them is amazing,’’ he said. “But this week is huge, not only for disabled golf, but for golf in general because I know all over the world people are trying to grow the sport and for us to be able to show off our talents, it’s an amazing opportunity for us as disabled players to show off our talents to the world.”

Nicholas put it succinctly. “I think a lot of the pros really admire is, because they know how tough the game is and I see it both ways. It’s one of the hardest games to do, but it’s probably one of the only games in the world where we can compete on the same playing field as a professional. There’s no other sport you can do that, which that’s a great plus for the game of golf.”

The Australian All Abilities Championship tees off on Friday at The Australian.

2019 AAAC field

  • Johan Kammerstad (SWE)

  • Brendan Lawlor (IRE)

  • Mike Browne (ENG)

  • Kurtis Barkley (CAN)

  • Adem Wahbi (BEL)

  • Daphne van Houten (NED)

  • Kenny Bontz (USA)

  • Chad Pfeifer (USA)

  • Geoff Nicholas (AUS)

  • Shane Luke (AUS)

  • Cameron Pollard (AUS)

  • Stephen Prior (AUS)

Read more information on the AAAC here.

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