It came as no surprise to see Chad Pfeifer’s name at the top of the leaderboard, but it was ‘John Daly-lookalike’ Herman van Wyk from North West who set the cat among the pigeons in round one of the 2016 Nedbank SA Disabled Golf Open on Monday.
Two-time US National Amputee champion Pfeifer was among the favourites coming into the championship and the former US Army corporal lived up to his star billing with an opening one-over-par 72 at Zwartkop Country Club.
But instead of having defending champion Daniel Slabbert or two-time World One-Arm champion Reinard Schuhknecht in pursuit, Pfeifer has former champion Josh Williams from Canada and Van Wyk chasing his tail.
The 49-year-old from Hartebeespoort Dam reversed a couple of bogeys on the back nine with a birdie-birdie finish to lead the South African challenge on a three over 74.
Charl Theron from Stellenbosch is the next best-placed local on four over 75 and shares fourth with Spanish sensation Juan Postigo.
Manuel de los Santos from the Dominican Republic returned 76 to finish one shot clear of Martin Williams from the United Kingdom, while four-time champion Slabbert signed for an 80 after a costly eight at the par five 18th.
Schuhknecht finished in the bus at 10-over-par 81 alongside Robin Singh from KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng pair James Hourigan and Conrad Stoltz.
Van Wyk didn’t expect much in his debut in the South African Disabled Golf Association’s flagship event, but his golfing buddies in the North West Province would expect nothing less.
The burly golfer competed on the pro circuit in the nineties until he took back his amateur status in 2001. With a handicap that swung between plus five and plus two, Van Wyk was a reliable banker for the North West Golf Union at Mid-Amateur level until two years ago.
‘I broke my left ankle and was forced to undergo an amputation after complications set in,’ Van Wyk explained. ‘The day my new leg was fitted, I hit a golf ball to make sure the ankle would work for me.
‘I practiced a little every week and in December 2014, I played my first round of golf. It was the best feeling ever to hold a club in my hands again. The guys at Mooinooi Golf Club helped me to get started and I am playing off a seven handicap, but I only play four or five games a month. I didn’t have any expectations coming into the tournament.’
Van Wyk said he was dumbfounded to see his name behind Pfeifer’s on the leaderboard.
‘I had no idea I finished just two off the pace,’ he said. ‘You expect the internationals to do well and guys like Daniel and Reinard to dominate.
‘I didn’t expect to be in the mix, but when I dropped three shots on the back nine, it fired up that good old fighting spirit. I was pretty nervous to start, but now that I’m in it, I’m going all out.’
Pfeifer also turned two over, but surrounded a three-putt bogey at the 17th with birdies at 16 and 18.
The American is pursuing his golf of competing on the PGA Tour and made a lot of noise last year when he teed it up in the Boise Open on the Web.Com Tour. After moving to Dallas, Texas recently, he now competes on the Adams Tour.
‘It would mean a lot to me to win this week, because I love to compete,’ he said. ‘But I also love to raise awareness for disabled golf. I work with several charity organisations that help wounded soldiers transition back to civilian life, I have worked with the Special Olympics golf team and often speak to kids in the First Tee junior golf program.
‘I came out to South Africa to compete and raise awareness for SADGA, who does an amazing job in growing the game with their First Swing Programme. And I’m having a lot of fun. Wherever you have a bunch of disabled golfers, you are sure to find a lot of fun and laughter.’
Given Holose, a caddie at Keimouth Golf Club, leads the Deaf Medal Competition on 82, while First Swing Programme graduate Charles Williams is a close second on 84 alongside Dudley Roussouw.
Jabu Price Moore, a newcomer to the First Swing Programme, leads the U-23 Stable Ford Competition and the Les Autres Division 19-36 Handicaps on 37 points.
Garrett Slattery made 34 points to lead the Visually Impaired Division, 19-year-old Theron leads the Les Autres Medal and Schuhknecht tops the Medal Arm Division. ‘I only hit one green today and I three-stabbed, but watch out for me tomorrow,’ Schuhknecht said.
By Lali Stander