Wounded veterans play golf for chance to represent US in Simpson Cup

sfastenau@beaufortgazette.comJune 5, 2014 

Chris McCoy needed a golf club but didn't know it yet.

After suffering through a sixth blast from an improvised explosive device in Iraq in 2005, McCoy's time as a U.S. Army medic was done. And his marriage and family life were headed the same direction.

He was homeless for six months, spent a lot of time in the house when he did return. He tried basketball, but with a torn ligament in his knee, kidney damage and nerve damage in his hands and feet, the physical demands were too much.

McCoy's wife told him to pick an outdoor activity and stick to it. He picked golf.

He had played golf in high school but hadn't played in eight years before his wife bought him a set of clubs on his birthday last May.

McCoy got the bug again, headed to his home course in Tampa, Fla., each morning at 7 a.m., his wife by his side the first six months and the course virtually empty, the way he liked it.

A neighbor who is a retired U.S. Marine told McCoy about the various golf organizations available to combat-wounded veterans. And that's how McCoy ended up at Dataw Island this week, finishing as low man at a qualifier for the Simpson Cup, a Ryder Cup-style event held in October that pits a team of wounded service members from the United States against their counterparts from Great Britain.

Competitors are all members of the On Course Foundation, a charity on both sides of the pond that supports injured service members through helping them find employment in the golf industry.

On Dataw Island's Cotton Dike course, 12 players competed for four remaining spots on the Simpson Cup team. In the 36-hole event, McCoy shot a handicap-adjusted 64-77-141. Shawn Whitmore, Chris Bowers and Andrew Bachelder rounded out the qualifiers.

Bachelder earned the final spot after winning a one-hole playoff with Vietnam veteran Joe Murphy.

"It's almost like a therapy for us -- it helps us relax, feel normal again, get back into the routine of just having fun again," said McCoy, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. "When I was in a funk, it was hard. And golf helped me get out of it.

A committee selected the other eight team members, including captain Chad Pfiefer, a 32-year-old Phoenix, Ariz., resident who lost his left leg 3 inches above the knee and plays to a scratch handicap.

Pfiefer didn't pick up the game until 2008, after returning from Iraq following an IED blast that cost him the leg. He became comfortable with the prosthetic, whittling his handicap from a 15 to less than 5 in a short time and eventually to 0. He won the Warrior Open three consecutive years to catch the eye of On Course Foundation programs director John McAfee.

Pfiefer played in the inaugural Simpson Cup, winning both of his matches at TPC Sawgrass.

"It's just a therapeutic sport, and with the handicap system, anyone can compete with anyone," said Pfiefer, a former college baseball player and Idaho native. "It's a level playing field, and you can be outdoors -- it gives you sense of release."

Great Britain won the first two Cups, the most recent held at Royal Lytham and St. Annes. The third annual event will be held in October at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md. The site has hosted three U.S. Opens and a PGA Championship.

This is the first year a qualifier has determined spots on the U.S. team. Dataw Island member Glenn Blackburn called McAfee and originally inquired about hosting the Simpson Cup, then asked if he had considered a qualifier.

McAfee was looking to institute a qualifier this year, visited Dataw Island a few weeks ago and accepted Blackburn's offer.

Many of the club's members volunteered for the event and carts of spectators filled the trees overlooking the 18th green as players finished.

"I think we'll be back here every year, if they'll have us," McAfee said. "The community here is unmatched, not only with the gorgeous surroundings and golf courses, but its beautiful people -- absolutely beautiful people that have welcomed us with open arms."

2014 Simpson Cup qualifiers

36-hole event at Dataw Island's Cotton Dike course

Scores adjusted by handicap

Chris McCoy 64-77-- 141

Shawn Whitmore 74-70--144

Chris Bowers 78-72-- 150

Andrew Bachelder 66-88-- 154 (won one-hole playoff for final spot)

Follow assistant sports editor Stephen Fastenau at twitter.com/IPBG_Stephen.

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