At Warrior Open, Competition Only Half the Story

Retired Army Corporal Chad Pfeifer, right, hugs retired Army 1st Lieutenant Brian Donarski after clinching The Bush Center Warrior Open title Tuesday on the 18th green of the Las Colinas Country Club in Irving, Texas. (Photo Credit: Eric Brandner/USO)

Chad Pfeifer was moved.

Backdropped by his peers and clutching the Warrior Open trophy, the Iraq veteran paused for just a second during victory speech to gather himself.

He’d won tournaments before, including this one just last year. Pfeifer is “that guy”: the one who picks up a golf club one day and is regularly flirting with even par a few years later while others spend their lives trying to break 90.

But none of that mattered at this moment. There’s just something different about reaching the mountaintop in front of your peers.

Twenty-two veterans—all of whom suffered severe injuries fighting for their country and lived to tell about it—took the course for two days this week at The Bush Center Warrior Open at the Las Colinas Country Club outside Dallas. The USO played a big support role during the three-day event, hosting a military village and providing free meals for military families.

Pfeifer was indeed the star, taking home the trophy and even carding a hole-in-one in front of former President George W. Bush. But all 22 men left with new bonds that may never be broken.

“All the participants of this year’s tournament and last year’s … continue to be an inspiration for me,” Pfeifer said. “That’s what I take away from the tournament. Getting the win is amazing, but at the same time, seeing these guys do what they do, fighting through the pain and just being able to enjoy golf on this type of level, it’s really special.”

Pfeifer’s golf skills were brought to light by a horrifying turn of events. His vehicle rolled over a pressure-plate improvised explosive device while deployed to Iraq in 2007. His blast injures resulted in the amputation of his left leg above the knee.

The now-retired Army corporal hadn’t played the game seriously before his injury, but his natural hand-eye coordination from his days as a junior college baseball player proved to be a great fit for the golf course.

“[Golf] got me doing stuff outdoors and it provides a great tool for balance and being able to walk with a prosthetic,” he said.

Four-plus years of golf later, Pfeifer holds a job at the Golf Club of Estrella in Goodyear, Arizona, and has two Warrior Open trophies on his mantle.

But that’s only half the story.

Army Corporal Chad Pfeifer, right, talks with Army 1st Lieutenant Brian Donarski after winning his second consecutive Bush Center Warrior Open on Tuesday at Las Colinas Country Club in Irving, Texas. (Photo Credit: Eric Brandner/USO)

The other half is epitomized by the man that put his arm around Pfeifer on the 18th green when the tournament was over, vowing to move to Arizona so he could play with Pfeifer every day.

Retired Army 1st Lieutenant Brian Donarski—known to everyone on the course as just “Ski”—may well have an indomitable spirit. A former Marine, Donarski was medically discharged from the Corps in 1998. He worked to rehabilitate himself and joined the Army in 2004, only to be hurt during Operation Iraqi Freedom, where he suffered a traumatic brain injury along with a host of other serious ailments after hitting an anti-tank mine. Despite his pain, Donarski was a beacon of positivity throughout the event, even in the end when he came up short of his goal of unseating the defending champ.

“Technically all of us probably shouldn’t be here right now,” said Donarski, who finished in second place, 15 strokes behind Pfeifer. “We’re all given a second chance, and we get to choose our own direction, and we’re choosing golf as our therapy to get better.”

Former President George W. Bush, center, and Warrior Open participants stand during the national anthem Monday at Las Colinas Country Club in Irving, Texas. (Photo Credit: Eric Brandner/USO)

The tournament’s host echoed the sentiment.

“If anybody feels self-pity, all they’ve got to do is look at these [men],” Bush said, flanked by all 22 competitors during the trophy presentation. “There’s no self-pity in this crowd.” - Eric Brandner, USO Director of Story Development

USO Military Village Draws a Crowd at Warrior Open in Texas

It was smiles, cheese steaks and a little bit of sweat under a bright blue Texas sky Monday as the USO opened its Military Village at The Bush Center’s Warrior Open just outside Dallas.

Trucks and tents lined the Las Colinas Country Club parking lot about 1,000 feet from the first tee, serving up both breakfast and a bevy of lunch options to military personnel and their families from around the region. Guests were treated to a 7-Eleven Slurpee station, an assortment of Blue Bunny ice cream, cheesesteaks from the All-American Beef Battalion and more delicious offerings from several other Texas establishments. All USO Military Village vendors donated both their time and food.

USO contingents from both Fort Hood and San Antonio made the trip up to Irving, Texas—just outside Dallas—brining troops with them and drawing veterans from around the region to watch 22 servicemen injured in the line of duty test their skills in a two-day golf tournament. – Eric Brandner, USO Director of Story Development

Free Better Than Ezra Concert on Military Appreciation Day

Better Than Ezra (Photo courtesy of Facebook)

Officials from the Constellation Energy Senior Players Championship and the USO of Metropolitan Washington recently announced that New Orleans rock band Better Than Ezra will help the tournament honor area military with a special musical appearance on Saturday, October 9, during Military Appreciation Day at the Champions Tour’s final major of the season.

The Constellation Energy Senior Players Championship is scheduled for Oct 5-10, 2010, at TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm in Potomac, MD.  As previously announced, complimentary admission to the championship is being offered to all fans for the entire week and includes the Better Than Ezra performance at the Birdies for the Brave Military Appreciation Concert presented by the USO of Metropolitan Washington.

Better Than Ezra, best known for their chart-topping hits “Good” and “Desperately Wanting,” will perform at a ceremony during Military Appreciation Day to salute military families.  The program, scheduled to begin at approximately 3 p.m. after play concludes, will take place on the stage adjacent to the 18th fairway and will include a color guard, national anthem singer, and military leadership.  Better Than Ezra will close the program with a special musical performance dedicated to the military and their families.

“We are delighted to, in conjunction with the PGA TOUR, have Better Than Ezra perform for both military families and golf fans at this year’s Championship,” said Elaine Rogers, President of the USO of Metropolitan Washington.  “We look forward to hosting them at TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm on October 9.”

For the third straight year, the Constellation Energy Senior Players Championship will offer hospitality to active, reserve and retired military and their dependents at the Birdies for the Brave Patriots’ Outpost made possible through the generous efforts Booz Allen Hamilton, located overlooking the 18th fairway.  The Birdies for the Brave Patriots’ Outpost provides complimentary food provided by Chick-fil-A, beverages and interactive activities.

For more information, please visit USO of Metropolitan Washington!

USO of North Carolina’s Golf Tournament and “Un-Valentine’s Day” Auction a Huge Success

On Friday, community leaders and golf enthusiasts converged at the Jacksonville Country Club for Marine Federal Credit Union's 16th annual golf tournament, a fundraiser supporting Hope for the Warriors and the USO. (Photo courtesy of Don Bryan/The Daily News)

Ten bachelors and bachelorettes – all current or former service members –  went on the auction block for a good cause: the USO of Jacksonville’s first “Un-Valentine’s Day” auction.  Winning bidders received a date and the Troops serving overseas will be recipients of care packages.

Even a local newscaster got in on the action!  As reported by Eyewitness News 9 in Charlotte, NC: “Nine On Your Side’s Arthur Mondale who served in Iraq in 2003, is an Air Force veteran who wound up on the auction block as well.  ‘It’s not about how much money you raise, because one dollar that we raise tonight is more than I had ten minutes before that,’ said USO of North Carolina Director John Falkenbury.  ‘It is about taking care of our men and women in uniform.’”

This auction, combined with a golf tournament held earlier in the week, netted $55,000 for USO programs.  JDNews.com covered the event, as “community leaders and golf enthusiasts converged at the Jacksonville Country Club for Marine Federal Credit Union’s 16th annual golf tournament, a fundraiser supporting Hope for the Warriors and the USO…Golfers came from as far away as Pittsburgh, Pa.; Charlotte; and Beaufort, S.C., to participate.

Retired Maj. Gen. Robert Dickerson, executive vice president of Marine Federal, said that the day’s turnout should change the minds of anyone who didn’t believe that the community cared for its wounded veterans.”

Job well done to all of those involved.  Check out the auction action in the video below!

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