Written by Phil Cerroni
By Jess Paniszczyn
Twenty two wounded warriors from around the United States competed in the Warrior Open, hosted by The George W. Bush Presidential Center at the Las Colinas Country Club on Sep. 24-25.
President Bush offered a few words to open the tournament.
“Thank you all very much for coming out to witness good golf and a celebration of patriotism, courage and sacrifice,” President Bush said. “I wish all the players the very best, and I am looking forward to presenting the trophy to the best golfer. If we had to give a trophy to the best person, everybody is a winner here. Let’s play golf.”
Among the spectators were 24 students who have been learning golf through the Front Nine and The First Tee in partnership with the B.I.G. D.O.G.S. Youth Organization and the Irving Family YMCA.
“This tournament is an opportunity to expose these kids to new things like seeing former President Bush,” said A.D. Jenkins, president of the B.I.G. D.O.G.S. “This is also an opportunity for the kids to be around some of the great people who have served our country. Even with the limitations the players face, they still overcome and do great things in life such as playing golf. In many ways, they are not limited at all. They can do just as much as anyone else can.
“It is a good idea to expose these kids to this as early as possible. I wish I had this opportunity when I was growing up. This is something students will never forget as long as they live.”
Last year’s tournament’s second place player, Michael Stafford, Ret. Sgt. Army National Guard, was looking forward to challenging once again for first place.
“It is an honor to be here and to be invited to this tournament,” Stafford said. “There are so few who are selected. To come back and challenge for this trophy is a big honor, but just being out here is just great.
“It’s good to be out here with these guys. We can all talk and relate, because we’ve all been there. We have similar stories, see each other and reunite. It is a good fellowship which makes us stronger just by being around each other.
“The people watching in the gallery make us feel like heroes. Very important people have taken their time out of their day to come here and see us play golf. We are not the PGA Tour. For this gallery to come out here is a big, big honor.”
John Faulkenberry, Army Ret., was a little intimidated by the idea of playing in front of such a large crowd of spectators.
“This event is incredible,” Faulkenberry said. “The President allows us to come play golf with him.
“You compete with other people who have gone through the same recovery process as you have. We have a common bond without even knowing each other. When you meet another player out here, it is almost like there is an instant friendship. Getting to compete against friends makes golf much more enjoyable. and it all just kind of brings us all together. It is pretty amazing.
“It is crazy that so many people came out to watch us play. It makes you nervous to the point where you are almost uncomfortable, but it is still enjoyable. It makes you think when every time you hit the ball there is someone watching. They have done a good job making this as real a tournament as possible.”
For the second year in a row, Corporal Chad Pfeifer, U.S. Army (Ret.), emerged as the tournament’s top golfer. CPL Pfeifer carded a final round of 73 (+2) that included a hole in one on the par 3 fourth hole. He was +3 for the tournament. First Lieutenant Brian "Ski" Donarski, U.S. Army (Ret.), finished second at +18 and MSGT Ken Gestring, U.S. Air Force (Ret.), finished third at +19.
"It really does mean a lot to us to have such great support here in America," Pfeifer said. "And I'm thankful President Bush saw my hole in one. To win the tournament again is really special."
Eleven of the competing warriors were returning competitors from the first Warrior Open and eleven competed for the first time, with the Air Force, Army, Marines and Navy represented.
Some information provided by the George W. Bush Institute.