All Abilities players Geoff Nicholas, Daphne van Houten and Chad Pfeifer, Wednesday 4 December
MARK HAYES: Ladies and gentlemen, this is really special for us. It’s the second edition of the Australian All Abilities Championship, presented by ISPS Handa. Just to introduce the people on the panel here and also the chief organiser, Christian Hamilton in a second, but first on the left, Geoff Nicholas, you’re a regular around Australian golf circles, but a professional golfer for probably a little bit over 25-ish–
GEOFF NICHOLAS: 25 years.
MARK HAYES: Geoff’s playing in his second Australian All Abilities Championship. Daphne van Houten from the Netherlands, welcome along. An historic player for us, not only the first woman in the Australian All Abilities Championship, but the first female to play in 104 editions of the Australian Open, among the field. So, a really important player to us. Thank you. Welcome from the Netherlands and closest to me here, Chad Pfeifer from Boise Idaho. He’s got an amazing story, an ex-war veteran. They’re all happy to talk about the golf and I think about their experiences as well. If you have specific questions to the Tournament, I point you in Christian Hamilton’s direction. Christian’s the national inclusion manager for Golf Australia and also the chief organiser at this Tournament, as I say.
I’ll start off Geoff, if you don’t mind. Geoff Nicholas, you have had an amazing year. It’s taken you, since we last spoke at the Australian All Abilities Championship last year, golf has taken you in some crazy directions, hasn’t it?
GEOFF NICHOLAS: Firstly, we played the Etka Scottish Open, which was part of the All Abilities Championship and the following week I qualified for the Senior Open at Royal Lytham & St Annes. I became the first amputee to qualify for a major event. It was a bit daunting playing with all the old legends of golf, but it was such a great experience to be playing beside Tom Watson and Freddy Couples, those types of guys.
Q. Geoff, I’ve got one for you as well. As Hayesy said, you’ve been around the game for a long time. Did you ever envisage a day you’d be joined by people from all over the world playing in an event like this. I can’t imagine you would have ever seen that as a possibility?
GEOFF NICHOLAS: No. Actually, I played here in 1996 in the Australian Open and I’m back here in 2019 playing in this event, so it’s quite amazing. I played a lot of amputee golf in the late eighties and nineties in the US and it’s come so far. I think Christian Hamilton has done a great job to make it all inclusive for everyone. I think it’s bigger and better. It’s going to be bigger and better and I think it’s great because I think it’s going to help other athletes with a disability. They see us out there and it inspires them to do better, to try and compete on this circuit too.
Q. Daphne a question for you. As Mark said, obviously an historic thing. Are you feeling the pressure? It’s a big golf course. Adam Scott’s here, Sergio’s here, there are an awful lot of things going on. How are you feeling about the week coming up?
DAPHNE VAN HOUTEN: The pressure is getting more and more now, yeah. It’s starting on Friday and a bit of training now and if you see the big guys next to you, yeah, you can feel the pressure, yeah.
Q. I have the same question for you, I guess, Chad. It’s one thing to play a bit of golf, it’s another thing to play a bit of golf on the range on the golf course with Adam, Sergio and Ernie and run through the names. It’s amazing.
CHAD PFEIFER: Yeah, 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. 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. It’s so great, like they mentioned, for others to be able to see us on TV competing at an event such as the Australian Open is huge for disabled golf, and it’s great for golf in general. For everyone to be able to see us, it’s an amazing opportunity for PGA players and European players to see us as well. Hopefully they can see us have success on the course. There’s going to be a champion at the end of the week, but the entire week is going to be a lot bigger than crowing a champion for disabled golf and golf in general. It’s a huge week for us.
Q. I think like anybody who was at The Lakes last year for the inaugural event, I came away so impressed but also thinking what took the game so long to get us to this point where golfers with disabilities had a championship to play for. Is that a similar sentiment for you guys actually playing as well, why did we take so long to get to this point – to any of the three?
CHAD PFEIFER: I agree. There are certain pockets around the world that have big disabled golf tournaments, but there’s only been a few – this one last year and then again this year, that have kind of combined everybody in the world. The Scottish Open that Geoff competed in and other guys competed it, to put it on a national level or a world level is great for the game of golf. Mine, I guess, it wasn’t a matter of when, it was just who was going to organise it. So, for Christian and his team, Emirates Australian Open, to be open to events like this is huge and hopefully more tournaments catch on and you see the likes of us at more tournaments around the world.
DAPHNE VAN HOUTEN: think the same, of course. I’m only playing disabled for two years now, but there is a lot of improvement for the last two years and I hope there will be more. The first thing is do a good job, so well done.
GEOFF NICHOLAS: I think when I started playing in ’89, when I played in my first US Amputee, there was quite a lot of players and from there we just played an amputee tournament every year and from there it’s really grown. I think the last two or three years where it’s kicked the sport with Golf Australia, what they’ve done and made it all inclusive, it’s shown that a couple of tournaments to start with and then it’s going to keep growing and growing. I think that’s where I can see it going, which is great. It’s certainly come a long way since I was playing, that’s for sure, at the start of it.
Q. Daphne, can I ask you three questions in one. What inspired you to get into golf, first question?
DAPHNE VAN HOUTEN: I started playing when I was six, just because my parents did, that’s the main reason I started.
Q. The other question I have, have you played with or met Joost Luiten.
DAPHNE VAN HOUTEN: I never played with him, no. I’ve seen him play at the KLM Open and in other countries, but never played with him, no.
Q. Did your parents take you along to the KLM Open?
DAPHNE VAN HOUTEN: Yeah.
Q. Or any of the ladies tournaments?
DAPHNE VAN HOUTEN: Have they took me there?
Q. My last question, how inspiring was it to see Europe in the Solheim Cup this year? Is that something that inspires you?
DAPHNE VAN HOUTEN: It really is, yeah. I saw Anne van Dam play and it was really amazing to see. I’d like to stand there the same as Anne, but I don’t think I will get there, but it’s a big dream to get there, yeah.
Q. This one probably is more towards Daphne and Chad, because Geoff, you’ve experienced this kind of thing a lot, but have you had any cool experiences this week already of hitting on the range or practising with able bodied athletes and what’s that like?
CHAD PFEIFER: Yeah, like last night was an amazing opportunity for me at the welcome dinner at the bar last night. So, I was up on stage with Paul Casey and Sergio Garcia. They were just normal guys, excited that I was a part of it. 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.
Now I’ve had the chance to talk with a couple of guys, Mike Weir just earlier today, talking with them. So yes, being able to talk with guys and just kind of hang out with people here is pretty special.
Q. Have you had similar experiences on the range or at practice?
DAPHNE VAN HOUTEN: I was quite impressed on the range because I was a bit outnumbered, the only lady on the range and there were quite a lot of big guys there and 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.
Q. Just to that, do you find that the able bodied professionals are interested in what you do, are they watching you and talking to you, asking you about the issues that you have playing golf with the issues that you have?
CHAD PFEIFER: I’ve had a few guys, actually a couple today because I wore shorts. They 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. 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.
Q. My question is for all of you. It’s a pretty impressive field this year for us. Is there anyone in particular that you’re starstruck by, you really want to meet, kind of I’m in the same field as these guys? Is there anyone in particular?
CHAD PFEIFER: For me there’s quite a few of them. I got to see Adam Scott and Sergio just in here before us and then we see Ernie Els. When I started to play competitively, I read Nick O’Hern’s Tour Mentality. I’m sponsored by Diamond Resorts and Nick lives down in Florida next to the CEO of Diamond Resorts, so Nick O’Hern actually came up to me and he’s like, hey tell Mike Flaskey hi, and I was like, okay. I read your book. I was a little starstruck because he came up, so it was a little kind of awkward, but it was a lot of fun to meet him and talk with him.
DAPHNE VAN HOUTEN: For me, like I said, Ernie Els is a big one and I think the other one, Paul Casey. I think he’s a really good player and I’d like to see him play. I think the All Abilities players, of course. I’m playing with you tomorrow, I guess.
GEOFF NICHOLAS: Friday.
DAPHNE VAN HOUTEN: Friday, sorry, and I’d like to see him play too.
GEOFF NICHOLAS: Probably my heroes were Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus going back, and I experienced that at the Senior Open this year with Tom Watson and all those guys there. It was quite amazing. He’d planned his last Major to play in the same field, that was something special. It’s just great. I think because I’ve played professionally and in the disabled side of it, 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.
Q. I think one of the things that struck me last year, Geoff, if you don’t mind – you guys can talk to it too – is that it’s not just the championship, it’s legitimately world class golf and we saw Johan in the final round last year. She was 73 and better than half the filed in the able bodied competition. Do you like blowing people’s minds with how good the golf is, actual golf and unhanding us?
GEOFF NICHOLAS: This year at the Scottish Open, Brendan Lawlor from Ireland shot 71 and that was a pretty brutal course; that was long. He beat probably 20 or 30 players. He can play the game and last year Johan. I shot a par in the qualifying for the Senior Open. On our day, we can all shoot good scores. It’s probably not about good scores, it’s just getting the game out there, showing what we can do. I think that’s the big thing, someone out there sitting down that’s had an accident, they can see us, what we do and I think that might inspire them a little bit.
Q. I’m going to ask you one bias question – are you really proud that Australia is leading the way here?
GEOFF NICHOLAS: Yeah, I really am yeah. Christian Hamilton has done a great job with Australia. The last two years has been terrific. With the World Cup last year plus this year the President’s Cup, I think it’s great to see Australia at the forefront of all this activity.
Q. I’ve got one last one for you Chad if you don’t mind. Last year we had had Etka rankings, this year we’ve got World Disability rankings, that’s a massively important step towards the Paralympics. Is that something that’s on your mind?
CHAD PFEIFER: Yeah, I think so. I think any disabled player wants to see golf in the Paralympics. That was obviously a huge step, getting on the same level as far as the ranking and the classification levels for disabled golf. Honestly, me just being here, since the US has kind of just been introduced to the ranking system in the last – it was a year ago this week and it kind of was announced. So yeah, in less than a year, for me to see Americans and Canadians, people from all over the world climb the ranking system, it’s been huge in that effort, in particular for the Paralympics is again just something that’s great for the game of golf.
Hopefully we can get golf in the Paralympics and it’ll be another platform that we can use golf to reach out to players across the world and show them that no matter what you go through in life, you can always go out and enjoy golf. The world ranking gives you something to work for if you want to play competitively.
MARK HAYES: Thank you to all our athletes. We really wish you the best of luck and have a great experience this week. The Tournament starts on Friday and goes Saturday and Sunday, 54 holes – it’s awesome. Get out there and watch it.