Kenny Bontz insists he was not trying to be rude or anything.
When the amputee golfer from Neptune told anyone who would listen, including a reporter, that he and teammate Chad Pfeifer, the decorated U.S. Army veteran who lost part of his leg when an IED exploded under his vehicle in Iraq in 2007, were going to “destroy’’ the field at the World Cup of Disabled Golf last month in South Africa, he was merely stating a fact.
And then they went out and won by 42 shots, with Pfeifer, who competed in a PGA Tour web.com event in 2015, winning the individual title, while the 47-year-old Bontz, finished third in the world.
“I backed up my words,’’ he said. “It’s funny because I have a Mohawk haircut now, I have a bunch of tattoos on my arm so everyone looks at me as like the wild child out there, and I’m really one of the oldest guys out there. But I was just speaking from my heart, because that’s how much passion I have for this game.’’
That passion is evident in his incredible golfing journey
It was 11 years ago that Bontz made the decision to have his left leg removed above the knee after two decades of trying to maintain his active lifestyle on a limb ravaged by effects of Ewing’s Sarcoma, with a tumor in his left tibia discovered when he was a teenager.
Not only did it end his need for frequent surgeries and a growing dependence on pain killers, it set him up, along with the help of a high-tech prosthetic, to play the best golf of his life, highlighted by some of his recent performances.
“In South Africa, that was the strongest field I’ve ever seen,’’ he said. “They don’t call it amputee golf. It’s disabled golf, because there are guys who play with Muscular Dystrophy, and when they go out and shot 74, 75, it’s insane to watch them. These countries sent over their best players. I’ve never seen a field as deep as it was, with probably 30 players with 4 or 5 handicap or better.’’
Bontz has also been a Type-1 diabetic since he was 11 years old, trying to manage that disease. And cutting into the time he’s able to spend practicing and playing is a landscaping business that has required an increasing amount of his energy.
But prior to his departure for South Africa he fired a career-low round of 8-under-par 62 at a celebrity tournament in Florida, bogeying his first hole before bouncing back with nine birdies.
“I’ve been working with (Metedeconk National head pro) Brent Studer for a long time now, and we’re trying to work on getting more distance for me,’’ Bontz said. “`Brent thinks I hit it far enough, but instead of 8-iron I’d rather be hitting wedge into greens. But this is the best I’ve been hitting the ball in a long while.’’
Only time will tell how far it can take him in terms of achieving his goals within the game.
Bontz enjoys competing against able-bodied players. He has advanced in match play at the New Jersey State Golf Association Mid-Amateur Championship, and qualified with partner Sam Gordon for last year’s NJSGA Four-Ball Championship. He’s won six club championships at Jumping Brook Country Club in Neptune.
But the end-game for Bontz is perhaps the loftiest goal of all: competing on the PGA Tour’s Champions Tour, the top circuit on the planet for players over 50-years-old.
“My goal this year was to get my game to like a plus-2 or plus-3 handicap, because the Senior Tour is the goal for me,’’ he said.
“I wanted to try to play in the (New Jersey) state Open this year but my handicap index wasn’t low enough, and I had a conflict with the state Amateur while I was in South Africa. But I think I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in now.’’
What Bontz has witnessed first-hand has been the rise in the level of play in tournaments for disabled players. As his game has improved, so has the quality of the fields he competes against. Later this summer he’ll go for yet another Eastern Amputee title.
“It’s mindboggling. Some of these kids with one arm are hitting it 300, 320 yards, right down the pipe,’’ he said. “The sport has come a long way with this and watching these young kids come up now, like 15, to 20-years-old, and I’m just blown away at how talented these kids are. ‘’
And it’s that constant flow of young talent into the sport that continues to push Bontaz’s game to new heights.
Staff writer Stephen Edelson is an Asbury Park Press columnist: firstname.lastname@example.org