Inspirational Bontz sets sights on PGA TOUR Champions
Just before winning his third straight National Amputee Golf Association championship in 2018, Kenny Bontz of Jumping Brook said his ultimate goal was qualifying for the PGA Tour Champions. A lofty goal for anyone who attempts to qualify, it is an especially impressive aspiration for the soon-to-be-50 year old Bontz who had his left leg amputated in 2006 after a long battle with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a form of cancer.
In mid-November, Bontz, the Tinton Falls native and resident of Neptune advanced towards realizing his dream when he competed in the first stage of PGA Champions Tour qualifying at TPC Tampa Bay in Lutz, Fla. Although he finished 59th in the field of 72, Bontz felt progress was made. He shot 77-81-78-80-316 for the four-day event.
“I’m not happy at all with my scores. The course played really long for me. It was 6,900 yards but there was no roll and a lot of wind. Those long pars fours of over 450 yards are like short par fives for me. They stretched it out pretty good and there seem to be water on every hole. It was a great learning experience and now I know what I have to work on, said Bontz.
”You can’t make a mistake out there. I learned that the hard way,” said Bontz, who said four double bogeys on the same par-3 hole cost him eight strokes. “I can get up and down on a lot of those long par fours. I began to press and made big mistakes instead of small mistakes. But I did have 12 birdies over the four days.”
His decision to turn professional was rather easy, which occurred this summer when he played in the Florida Open. “I noticed that the top four pros in the tournament would earn money and I thought I had a good chance to do it, but as it turned out, I was the fifth pro. I’ve yet to make any money, but I don’t notice much of a difference between being an amateur or a pro. Next summer, I’ll play in the Florida Open and see how I do. I want to challenge myself on longer courses.”
The professional status will not affect his play in the National Amputee Golf Association events, which welcomes both pros and amateurs.
The Neptune resident now spends half the year in Florida where he works with PGA professional Scott Downing at Orange County National Golf Center in Winter Garden, Fla.
“Scott (Downing) has revamped my whole golf swing. He’s helped me extend my short game. Now, I have the same movement in everything, particularly irons. I’ve learned how to lower the flight of my ball. Next, I need to get some more length in my driver,” said Bontz, who turns 50 on March 5, 2020.
“I’ll get back in the gym and get stronger. I can’t make a full rotation on my swing because of the leg, but I can get pretty close. In Q-School, I played with a guy who has played in several Champions Tour events and he said my game is good enough to compete, I just need to put more time in. I have to put that work in and take it from practice into tournament play.”
He has played in many NJSGA over the years. Bontz has advanced in match play at the NJSGA Mid-Amateur Championship, and qualified with partner Sam Gordon in the 2016 NJSGA Four-Ball Championship.
This past year, amputee golfers in the United States were able to take part in the World Ranking for Golfers with Disability (WR4GD), which is offered by the USGA and the R&A as a global service to the sport. The ranking is based on average performance in counting events over a rolling cycle of the previous 104 weeks which began in 2018.
American amputee golfers like Bontz were at a disadvantage, since their points only began accumulating in 2019. Bontz reached sixth place in the two-year WRG4D rankings in just one year as he won five tournaments and placed second and third in the other two events this past year.
Thanks to that high world ranking, Bontz will be one of 12 leading disabled golfers from six different countries to compete in the ISPS Handa Disabled Cup, to be contested Friday, Dec. 13, immediately following the Presidents Cup’s second session of play at The Royal Melbourne Golf Club in Australia.
In 2017, he teamed with 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, to win the World Cup of Disabled Golf in South Africa, Pfeifer, who competed in a PGA Tour web.com event in 2015, won the individual title while Bontz finished third in the world. As a captain’s pick, Pfeifer will also compete in the ISPS Handa Disabled Cup.
“When I moved down here to Florida for the winters two years ago, I devoted my life to doing this. I know where I started and I know where I’m at, and I’m nowhere near my ceiling.
“Winning the three national championships was the highlight of my career, but the Champions Tour is No. 1 on my bucket list. I had never been on a stage like that (at qualifying). I learned a lot, which is very valuable going forward.”