A Select Group at the Maidstone Club

U.S. and Great Britain teams vie for Simpson Cup
Alex Happer, like his Simpson Cup opponents and teammates, suffered serious injuries while in the military. “We all stand together and support each other,” he said following Monday’s practice round. Jon M. Diat

While the world of professional golf will soon focus on the Ryder Cup competition in France, an event contested by teams from the United States and Great Britain, a similar event unfolded this week at the Maidstone Club in East Hampton.

It was not, however, your typical P.G.A. or local charity tournament, but one that matched a very select group of people who have shared and overcome very trying challenges far removed from the plush green fairways of a golf course.

The Simpson Cup, which annually brings together 13-player teams of injured servicemen from the U.S. and Great Britain to compete in a Ryder Cup format, teed off at Maidstone in the rain and wind Tuesday. The two-day event raises money for the On Course Foundation, a charitable organization that helps men and women injured or otherwise debilitated in the line of duty to rebuild their lives through golf.

In its seventh year, the Simpson Cup is the organization’s marquee event. It has been held at some of the most noted courses in the world here and abroad. Next year, it will be played at St. Andrew’s in Scotland, the sport’s birthplace.

Chad Pfeiffer, the U.S. team’s captain, who lost his left leg when the Humvee in which he was riding rolled over an improvised explosive device in Iraq in 2007, said, when questioned, that golf had saved his life, and added that “the Simpson Cup offers an amazing opportunity for everyone involved to be with other wounded veterans from both sides of the Atlantic. The camaraderie we develop helps all of us realize we aren’t alone in battling the issues that face us. The relationships that we form in these tournaments last a lifetime.”

Hari Budha-Magar, of Great Britain’s team, a Nepali who served with the U.K.’s 1st Battalion Royal Gurkha Rifles for 15 years, suffered life-threatening injuries caused by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan in 2010. The double above-the-knee amputee, who made his debut here, after being medically discharged in 2014 set about seeing what he was able to do despite having lost both legs. The very long and impressive 

list includes sky diving, alpine skiing, biathlon, archery, wheelchair table tennis, rugby, hockey, kayaking, javelin throwing, mountain climbing, and, ultimately, golf — “a great sport that has done wonders for my self-confidence.”

“I’m so proud,” he added, “to be a part of Team Great Britain and to be here at Maidstone.”

Budha-Magar, who lives in England now, made history last September by becoming the first double amputee to reach the 21,300-foot summit of Mera Peak in the Himalayas. He now has his sights set on scaling Everest, the world’s highest peak, a feat that no double amputee has ever attempted before.

“Climbing Everest is a dream and goal of mine,” he said. “I’m fully aware of the risks, but I know I can do this, and I’m looking forward to it.”

For Alex Happer of Team U.S.A., Maidstone has a special meaning, as he grew up about 50 miles away, in Medford. A scratch golfer, Happer served in the 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment in a variety of roles for four years.

“I am beyond honored to represent the United States, and to be part of such an amazing event and organization,” he said Monday afternoon following his practice round. “It’s also so special to play on a course like Maidstone — it’s the most beautiful course I’ve ever been on.”

Happer, who at 24 was the Simpson Cup’s youngest competitor, took up the game when he was 4 years old, hitting Wiffle balls in his backyard, and later honed his skills in Raleigh, N.C., to which the family moved after his father, a New York City detective and 9/11 first responder, retired. 

He led his high school team there to the state championships and won the A.A.U. North-South junior tournament, but owing in part to the memory of his father’s selfless service on 9/11, enlisted in the Army rather than accept college scholarship offers. 

A rifleman, grenadier, fire team leader, and commander’s radio telephone operator, Happer sustained a traumatic brain injury and severe spinal, hip, and ankle injuries during his deployment in Afghanistan, and later had post-traumatic stress disorder.

He left the Army two years ago and decided to return to the Carolinas, where he had experienced such early success in golf. “I could barely afford to buy new clubs, but the G.I. Bill helped pay off the costs of attending the Golf Academy of America in Myrtle Beach.”

There he met Shawn Whitmore, the On Course Foundation’s national program coordinator, and with Whitmore’s and the charity’s help next week he will begin work as an ass-

istant pro at the Trump National Doral Golf Club in Miami.

“It’s a dream come true. I can’t wait to start, but the Simpson Cup [which was to have ended yesterday] comes first. . . . Some of these guys have lost their legs or arms in battle, or have suffered in other ways, but we all stand together and support each other.”