Follow Dick Krapfl around for nine holes, and you notice that he approaches each shot the same as the last. After a quick look through a distance finder, he selects a club, walks up to the ball, gathers himself with a few small steps before planting his feet about shoulder-width apart, slowly bringing the club back about three-quarters of the way of a standard swing and whipping the ball low and most often straight down the fairway.
“Every time you watch him in the tee box, it’s the same thing,” said Randy Markus, a longtime playing partner. “It’s almost boring.”
Get close enough and you will hear him whispering a last-second word of advice to himself -- “Slow it down” or “All upper body, upper body.”
“He talks to himself, and he listens to what he says,” Markus said. “He does it every shot. So methodical at that. Every time it’s the same thing.”
“Whenever you talk golf -- especially to yourself -- you have to keep it in a positive frame,” Krapfl said. “You never look at the sand, at the water.”
And on occasion, Markus said, you will see a golfer on another hole point in Krapfl’s direction as he takes one of these swings, because he’s taking it with his one remaining arm.
“I know what they’re looking at, and I just smile,” Markus said.
On Wednesday afternoon, during a round with David Gaden and Markus, the other golfers who noticed Krapfl on the course just slowed down to say hi and ask about the upcoming National Amputee Golf Association championships, the international tournament that Krapfl is hosting on his home course. Tournament events are Monday through Friday at Wilderness Ridge.
“They don’t look at Dick as the one-armed guy,” Markus said. “They look at him as a good golfer.”
Markus can remember the first time he was paired with Krapfl perhaps 20 or more years ago at Highlands Golf Course. When he first saw Krapfl, he thought he might be a caddy.
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“I was kind of a cocky kid back then,” Markus said. “The first hole, he birdied, and I’m, like, ‘What is this guy all about?’”
Krapfl, a teacher at Schoo Middle School, lost his left arm after a car crash in the summer of 1973, when he was 20. He went on to placekick, and then play offensive line for Upper Iowa College, now known as Upper Iowa University. He got into golfing seriously about a dozen years after the crash and went on to coach golf at Lincoln Southeast High School for a few years.
“He’s in the right profession,” Markus said. “We need that guy in the school system.”
Krapfl talks openly about the crash. It took Markus about a decade to ask him about it, and they went the whole 18 at Yankee Hill discussing it, he said.
“What do you miss the most?” Markus said he asked him. “He says, ‘hugging kids.’”
The former golf coach can discuss in detail the differences in his golf swing as opposed to a two-armed player. The rough is difficult on amputee golfers, he said, because you can’t get as much torque on your swing as someone with two arms.
And then he’ll go out and beat them.
Last year, Krapfl’s handicap come tournament time was an eight. This year, he said it’s around a 10. On Wednesday, Krapfl birdied two holes out the gate -- including the Par 3 second hole that he aced on May 28 -- and left the course with a handful of quarters from his buddies at the end of their skins game.
“The guy’s a competitor, and he won’t let anyone off the hook,” said Markus, who plans to caddy for his friend this week. “He wants to win.”