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Ready for Deployment, But First . . .

Maj. Jeff Kritsberg (left) and his dad, Butch, had a great time walking TPC Tampa Bay prior to Jeff's deployment that will eventually take him to Iraq.
Michael Heape

April 15, 2011

By Laury Livsey, PGA TOUR Staff

LUTZ, Fla.—It was seemingly appropriate that during the first round of the Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am, planes taking off from Tampa International Airport continually flew over TPC Tampa Bay.


It was a stark reminder of what’s in store for Jeff Kritsberg.


While all of the Champions Tour players here this week will also be getting out of town via air once this tournament concludes, some on their way home and many headed to Savannah, Ga., for the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf, Kritsberg is going to southwest Wyoming for two weeks.


After that? Iraq—for six months. 


So although Kritsberg—that’s Air Force Maj. Jeff Kritsberg—was not technically on R&R Friday at TPC Tampa Bay, he did plenty of relaxing anyway, playing a round of golf with World Golf Hall of Famer Hale Irwin and Leonard Thompson. Kritsberg was one of two amateurs playing alongside the Champions Tour players in the Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am.


As it often goes for amateurs, Kritsberg had plenty of memorable shots and some he would rather forget. 


“It was a little rough out there today,” said Kritsberg, who carries a 4 handicap. “On my first nine holes, I was very nervous, and I couldn’t remember how to hit a golf ball. I wasn’t hitting horrible shots; they were just bad enough that I double-bogeyed three holes in a row.


“There are some places out here,” he added, with a smile, “you can’t hit it, and I found those places.”


Still, Kritsberg was just happy to be inside the ropes. This year, the Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am extended one amateur exemption into the tournament to MacDill Air Force Base, with the active-duty member with the lowest score in a qualifying tournament earning the invite to the official 54-hole Champions Tour tournament. Kritsberg finished second at the base event behind a civilian. So Kritsberg, in the Air Force for 13 years, got the nod.


“To be honest, this is about as bad as he can play. He did not play well at all,” said Kritsberg’s caddie, Butch, who also doubles as Kritsberg’s dad. “Jeff was nervous all day long. He just didn’t find his swing.”


That didn’t stop both Kritsbergs from having, as Jeff said, “a blast,” with Dad on the bag—a role reversal from the way it was in 1983 at Misawa Air Base in Japan. That’s where Jeff learned the game as an 11-year-old, caddying for his dad. “He actually pulled my cart back then,” said Butch, retired from the Air Force after 20 years.


“Today was great. It was the highlight of his golf career, I’m sure, and of mine,” Butch said. “Just to be on his bag, it was fantastic.”


Father and son will spend two more days together at TPC Tampa Bay for the final two rounds of Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am, then Butch will return to his home in Syracuse, N.Y., and Kritsberg will travel to Camp Guernsey near Wheatland, Wyo., where he will go through combat-skills training.


“This is my first real-world deployment. I’ve had a couple of TDYs (temporary-duty assignments), but nothing more,” said Kritsberg, a communications specialist in the 6th Force Support Squadron.


“This is the first one where I’m taking armor and weapons and receiving combat pay—all that stuff. But I’m not thinking of the danger at all yet.”


Truthfully, Kritsberg was more worried Friday about beaning someone in the gallery off the tee. A big hitter who routinely bombs his drive 300-plus yards, he really only had one errant tee ball all day. That came on the ninth hole (his 18th), when he sprayed his drive right. “And I didn’t hit anybody. So that was good,” he laughed.


Asked about how his son’s life will change during the next six months, Butch said, “What’s going through his mind and what’s going through my mind are two completely different things. He’s very excited about it. He can’t wait to get [to Iraq], and he firmly believes it’s the right thing to be doing. Dad is nervous. Going in harm’s way, I don’t care if he is going to be in the International Zone (the heavily guarded and closed-off streets in Baghdad), he still has to get in there, and, yeah, it makes me nervous.”


Butch continued talking, knowing his emotions were starting to surface. The words were coming now, rather quickly, and he was hoping maybe by speaking he could hold back the tears. It didn’t work.


“I’m just very, very proud of him,” he said, his voice choking. “He’s almost 39, but he’ll always be my little boy.”


For Jeff Kritsberg, Irwin and Thompson couldn’t have been better partners. Both pros encouraged him and walked down the fairways chatting and sharing some laughs. On the par-4 fourth hole (the group’s 13th of the day), Kritsberg blasted his drive 70 yards past Irwin and Thompson’s shots, even though there was only about 20 yards difference between the pros’ and the amateurs’ tees. As Kritsberg’s ball cleared the lake and the bunkers on the right side, Irwin grinned and yelled, “Atta way, big boy.”


Three holes later, as Kritsberg again pulled out his driver, this time on a par 5, Thompson said, “All right, pardner. Take it right over that bunker, just like you did a few holes ago.”


Good military man that he is, Kritsberg obeyed his orders and flew his drive past the pros’. When he put his ball on the green in two, Irwin and Thompson both clapped, with their caddies joining in. Kritsberg went on to make birdie.


“Those young people who go over there and serve our country the way they do, I have nothing but the utmost respect for them.” Irwin said. “It was an honor to be with him today. He’s quite a nice player, but more importantly he’s a nice young man. I was pulling for him on every shot. I really wanted him to do well.”


So were the Greenes, Roger and Donna, of nearby Citrus Park. The couple walked all 18 holes with Kritsberg. Roger is also retired from the Air Force, and he has a regular Saturday game with Kritsberg and a several other friends. Naturally, Roger understands why his pal won’t be playing with the group Saturday—playing in a Champions Tour event being just a bit better offer. Of course Roger expects Kritsberg will also understand why he won’t be back in Kritsberg’s gallery Saturday. “I’ll be playing tomorrow, too,” Roger said.


As the round drew to a close, and after Kritsberg’s errant drive on the closing hole, he knocked his approach shot left and short of the green. He then flubbed his chip, his ball staying short and left. Kritsberg looked up, sighed but kept smiling. He then pitched to about two feet, settling for a bogey. It wasn’t his best sequence of shots, but Irwin didn’t seem to notice.


“He’s a winner in my book,” Irwin added, “and as far as I’m concerned, he didn’t hit a bad shot today.”

 

READ MORE ABOUT: Hale Irwin , Leonard Thompson , Military
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