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thedrifter
08-21-08, 09:22 AM
Published on Thursday, August 21, 2008
No-frills Marine a true amateur

Michael Graff

PINEHURST — He should have been tired. He’d flown across the country by himself, taken an hour-long taxi ride through a rainstorm, logged three nights of sleep in a strange house away from his wife and kids, and played three days of golf in the sun without a caddie.

And when it was done and he’d lost to a kid half his age, he was left standing deep in the woods, a few hundred yards from the clubhouse.

Take a break, Jason Bittick. Hop in the golf cart. Throw your clubs in the back and ride on back to the clubhouse.

“No, thanks,” he said, smiling. “I’ll walk.”

A Marine would.

So Bittick walked. He cut across the backside of the 18th green, into the parking lot, and out of the U.S. Amateur, just as content and at peace as when he walked into the thing.

Few people will remember Bittick’s name when this tournament ends. He’ll be on a plane this morning, back to California after his first-round exit in the match-play portion of the Amateur on Wednesday afternoon.

But he had a good time. And so did anyone who watched him.

In a field of all amateurs, he looked most amateur.

He refused to use a caddie. He walked Pinehurst No. 2 with his iPod blasting Linkin Park (he plays golf with the bass player back home).

His 3-wood head cover was a relic, a knitted sock with a floppy ball on top. After shots, he would use his towel, soiled in days-old dirt, to wipe his clubs and then his face. He carried his golf bag like a knapsack, club heads behind him. He tossed them on the ground like old newspapers before he addressed the ball.

And when he took a swing, boy, did he take a swing. A well-built man who looks like he could still complete a ruck run, Bittick brought the driver hard and heavy. He putted fast and carefree.

If he would have slowed down, maybe taken fewer chances, he might still be here today.

But if he would have slowed down, he wouldn’t have been being himself.

That’s what the Amateur is all about. No courtesy Lexuses in the parking lot. No agents. No big paychecks.

Just real golf, and real people.

“It’s not about money. It’s not about paying the mortgage. It’s just about bragging rights,” Bittick said.

We should wish the younger athletes here will one day take to Bittick’s message: It’s just a sport, not life and death.

Bittick served in the Marine Corps for three years, from 1989 to 1992. After retiring, he played golf professionally on various tours. Then in 2000, he started his own insurance company.

Now 40, he has a wife and two children, 7 and 5. He coaches high school golf as a part-time volunteer gig.

Whenever he starts to become comfortable with his success, he looks back to his military days. There aren’t any caddies in the Marines. He carried his own bag there, too.

Before he even made it to the plush Pinehurst Resort for this week’s tournament, he got another friendly reminder of his career roots.

His final connecting flight from California took him from Atlanta to Fayetteville. On the plane, he looked around at all the buzz cuts and anxious faces. On the ground, he watched them hug their moms, their sisters and their wives.

“It brought back a lot of memories,” he said. “That’s just 20 years ago with me. They were getting off the airplanes and seeing their loved ones. It just makes your heart melt, seeing all that again. It just really reminds you of what people are doing, the price they’re still paying. The toughest thing to do is stay away from your family. I could tell they were all really glad to be home.

“And, well, I can’t wait to be home.”

He’d walk there, if he had to.
Staff writer Michael N. Graff can be reached at graffm@fayobserver.com or 486-3591.

Ellie