By Spc. Michael Pfaff, 133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
Tikrit, Iraq – When his sixth grade teacher asked the class room to think about what they wanted to do when they grew, Cpt. Mark Flitton took this question very seriously. There are three things he wanted to do in life: join the military, fly planes, and play golf.
“I took it to heart and really studied what I wanted to do,” Flitton, the HHC company commander for the 445th Civil Affairs Battalion and Mount Vernon, Wash. native, explained. “My dad was retired Air Force, so obviously I wanted to be in the Air Force and fly planes. Our family was a golfing family, so golf had to be part of the equation. So, I decided I wanted to be in the military, fly planes, and play golf. Ever since the 6th grade, I never forgot my goals and pushed forward in my life to reach those goals.”
Flitton would eventually reach his goals, but not quite in the order he expected. Instead of joining the Air Force and becoming a pilot, he took up golf. And, he turned out to be pretty good at it.
Flitton’s started his golf career as a caddie. His family played golf, but as a child, he wasn’t allowed on the course as anything but a caddie.
“Dad didn’t like kids on the golf course because they never respected the grass, the people, and the game,” Flitton recalled. “So what happens when you tell a kid he can’t do something? He does the opposite. And, so I bought my first golf club at a garage sale for 25 cents.”
With his first golf club, Flitton spent hours on end in the pasture in back of his childhood home “banging balls” and picked up whatever he could from his time on the course caddying. Sometimes, he even snuck in a little golfing.
“I’d get to caddy for my parents once in a while and I would take my golf club and throw it in their bag,” Flitton mused. “While they were putting, I would take all the bags from the green to the tee and hit one ball.”
Flitton wouldn’t spend his entire golf career as a caddie though. Eventually, his father decided he was old enough, or maybe that he just respected the grass enough.
“One day, my dad said, ‘I’ll pick you up from school and we’ll play golf.’ I thought he meant I was going to caddy, but it turned out he thought I was ready to play, and off we went,” Flitton said. “We played nine holes and had to wait on the tenth tee. Two guys came up and asked if they could play along. My dad said sure and told me to go hit the ball. I went up, teed the ball, and ripped it over 240 yards.”
Flitton went on to become a professional golfer. He won his first four professional tournaments and made enough money to pay for his first year of college. He went on to win four more tournaments in the Florida Tour, the North Florida Tour, the North Georgia Open and the Hogan Tour and finished in the top 10 several times.
He finished college and decided to try the PGA Tour. To find out if the PGA Tour was the life he wanted to lead and if he could match the ability of the best in golf, he caddied for his cousin, Rex Caldwell, a PGA Tour golfer from 1972 to 1990, for six months.
Flitton then found himself a PGA Tour golfer, golfing with the likes of big names like Brad Faxon, Billy Andrea, Kenny Perry, and Paul Azinger.
With one of his life goals accomplished, Flitton decided it was time to try another; he bought a plane and got his license so he could travel to golf tournaments across the nation.
“One month after getting married, I flew from Seattle to Atlanta to play in an invitational tournament,” Flitton said. “My wife was impressed!”
He now owns a 1949 Cessna 170 that he bought in Canada a few years ago after the plane he flew to Atlanta had an engine failure.
After becoming a professional golfer and making enough money to buy his own plane, you’d think Flitton wouldn’t have stayed true to his 6th grade outline for his life. But, he still had one goal to accomplish: joining the military.
Flitton’s first plan for joining the military was the Air Force. He was in Air Force ROTC during college, but dropped out after two years because he was making more money playing golf than the Air Force was offering.
In 1995 though, Flitton found himself working as a head pro job at a golf course to be closer to his family. He realized soon though that he hated working in pro shops.
“I couldn’t imagine working behind a counter for 30 years of my life,” Flitton said. “I figured I’d better do something.”
So, he joined the Army Reserves. Not only did he accomplish his third goal, but he said the Reserves took his mind away from work and offered something exciting in his life.
Flitton applied what he had learned in his golfing career to become a successful soldier.
“I learned a ton of life evolving events playing golf that are so applicable to the Army,” he explained. “Like, when you’re four strokes down, with four holes to go, and you have ten dollars in your pocket and you’re 250 miles from home, you’d better play hard or I’ll be in the welfare line the next day. You learn to dig in and grind out what you have to do to survive.”
A few years later, the Army would send Flitton to Bosnia and when he came back, he said his putting was completely shot.
The military may have killed his putting game, but Flitton says he doesn’t regret joining one bit.
“I’m married and they love that I am in the military now and not playing golf,” Flitton said. “Yes, I’m deployed to Iraq for a year, but in the golf business I was always gone, traveling from tournament to tournament, always working on the weekends, always gone. The Army actually gives you 30 days of leave a year. And, they pay you for it!”
Golf is still part of Flitton’s life. He retires from the Reserves in eight years and plans to head for the Senior Tour.
“Senior Tour, baby!” Flitton said. “Five years from now, I’ll start playing more often and get into some good paying tournaments. My kids will be old enough to caddy and play so it will be time well spent with them and getting the game in shape. Who knows, maybe my kids will caddy for me enough they might want to play golf for a living. He already likes planes.”
Flitton accomplished the three goals he set out to accomplish in his life. Goals he had since as early as the sixth grade. But, even then he knew what those goals meant for him; they meant freedom.
“Pure freedom,” he said. “Golf gets you outside and you feel free from the walls closing in. Flying planes is the freedom to dance in the sky. And, the military is the freedom we give our country and the people we protect. It’s all about freedom, freedom to choose your future.”
Flitton said choosing your future is all about how much you want to put into it. For soldiers, or anyone for that matter, who have a dream of playing golf in the big time, Flitton’s advice is simple.
“Learn to putt,” he explained. “Anyone can learn to hit the ball 300 yards. It’s all in the short game.”