November 2, 2012

Where Most Golfers Look To Save Par, Kitto Saved A Life

A hero stands on the 18th green, lining up his birdie putt. He isn't a hero yet but he is about to become one. A coach standing just off the green begins to choke. Our hero drops his putter and rushes to his aid, successfully performing the Heimlich maneuver and saving his life.

This is the story that came out of the Northwest Conference Fall Classic on Sunday. Puget Sound junior Matt Kitto wasn't the medalist nor did he lead his team to the title, but he was the hero of the day as he rushed to the aid of George Fox's head coach Matt Beck.

But Kitto will be the last person to admit that he did anything heroic, much less out of the ordinary.

"It wasn't like I did anything special," Kitto modestly stated. "His wife and all the other coaches were coming over to help. I just happened to get there first. I'm not a hero by any stretch of the imagination."

Beck has differing thoughts on the incident and the value of Kitto's presence at that exact moment.

"I think what Matt has to remember is that he's the big deal," said Beck of Kitto's heroic actions. "If he hadn't done what he did, then I would be the big deal."

But don't call Kitto a hero. He'll debate you all day on that one.

"I think that anyone that would have been in my situation would have gone over to help," Kitto later said. "I think that if I was ever in a situation like that, I wouldn't be surprised if someone helped me. I just happened to be closest there and if he feels like I helped him, that's great."

Kitto approached the 18th green excited for a birdie opportunity that had eluded him so far in the second round of the NWC Fall Classic. Before he could take his putt, he stepped away to save Beck's life.

Beck was eating when a piece of food lodged in his throat as he talked to his wife. When he began to choke, his wife immediately began the Heimlich but was unsuccessful. Kitto calmly walked up and asked to take over, according to Beck.

"The calmness in his voice is one of the distinct things that I remember," Beck recollected about the moment he would rather forget. "He just got in there and as hard as he could he just continued to (perform the Heimlich). You see it in the movies with a couple of squeezes and things come flying out but he must have squeezed me about seven or eight times."

After the struggle, Kitto was finally able to dislodge the food stuck in Beck's throat and Beck was able to catch his breath and sit back down in the golf cart that he had occupied when he began to choke.

Luckily for Beck, Kitto had to get First Aid and CPR certified as part of his summer internship with American Junior Golf Association and knew exactly what to do in this particular situation, which usually incites panic.

"I learned a lot of things in my internship that I never thought that I would have to use. There have been a couple times that I already used a couple of the little things that I learned how to do," Kitto said about the value of his internship. "There are so many things that happen in life that you just never know when you are going to need something that seem inconsequential at another time."

After this out-of-the-ordinary event, Kitto came back on to the green and two-putted to make par. It was just the seventh hole of the day for Kitto and his group that consisted of golfers from Pacific Lutheran and Whitworth, as his group started the day on hole 12 in a shotgun start.

Surely, an incident of this magnitude would affect the rest of the day as the already frustrated Kitto still had 11 holes to go. However, Kitto's modest view of his extraordinary actions helped him regain his concentration and help the Loggers to a second-place finish as a team.

"I just really tried to play golf. I'm glad I helped someone but I wasn't thinking about it at all," Kitto explained about his mindset after performing the Heimlich.

"He put his hand on my shoulder and said, 'Are you okay?' and I said, "Ya" and as if nothing had happened, he walked back up and continued his round," added Beck. "He is an amazingly humble guy. His demeanor was so calm."

As he walked back on to the green, Kitto remembers his fellow golfers shaking his hand but not much more was mentioned through the final 11 holes of the incident on the 18th. His humble demeanor allowed himself and his fellow golfers to just get back to concentrating on the hole at hand.

It was an otherwise forgettable tournament for Kitto to wrap up a forgettable fall. Kitto, an All-NWC performer in 2011-12, finished 26th in the tournament and was 13-over par. The Loggers placed second as a team but came into the tournament as back-to-back champions of the event.

Kitto says the second-place finish has only motivated the team to train harder this winter than they have in past years and work that much harder to try and bring the NWC title back to Puget Sound.

For Kitto, the events that transpired on Sunday had just a little more meaning.

"I certainly remember it very vividly. It kind of puts things in perspective. I was frustrated with golf at that time. It puts everything in perspective that there are a lot of things more important than golf. There are a lot of things, at that time, that I was frustrated about that really weren't worth being frustrated about. There are bigger things in life than one golf tournament."