Golfer poised to be top pro gave up career to join Army and help war-torn soldiers

For several years now, Captain Brad Zwetschke has been serving both God and Country as a United States Army Chaplain, providing emotional and spiritual support to soldiers on the front lines.

However, this was not always the case. Instead of beginning his journey in a seminary or basic training, Captain Zwetschke’s origins began on the putter’s green.

“From about six years old, I played competitive golf”, he told Popular Military. “I started doing well in national events and started working toward getting a scholarship for a Division I program. That was my goal, my life for a long time”. He said that while he “didn’t play that well in college”, he knew if he could make it to the pros he could play full-time doing what he loved and “make a couple checks” along the way.

He did play, mostly in the junior events and lower-level tours. His most famous event occurred nearly a quarter of a century ago in 1991, when Zwetschke missed a short putt in the U.S. Junior Amateur final to hand then-rookie Tiger Woods the first of his six consecutive USGA titles.

Tiger Woods, at 15, beat Brad Zwetschke at the 1991 U.S. Junior Amateur, becoming the youngest winner in the championship's history. (USGA/Rick Dole)
Tiger Woods, at 15, beat Brad Zwetschke at the 1991 U.S. Junior Amateur, becoming the youngest winner in the championship’s history. (USGA/Rick Dole)

Despite this, Zwetschke played on until around 2002, when his life took a sudden -albeit spiritual- turn.

“I was trying to qualify for the Australian Tour at the qualifying school in Brisbon, Australia”, Zwetschke said. “During this time, God began to capture my heart and deal with a lot of my past rebellion. I felt he was calling me to ‘care for his sheep’ and care for the lost. I definitely didn’t expect it and had no idea what to do. So, it was a struggle to transition but I put the clubs down.”

Even with his newfound calling, Zwetschke struggled to find his niche. “I wasn’t the best preacher or singer’, he admitted, ‘but I had a heart for the lost.” He bounced around from Chicago to New Orleans, trying to find his place.

When he did find his niche, he gave full credit to his wife Christina and her family. “Her father was an Army Chaplain. He said ‘Brad, you would be a great Chaplain, but if you go right now, you will go to war.’ So, I signed up. It was never on my radar, though,” said Zwetschke.

When asked what the requirements for the Chaplain Corps were, he laughed. “I met the requirements and never even knew it.”

Zwetschke began his career with the 1st Infantry Division’s 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, known as the “Rangers”(not affiliated with the 75th Ranger Regiment). Just back from their well-documented and brutal 15-month deployment during the Iraq “Surge”(which went from 2007-2008), Zwetschke found himself filling the shoes of the Chaplain who had gone with them.

“I don’t think I would have been able to personally handle what they went through. For the Surge guys, I focused more on the healing side of ministry.” He felt overwhelmed at times, as the queue for individuals seeking counsel was “lined up outside the door, day in and day out”. Later, he accompanied them on their second deployment.

Since then, Zwetschke is now on his eighth year and third unit, currently assigned to a military intelligence unit. However, he still misses his days back at 2-16. “Once you’ve been with those guys,’ he laughed, ‘they have a very deep bond.” He fondly recalled being asked to perform the marriage ceremony for the Battalion Command Sergeant Major. “It is rare for a chaplain to do that for a CSM.”

Zwetschke said that the biggest challenge is similar to what other caregivers face, something he referred to as “moral injury”- the deep wounds that are not visible. He struggled to carry the burdens that soldiers would unload on him and did everything in his power to handle the large workloads without wearing himself out of commission.

Despite this, he continues his mission in the military, citing his “immense gratitude” for those who serve as his motivation.

“These last eight years have been an incredible journey”, he said.

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  • Andy Wolf

    Andy Wolf is an Appalachian native who spent much of his youth and young adulthood overseas in search of combat, riches, and adventure- accruing decades of experience in military, corporate, first responder, journalistic and advisory roles. He resides in North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains with his K9 companion, Kiki.

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