FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Fresno State's men's golf team has a new face on their coaching staff this year.
The volunteer assistant coach is also a full-time instructor pilot at the Air National Guard base in Fresno, home to the 144th Fighter Wing.
Ben Leestma is no stranger to the Mountain West golf scene.
The former Falcon was an Air Force All-American, 2-time All-Conference selection and holds the Academy record with 7 tournament wins.
"Now that I'm an 18-year lieutenant colonel, 2,000 hour F-15 pilot, I have time to think about how I've gotten to these points in my life. A lot of it now resonates with the mental side for me, having a strong mental game, a sharp tough mental game that can apply to flying fighter jets as well as participating and competing on the golf course," he says.
Leestma, a Houston native, began playing golf at a young age. His father David was an astronaut for NASA and was a part of three space missions in the 80s and 90s.
"Throughout that time he was working and training for missions, while also spending time with me on the golf course. He was able to share his love for golf with me at any early age 5 or 6. That's where I gained a passion for golf, and the flying aspect came in high school."
Leestma was hired by the national guard In Fresno in 2015 to be a part of the Griffins. The 144th fighter Wing provides a variety of homeland defense capabilities and is ready to deploy anywhere in the world in 72 hours. He credits his three children and wife who is from the Valley for supporting his career.
"I'm chasing a passion of mine just like I did when I was 22 years old - going to pilot training to fly jets which I'm still doing and very thankful to be able to serve my country in that capacity," he says.
Since moving to Fresno, Leestma has reconnected with Fresno State's Head men's golf coach Chad Spencer. The pair competed against each other in college. Coach Leestma now mentors the Bulldogs once a week traveling with the team when he's available.
"Just a calming voice for the guys, a guy that's been there, done that, he knows what these guys are going through but also having the pilot mentality and preparation and a few other things he's really good at and he's going to be able to add another dimension to our team," says Spencer.
"The commonality between flying fighters and performing on the athletic arena are very similar, the execution must be as high as it can be. After that you take time to debrief, figure out your mistakes and how you can do better next time."
Leestma is volunteering his team to help the Bulldogs succeed while also protecting and serving our country.
"Just excited to be a part of this team, an inclusive team, a team that makes sacrifices for each other. Which is very similar to what happens out here at the base. We Griffins bleed blue and yellow and now I'm learning to bleed red as well."
Good Sports: Ben Leestma - full-time instructor fighter pilot, part-time Fresno State Men's golf coach
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