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Albert W. Yancey
"Al" or " Bert"

Company L-2

6 Aug 193826 Aug 1994

Place of Death: Park City, UT

Interred in Oakland Cemetery
Tallahassee, FL

It’s an ordinary, 4-ton granite slab hauled in from the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon by Bob Butterfield. But the inscription on the accompanying plaque is extraordinary:

“Bert Yancey was a tenacious champion with unusual courage, determination, wit and wisdom. As a true professional, he exemplified persistence through hardship. He had an undying passion for preserving the history and integrity of golf. His quest for excellence remained remarkably intense and focused as he executed his final shot from this area.”

On this spot, Park Meadows Golf Club, Park City, Utah, in the heart of the Wasatch Mountains, far from his southern roots, Bert Yancey will be forever remembered.

“Al” to his classmates at West Point, “Bert” to the Professional Golfers’ Association members, Yancey “died with his cleats on” during a Senior PGA tournament in Park City August 26, 1994.

As a bright young cadet on the dean’s list at the United States Military Academy, West Point, New York, with a promising military career ahead, Al never dreamed his toughest battles would be on the golf course, fighting the greatest handicap a golfer could know, a medical illness that affected a vital function of his brain—the ability to concentrate. In 1960, Al was captain of the Army golf team and ranked right up there with Jack Nicklaus as one of the best golfers in the college ranks.

It was his last year at West Point when he returned from his summer activities to embark on Reorganization Week that something seemed to happen. Initially, everything seemed to be going smoothly, but by Tuesday it was evident Al was “not quite right.” He didn’t sleep and would rant about things that made no sense to anyone but him. Finally, he went to see the golf coach and the head psychiatrist and he was immediately taken to the West Point hospital and then to the US Army hospital at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. Al remained there for nine months, was honorably discharged, and that was the last most of us saw or heard of Al until he turned up as “Bert” on the professional golf circuit a few years later.

His illness went dormant after that and his pro career flourished until 1974. As Lanny Watkins said, “Yancey was a good pro.”

Yancey was a star in the late 60s and early 70s. In 13 seasons he won seven tournaments and $688,124. Few players were his match. Where Arnold Palmer lashed aggressively at the ball and Lee Trevino seemed the happy hacker, Yancey was a classicist with a club in his hand. His swing was a symphony, each movement majestic in its purity and simplicity. Putting, he was a thief working in daylight, stealing birdies from 20 feet when par was due. Yet, greatness eluded him.

Twice he finished third in the U. S. Open. Twice he was third in the Masters, once fourth. Bert tied for third once at the British Open. The Class of 1961 took great pride in his many golfing endeavors, not the least of which was winning the Bing Crosby Classic, almost winning the Master’s, and holding the best putting record on the PGA circuit for eleven years. But, we also read and heard about some problems he faced, as he had to deal with an illness most of us knew little about.

By the mid-1970s, Bert’s name started hitting the papers and news reports again, not for his golf prowess, but for a series of bizarre incidents for which he was at various times arrested, incarcerated, hospitalized, and put back into mental health institutions. That’s the problem being a celebrity—Bert couldn’t just hide. After an incident at LaGuardia airport in 1975, Bert was hospitalized. Dr. Jane Parker of Payne Whitney Hospital diagnosed his case as manic-depressive illness and put him on lithium. Bert said, “That woman saved my life.” For his life, Bert gave up his golf swing.

Thousands of people, who are diagnosed with manic-depressive illness, take lithium and function extraordinarily well. The limited side effects of the drug are no bother to them. A small dose produces a hand tremor so slight it is invisible. Nothing worse. For a golf pro, nothing is worse than a hand tremor, however slight. At the levels of Yancey’s game, four strokes a day is the difference between success and mediocrity. Once an elegant player, Yancey was seldom able to break 80. In 1976 he entered 26 events and missed 26 cuts. His behavior was increasingly erratic. He earned no money and quit the tour that winter and set up the Bert Yancey Classical School of Golf at Hilton Head.

It wasn’t until 1984, when doctors took him off lithium and began prescribing Tegretol, an anti-convulsive medication, that Bert stopped having episodes. Through it all he managed to make a decent living as a teaching pro at three South Carolina clubs, writing for a local newspaper and doing a daily radio show. But he missed the competition.

He began playing competitively again in 1986. His confidence was up. He put 30,000 miles on his car playing the Florida mini-tour. In November he played in the Tallahassee Open, a satellite event. Bert shot a 69 on the second day of the 36-hole event and won $500, his first tournament paycheck since 1975. Bert went on to join the PGA Senior Tour and could be found traveling around the country 40+ weeks a year competing with the likes of Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino and Jack Nicklaus. Bert could have earned a very comfortable living just teaching golf. The competitive fires still burned so he eagerly played each week, but victory on the Senior Tour eluded him.

Al (Bert) Yancey was a son, a father, a grandfather, a professional golfer, and a man who loved God. A true Renaissance man, he was a student, a teacher, a lecturer, a motivator, a poet, and an historian. He served on the President’s Commission on Hiring the Handicapped. He was a friend to thousands who admired his courage and his indomitable spirit. He earned the Mental Illness Medal of Honor by surviving 20 hospitalizations for an illness that may have robbed him of a win on the Senior PGA Tour.

Bert had a way with children, his own, those of his fellow playing pros and the many that he talked to in his lectures. He had the rare gift of being able to meet them on their level. His children have fond memories of made up games and stories he shared with them in addition to countless adventures. He made everything an adventure whether it was a car ride, dinner out or time together on the golf course. He never overlooked a "teachable moment." That lesson may have been how many balls to hit at the range, how many stars there were in the sky or something to do with pride and integrity. He saw things from a different angle than the rest of the world, which may be what his children miss most about him.

Still, Bert was a winner on and off the golf course. He would not give up or give in. He died on a private battlefield, trying one more time to get that little white ball in the hole. Bert did not believe in luck. He believed in hard work, discipline, and dedication. He played the game of mental illness the way he played the game of golf—never giving up, never quitting.

Bert formed Bogeys, Birdies & Bert, a group “for the education and support of depressive illnesses.” In an effort to spread the message on manic depression and mental illness, Bert put on seminars, golfing clinics, tournaments and other charitable events to raise money to treat illness, educate the public and to help allay the fears in many peoples’ minds about mental illness and what can be done to combat mental illness. Most of us tend to think of it as someone else’s problem and go out of our way to avoid having to deal with it.

From 1990 to 1994, Bert shared his love of life with more than 8,000 people in 50 cities across the country. When the crowds asked for more, he gave. He always stayed as long as his audience wanted him. And want him they did. His “one-hour” lectures sometimes stretched to four.

He always said, “Look forward, always try to do your best, eat right, exercise, tee it up, and go for the next hole. Don’t look back”. But we hope he looked back on November 21, 1994. We honored Bert for his courage and the inspiration he engendered with the First Annual Bert Yancey Memorial Golf Tournament in Augusta Georgia, one of his favorite golfing cities. Bert spoke on mental illness to over 500 people there in 1992. Jack Campbell, one of his roommates at West Point, and Dick Knoblock, a classmate at West Point, played in this initial tournament.

And yes, he got his name on a Senior Tour trophy. His friend Tom Weiskoff formally awarded Bert’s yearning for another win. On the Sunday following Bert’s death, Weiskoff won his first PGA Senior Tour championship. He dedicated the win to his friend Bert and asked that both their names be engraved on the trophy.

Bert is survived by three sons, Scott Yancey, Jeff Yancey and Charles Yancey, a daughter, Tracy Defina, four grandchildren, five sisters, Mary Stuart Hartman, Fran Robinson, Joyce Post, Betty Allen, Susan Perkins and his twin bother Bill Yancey.

Bogeys, Birdies & Bert continues his work today. If you desire to honor Bert, they can be contacted at:

Bogeys, Birdies & Bert
c/o Kay York
3005 Wood Fox Drive
Alvin, Texas 77511
(713) 449-7941

The Annual Bert Yancey Memorial Golf Tournament is held in the Augusta, GA area in the fall each year. You can honor Bert by playing in this tournament.

Bert Yancey Memorial Golf Tournament
c/o MHA of Greater Augusta, Inc.
1720 Central Avenue
Augusta, GA 30904
706) 736-6857

 

Remembrances:

Class Memorial Pages\L-2 Al Yancey.pdf


West Point Golf Team, with Al as we knew him, as the sixth man from the left: Coach Browne, Dick Daniel, Jim Taylor, Dave Teal, Rand Edelstein, Al Yancey, Billy Parks, Jim Jenz, Manly Parks, CPT Barber, OIC.


From l to r: Walter R. Browne, J.B.Taylor, Dick Daniels, Bill Parks, Al Yancey, Dave Teal, Rand Edelstein, Jim Jenz, Harry White, Larry Welsh, B.M.Parks and unsigned. Browne was the coach, Edelstein the team captain, unsigned (Captain R.E.Barber) was the officer representative. The above is exactly as each guy signed his name.

I visited the Yancey memoir with fond memories -- Al/Bert was one of my favorite Kaydets and my four kids LOVED him. Ours was the first team to beat Navy and win the Eastern Intercollegiates. The heart and soul of the team was the cows -- all 61ers."

Reb Barber, '51
OIC, Cadet Golf Team and
Math P to Class of 1961

Al and I were teammates on the golf team.  He was a wonderful friend and a great golfer.  We had a lot of fun practicing together and playing in matches around the country.  He was the most natural golfer any of us had ever met. 

Because of Al never losing a match in regular league play, we won the Easter Intercollegiate Championship in 1960 and attended the National Intercollegiate Tournament at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs.  The US Open was in Denver that year and we got to visit the tournament and meet Arnold Palmer, Sam Snead and Jack Nicklaus. 

We were all shocked when Al had his troubles on the plebe hike at the beginning of our first class (senior) year.  We visited him at Valley Forge while attending the Army Navy football game and later that year in Florida as he was recovering and getting ready to enter the pro tour.  Several of us attended tournaments that Al was playing in around the country. 

All of us are extremely proud to have known and played golf with Al.  We were so proud to see him do so well on the pro tour.  We followed his bouts with manic depression over the years, the discovery of medicines, his reentry to competitive golf on the senior tour and his untimely death. 

We miss him greatly and wish the Yancey family the best of everything. 

Dave Teal, USMA 1961 Golf Team

My most vivid memory of three years at West Point with Al Yancey (he in L-2 and I next door in K-2) was actually at Camp Buckner during Yearling summer. Al and I shared a double decker bunk, he on the upper as I recall. One weekend, the two of us and another two classmates decided to chance a game of poker using someone's chips, no money in sight. Our plan, in the unlikely event of a visit from the OIC, was to quickly hide the chips and deal a hand of bridge. As luck would have it, someone alerted to the arrival of the OIC. Al and I proceeded to implement the "hide the chips" plan while the other two spilt (you know who you are). We got about halfway through the hiding process when the OIC walked in and nabbed us with chips still on the table. The other two came back and did the right thing, admitting to joint responsibility. Twenty-two Area hours later, we had "paid our debt to the Corps" and learned our lesson.

My other memory of Al was his complete dedication to academics and the long hours he spent during Cow year mastering the heavy load of science courses. He rarely got to sleep before midnight. Later when he was on the tour, Georgia and I saw him a couple of times including dinner at our apartment in Tempe, Arizona after the Phoenix Open when I was finishing Grad school at ASU. Son Charlie was a little lad at that time (1966 I think). Al shared some stories that I had not heard and especially his great disappointment at not being able to graduate and become an Army officer which he said was his primary goal in life. A great friend and a great guy!

Gene Witherspoon

I had the opportunity to meet and spend time with Bert at a supper given by Pete and Barbara Gleichenhaus several years ago. He was in town [San Francisco] for a seniors golf event at Silverado in the Napa Valley and also gave some speeches regarding manic-depression treatment for, I believe, Baxter Labs who sponsored the speaking functions.  At the end of the evening, I took Bert and a friend to the airport.

Alan Lubke

Al Yancy provided the first public laugh I had after starting Beast Barracks. It happened only a few days after our arrival, and on an evening when we were in a lecture hall filling out travel forms under the direction of Firsties who seemed to know everything.

We were at the place in the form where we needed to state how we had traveled to West Point. One of the choices was “government” transportation. This caused a problem for Al. He raised his hand and asked a question.

In order to better understand what I am about to say, I must mention the fact that I knew nothing at the time about Al Yancy and a key part of my own background. Many would say I had led a dull sheltered life in a country East Tennessee setting. So when Al spoke, and the longer he spoke, it almost made me feel uptown.

First Al wanted to know if riding on a mail truck would be considered “government” transportation. This bewildered the firstie. He wanted to know what Al meant by riding on a mail truck. After several exchanges we learned Al had hitchhiked part of the way from his home in Florida to West Point. One of his rides was a rural mail carrier. Finally the confused firstie asked how far Al he had come on the mail truck. Al answered that he may have ridden 15 miles, but because of the loops on the mail route, he probably ended up only 5 miles from where he started. With this, there was wild laughter, at least wild for the setting.

I later learned Al was one of the nation’s top golfers for his age, having won all, or at least most, of the many golf tournaments available to him. I also did not know he would do so well academically. My feeling now is that Al saw after the first exchange with the firstie he could get a laugh and purposely put on the “back woodsy” front. He got the laugh and certainly made me feel good at the time.

While we were company mates, I never roomed with Al and did not know him as well as I did some of the others. I saw him often in front of the full-length mirror by the orderly room practicing his golf swing.

During “reorganization week” of our firstie year some of our classmates mentioned that Al had done some odd things and wanted my help to see that he went to the hospital to be checked. I was unaware of any problem, but they insisted, and Al went to the hospital. I never saw him again. It bothers me that I didn’t. It bothers me more that I neither made much of an effort to either see him or to find out what his problem had been.

A few years before his death, I learned Al was to play in a Chattanooga golf tournament.  I had a conference that weekend in Memphis. On my way home I stopped in Chattanooga, got the name of his motel and called, but he had just left. It was some months later that I learned the true nature of Al’s illness. How much easier would it have been for Al to endure his problems if I, and possibly others, had let him know we cared and given him the support he deserved? For my failures I apologize to his family.

 Andy Bennett

I remember a very cold and rainy day in March at West Point.  The golf team was huddled around the wood stove in the club house trying to keep warm with no thoughts of practicing golf.  Al entered with a big grin on his face and wondered why we were not playing.  He grabbed a couple of us and we played nine holes in the worst possible conditions.  We were frozen and soaked.  I must have shot a 50.  I think Al broke par.  Never have I met someone who loved the game so much.

Larry Welsh

The Mental Health and Mental Retardation Authority of Harris County

October 2001 (Just after September 11, 2001)

Pay tribute to a hero by being one

PGA pro Bert Yancey dealt with manic depression for most of his life. He died of a heart attack in 1994.
By Kay York

Symbolism. My dear friend, Bert Yancey, a former Professional Golf Association Tour professional who suffered with manic-depressive illness, usually wore a yellow ribbon on his shirt or visor. This immortal patriot attended West Point, but never had the opportunity to serve his country in the military. Bert experienced his first episode of manic depression during his senior year at the academy and was given an honorable medical discharge.

While Bert’s classmates valiantly fought and died in Vietnam, he served his country in an unusual way. He believed it was his duty to educate the public about mental illness, instead of ignoring or talking around sports writer’s questions when they asked why Bert wasn’t in Vietnam, too. During public lectures, he explained it was “OK to be mentally ill.” This great American hero founded his own anti-stigma campaign, long before grassroots groups organized to launch this dauntless effort.

I wonder how Bert would have been affected by the tragedy and devastation our country is currently experiencing? He often explained to audiences that worldwide events triggered some of his episodes, which included psychotic thoughts about good and evil. Thanks to medication, mental health professionals, family, and friends on the Tour, he would recover. Then he taught mental health consumers how they could recognize and respond to their own triggers.

Help Bert Yancey continue his good works. He believed in the American dream, and he dreamed that one day a cure would be found for mood disorders. Until then, educate your clients, colleagues, family and friends, while we, as a country, return to mental health. And watch for the signs. If you or someone you know needs support as we struggle to recover from these unspeakable acts of terrorism, refer them to a mental health professional. You can be a hero, too.

York is former president of the Depressive Manic-Depressive Association of Houston and Harris County, TX.

To Bert, a soul mate who continues to help me educate the public about overcoming a mental illness.

KBird

Headline: Bert Yancey learned to control mental illness
Publication Date: August 31, 1994
Source: Nashville Banner

Obituary: The golf world is a little less complete today. Bert Yancey is dead. Yancey died of a massive heart attack Friday at the age of 56, just minutes before he was to play the first round of the Franklin Quest Championship in Park City, Utah. He complained of chest pains while on the driving range and later suffered cardiac arrest at a first aid tent at Park Meadows Golf Club. Doctors at Park City Family Health and Emergency Center were unable to revive him.

No one enjoyed the game and appreciated being on tour more than Yancey. And with good reason.

Once one of the game's premier players seven victories in the mid-1960s to early '70s Yancey suddenly began to behave strangely.

Shortly after the 1974 season, his best ever, he was arrested while in Japan for a golf clinic. He had been in his hotel room when the urge to save the Orient from Communism came over him. He went for a walk at 3 a.m. He met a singing group and interpreted their stage name, The Temptations, to be something evil. So he picked a fight with them. One of them felled him with a Karate chop.

When Yancey got back to the hotel, he pulled down a Christmas tree in the lobby because it reminded him of the loss to evil he had just suffered. SHORTLY thereafter, he was committed to a mental hospital in Philadelphia for 21/2 months. It was the second time he had been in such an institution. The first time had been in 1960 during his junior year at the United State Military Academy, when he would go for days without sleep and do bizarre things like stand plebes against the wall and demand to know the meaning of truth.

In mid-1975, while returning from a tournament in Westchester, N.Y., he climbed a ladder inside LaGuardia Airport and began to order all the white people to one side of the room and all the black people to the other side. He was going to show them the foolishness of racial prejudice.

He was arrested and taken to a quiet room, where, he once explained, "I was spitting on a light bulb, thinking if I watched the saliva burn, the different colors and shapes, I could find the key to the cure for cancer."

From there it was off to another hospital, but this time it would be the turning point of his life. For it was there that Dr. Jane Parker diagnosed his illness as manic-depressive behavior. She immediately put him on lithium to control his mood swings.

Unfortunately, one of the side effects of lithium is slight tremors of the hands. Bert Yancey would never again be as good a golfer as he once was. But he also never would again be a wildman as long as he took his medication. He dropped off the PGA Tour for several years and began a golf school and clinics. HE joined the Senior Tour in 1988. He never won there. In fact, he had only one Top-10 finish in his Senior Tour career. He finished tied for 64th in the BellSouth Classic at Opryland's Springhouse Golf Club in June.

But winning was not his full intent, and he did not consider his playing on tour again a comeback.

"Comebacks are what I have done off the golf course," he once said. "This is nothing but pure fun. This is a vacation."

His greater message was to others with mental illness. ". . . a lot of people need to know you can have mental illness and still be a normal person doing your job," he said. "I have a responsibility now. Do you know how many kids in this country have manic-depressive illness? By being visible . . . I'm saying to those kids and everyone with manic-depressive illness `I've got it, too, but I'm shaking it as long as I stay on my medicine.' "

Tom Weiskopf was one of Yancey's best friends. When he heard of Yancey's death Friday, Weiskopf briefly considered withdrawing from the Franklin Quest Championship. But he knew Yancey would want him to play.

Sunday, like a man possessed, Weiskopf birdied 16, 17 and 18 to tie leader Dave Stockton, then won the tournament with a birdie on the first playoff hole.

"There's a reason why he played as good as he did coming in. He hadn't made one putt, let alone four in a row," Stockton said.

"I didn't win this thing," a teary-eyed Weiskopf said. "Bert made me win this. I loved him. I won this tournament because of him."

 

A golfer who seemed to have it all

Mental illness undermined the promising career of golden boy Bert Yancey.

  FRANK FITZPATRICK @philafitz

He had such a great name.

And, with his sweet swing, his broad shoulders, and his perfect hair and outfits, Bert Yancey looked as if he was born to golf.

I discovered Yancey while watching the 1967 Masters. The fact that he had been a professional at the Green Valley Country Club in Lafayette Hill sparked my interest, but there was something more.  

Everything about the 29-year-old bespoke a competence. He seemed as solid as one of Augusta National’s loblolly pines, playing with a perfect combination of determination, confidence, and poise.

“His posture,” said friend and fellow pro Kermit Zarley, “reminded me of a drill sergeant’s.”

Yancey wanted that Masters badly, so badly it turned out that he’d sculpted clay likenesses of Augusta’s greens to help him learn their secrets.

He eventually finished third, but golf had a new and appealing star.

This week at Augusta there was considerable speculation about Tiger Woods. Could the rusty superstar possibly end his deep and prolonged slump with a surprise victory on golf’s grandest stage?

As astonishing as a fifth Masters Title would have been for Woods, it wouldn’t compare to the two comebacks Bert Yancey managed.

A Florida native, Yancey was the captain of the golf team at West Point in 1960 when, along with Ohio State’s Jack Nicklaus, he was one of the college game’s most promising talents.

But during his senior year at the military academy, he began having difficulty sleeping and his behavior grew increasingly erratic.

Eventually, academy psychiatrists diagnosed a nervous breakdown   , and he was sent to the Valley Forge Military Hospital near Phoenixville. After nine months, during which he’d undergone shock therapy, Yancey was discharged from the hospital and the Army.

He returned home and resumed playing golf. In 1963, he came to this area to visit a friend who was an assistant pro at Philadelphia Country Club. Not long afterward, he got the job at Green Valley.

Yancey earned his Tour card and in 1966 won three tournaments — the Azalea Open in North Carolina and the Memphis and Portland Opens. He was the best putter in the game. In his Portland victory, he needed only 102 putts over 72 holes, a record-low total that stood for 11 years.

He would win seven tournaments in his PGA career and nearly $700,000. He finished   third again in the 1968 Masters, fourth a year later. In the 1968 U.S. Open, he set a 36-hole scoring record with a 135.

Yancey was by then a well-established and financially secure professional, though occasionally there were troubling signs: He inexplicably dropped out of the 1969 PGA despite making the cut, and he showed up late for the Sunday round of a tournament he led.

He began the 1974 season by shooting a record 61 at the Bob Hope Classic. But later that year, on an exhibition tour in Japan, his mental problems resurfaced.

According to Zarley, Yancey began ranting at a band in a Tokyo airport bar, loudly warning the group about the danger of rock-and-roll. PGA Tour commissioner Deane Beman flew to Japan, brought Yancey home, and   had him hospitalized.

There was more bizarre behavior during a round with Tom Weiskopf at the 1975 Westchester Classic. Afterward, en route home, he climbed atop a roof at LaGuardia Airport and, again according to Zarley, began preaching about the evils of racial prejudice.

Another well-publicized breakdown took place in 1977, the year his marriage ended.

Yancey then sought treatment at New York’s Payne-Whitney Institute. Manic-depression was diagnosed and lithium was prescribed. The drug eliminated the worst of his outbursts but caused his right hand to shake. His tour career was over.

In 1984, doctors substituted Tegretol for the lithium. The tremors ceased, and in 1987 he joined the Senior Tour. In his first event since 1976, Yancey was   able to joke about finishing in a tie for 52d.

“I’ve been in padded cells and straitjackets,” he said. “Believe me, this is better.”

While playing in a 1989 senior’s event in Chester County, Yancey told The Inquirer that he still had manic episodes, but that they were controllable.

“If I increase the medication and sleep well,” he said, “I’ve been able to contain any mania. And my golf has continued to get better.”

In 1994, as he practiced before the start of the Franklin Quest Championship in Park City, Utah, Yancey collapsed. A massive heart attack had killed him at 56.

Weiskopf, a close friend, vowed that he would win the Park City event for Yancey. When he did, he had the organizers engrave both his and Yancey’s names on the trophy.

For some reason, Yancey and his mental difficulties stuck with me. As a sportswriter, I yearned to write a profile of the golfer, so seemingly perfect and yet so flawed.

I never did. But before the 2014 Winter Olympics, I was in Park City to interview some American athletes. During my stay, I remembered Yancey’s death and set out to find Park Meadows Golf Club.

On that course’s practice range, near the site where the golfer collapsed, was an enormous marble slab. Atop it, was this inscription: “Bert Yancey was a tenacious champion with unusual courage, determination, wit and wisdom. As a true professional, he exemplified persistence through hardship. He had an undying passion for preserving the history and integrity of golf. His quest for excellence remained remarkably intense and focused as he executed his final shot from this area.”

 Bert Yancey did find excellence in golf. What he never really discovered was peace.

 ffitzpatrick@phillynews.com   @philafitz