Georgia Tech University’s Noah Norton is the 2019 Patriot All-America Invitational champion, with 7 under par (203).
“This is awesome,” said Norton of the late-December event at the Wigwam in Litchfield Park.
“There are so many things that have gone well for us in the last year—my teammate Andy Ogletree won the U.S. Amateur. We have such a good team. I want to thank Bruce Heppler. He’s a great coach. He’s the man. I also want to thank my swing coach, Jay Berkowitz. He’s been there with me since day one.”
The Patriot All-America Invitational features PING All-Americans from the previous season in NCAA Divisions I, II and III, as well as All-Americans from the NAIA, NJCAA and AJGA ranks.
The 54-hole amateur event is the first of its kind to combine the talents of 84 nationally recognized players in a holiday bowl-like experience. It is the combined effort of the Arizona Golf Association, the Golf Coaches Association of America and the Wigwam Golf Resort in conjunction with the tournament’s beneficiary, the Folds of Honor Foundation.
Norton was presented with an Air Force-style trophy, bomber jacket and an American Flag that was flown both in an F-16 Fighting Falcon and F-35 Lightning II. He will also receive a sponsor exemption into the Korn Ferry Tour’s Wichita Open from June 20 to June 23 at Crestview Country Club in Wichita.
“I want to thank the West Valley Mavericks, the Wigwam, Arizona Golf Association, Golf Coaches Association and everyone who had a part in putting this tournament on,” Norton said after winning.
“There are so many people involved in making this happen and it shows. It makes it fun for us players and everyone to watch it. It’s such an experience. There are not many tournaments that play music and make it a lot of fun just to be out here. Whether it’s going good or bad—which I’ve had both over the three years I’ve been here. I just want to thank everybody who came out here to watch. I want to thank my parents because they support me no matter what, and get me to these events. This a true honor to be out here.”
The championship also honors military heroes. At the opening ceremony, each golfer receives and carries a commemorative PING golf bag that bears the name and branch of a fallen or wounded hero from their hometown or school. Additionally, all of the golfers have the opportunity to visit Luke Air Force Base. There, they meet with the general, fighter pilots and crew, and tour the base while participating in activities rarely seen by civilians.
During the tournament, players carry the bag and honor the soldier. Upon conclusion, the bags are shipped back to the player’s school where they are auctioned off with the proceeds benefiting the Folds of Honor charity.
Norton honored Army 1st Sgt. Michael S. Curry, 37, of Dania Beach, Florida. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment (Airborne), 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team based in Vicenza, Italy and served during Operation Enduring Freedom. On July 23, 2007, Curry and three other soldiers were killed when an improvised explosive device detonated near their vehicle in Sarobi District, Afghanistan.
A 1987 Hollywood Hills High School graduate, Curry enlisted in the Army immediately thereafter. He was based in Italy for most of his career. He fought in the Gulf War and was part of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, where is served for 14 months. His awards and decorations include Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Meritorious Service medal, Army Commendation medal, Army Achievement medal and Master Combat Parachutist’s badge.
“He made it his life,” said his uncle, Volusia County Judge Hubert Grimes. “He was the true flag bearer of our extended family from Fort Lauderdale to Atlanta.”
Tournament chairman Erik Rasmussen said it’s been a joy to watch the tournament grow.
“We started off slowly because of the weather, but it turned out we had sunshine and a great finish,” Rasmussen said. “We had five or six guys at the top of the leader board and an exciting finish to the end.
“It’s a lot of work, but it’s quite rewarding. It’s the right thing for our community in honoring those who sacrificed more than we have.”
For Rasmussen, chairing the tournament is meaningful.
“It helps to honor our fallen wounded soldiers, who probably don’t get much recognition,” Rasmussen said. “It helps me show my children how to be a giver. We’re teaching the next generation how to be a giver and to show respect and honor those who deserve it.”
Rasmussen’s children are 9- and 12-year-old boys.
Hosting the event was the West Valley Mavericks, a men’s nonprofit that aims to improve the quality of life for West Valley children and families.
The PGA runs the scoring and tournament, while the Golf Coaches Association of America provides the players.
“They identify the best players and help recruit the players for the event,” he said.
“People don’t recognize it really helps give perspective to these college golfers when they get to the Luke Air Force Base and go on the tour. They see what the servicemen and women do.”