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Braden Thornberry from the University of Mississippi (left) holds up the replica F-35 trophy he earned as the winner of the fifth edition of the Patriot All-America Invitational held at The Wigwam in late December. Tom O’Malley (below) from JDM Partners, owners of The Wigwam, presents the ceremonial bag from the event to Brigadier General Scott L. Pleus from Luke Air Force Base.


Patriot grows in stature; Thornberry is fifth champ


By John Davis I


T BEGAN WITH A CONVERSATION at the Palmer Cup competition, when AGA executive director Ed Gowan and Greg Grost, executive


director of the Golf Coaches Association of America, agreed that it would be great to hold a national championship during the holidays that would also honor fallen soldiers. Details for the creation of the Patriot


All-America Golf Tournament quickly were hammered out, and five years later, the event at The Wigwam in Litchfield Park has far exceeded what they envisioned. “We thought we would have this nice


little event with All-America golfers,” Gowan said during the most recent event, which was played the last week of December. “This is well beyond what we thought would happen — light years beyond what we envisioned.” What sets it apart from other golf


events, and what has hastened its growth, is the patriotic element of the aptly- named tournament. The GCAA already had a close


relationship with the Folds of Honor 26 | AZ GOLF Insider | PREVIEW 2016


Foundation, which provides support to families of fallen and severely wounded soldiers and was eager to become part of the event. Gowan contacted JDM Partners, the


owners of The Wigwam, who jumped at the opportunity to be the hosts and have a close relationship with nearby Luke Air Force Base. PING also was quick to come on board as a sponsor. “There are several entities involved,”


Gowan said, “but it all came together very quickly because we all loved the concept and all wanted to be involved.” The event features 84 golfers, most of


whom are college All-Americans. Special invitations also are issued to one member from each U.S. military academy, Palmer Cup players and AJGA All-Americans. Each player carries a PING bag


with the name of a fallen or wounded soldier and receives a card with detailed information about them. When the competition ends, the bags are shipped back to the players’ schools, where they are auctioned to raise money in support of the Folds of Honor. “Five years ago, we really didn’t


know what this event would be beyond a golf tournament,” said Tom O’Malley,


chief operating officer of JDM Partners. “What it has become is far more important in terms of what happens off the golf course. It’s become the bowl game for college golfers.” An elaborate opening ceremony sets


the tone, and includes a demonstration by the Wings of Blue parachute team from the U.S. Air Force Academy. Players receive their golf bags at that ceremony. Other activities include trips to Luke,


where golfers explore combat-ready aircraft, talk with service members and spend time in flight simulators. By the end of the week, O’Malley said, nearly every golfer will request contact information for the families of the soldiers they represent. “My name was on one of those bags


the first year, so I know what it means,” Folds of Honor spokesperson Major Ed Pulido said. “It brings a humbleness but also a passion for why we need to put our military men and women first. That’s what this tournament is all about.” Kyle Kochevar of the University of


Virginia, who won the tournament in 2014 and is the first golfer to play in it four years, said the significance is not lost on the golfers. “The competition is great,” Kochevar said. “It’s some of the best college players in the country, throughout every division, but it’s really not about us. “It’s about soldiers and their families.


We’re playing for people who have lost a father or mother or son or daughter,


www.azgolf.org


JERI HAUGLAND


W. SCOTT MITCHELL PHOTOGRAPHY


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