In the biography of Marine Sgt. Bradley W. Atwell, it was not the details of his brutal death in Afghanistan that first got the attention of San Diego golfer Tyler Moore. It was Atwell’s age. He was only 27.
“Such a young age when he passed,” Moore said. “And I think about that. I’m like, ‘Wow, when he died he was just a little bit older than I am.’ And I’ve just got to thank the Lord every day that I’m living, because that could be me any day.”
Moore’s life is blissfully different. He is 19 and a freshman on the men’s golf team at the University of Arizona. The former San Diego Junior Golf Association standout has been among the best players in the country for his age group and thus was invited to compete in The Patriot All-America Invitational that begins Tuesday at the Wigwam Resort in Litchfield, Ariz.
Beyond bringing 84 of the top college golfers together for 54 holes, the event pairs each of them with the memory of a fallen military hero. The red, white and blue bag of each player bears the name, rank and service of a fallen soldier.
Bradley Atwell is Moore’s designated hero.
A native of Kokomo, Ind., Atwell was based out of the Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma, Ariz., and was assigned to the Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 13.
His unit was serving in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan when 15 insurgents breached the British-operated base, Camp Bastion, on the night of Sept. 15, 2012, using small arms, suicide vests and rocket grenade fire.
Atwell was an aviation electrician who didn’t usually see combat. He was not wearing a helmet or vest when he rushed to help his fellow Marines defend their valuable jets, worth $25 million apiece. The attack ended with one other death – Lt. Col. Christopher K. Raible, who engaged the Taliban fighters with only a handgun. A military spokesman said both men died as the result of rocket fire.
Atwell’s actions earned him the Purple Heart and Navy Commendation Medal.
Nine U.S. personnel were injured in the attack and the insurgents – 14 of whom were killed on the site — were able to destroy six U.S. fighter jets.
The attack is among the most infamous in recent U.S. military history. After a yearlong investigation, two prominent generals, Maj. Gen. Charles “Mark” Gurganus and Major Gen. Gregg Sturdevant, were ousted from the Marine Corps for “errors in judgment” in failing to better protect Camp Bastion.
There are 83 more wrenching stories attached to the golf event. It was inaugurated five years ago as a partnership between the Arizona Golf Association, JDM Partners, the Wigwam and the Golf Coaches Association of America. JDM is a real estate investment company owned by Jerry Colangelo, the Phoenix-area sports magnate who also serves as the tournament’s chairman.
The proceeds earned from the entry fees of amateurs who play, as well as the auctioning of the golf bags, go to Folds of Honor, which provides scholarships and assistance to the spouses and children of those killed or disabled in service to America.
The tournament is fashioned much like a bowl week for college football players, and among the scheduled events was a trip on Monday to tour Luke Air Force Base, near Glendale, Ariz.
For Moore, growing up in a military town such as San Diego had an impact on him, and both of his grandfathers served in the military.
“I feel really honored to be able to play in this type of event,” said Moore, a member of the Country Club of Rancho Bernardo who attended San Pasqual High School.
“Obviously, my mindset is to go out and win the tournament. But at the end of the day, it’s not all about the golf. It’s the experience. It’s learning about those guys.”
Moore is just beginning to get his feel for college golf after a strong junior career. He played in all three of the Wildcats’ fall events, notching the second-best stroke average (74.22) among the starting five.
“I feel good about it so far,” Moore said. “I think I’ve handled my nerves well for being a freshman. I’m excited for the spring.”
He has good reason to be after recording a team-best second-place finish in the fall’s final event, the Wyoming Dunes Southern Collegiate Invitational. Moore fired a 68 in a wind-blown final round in which he shot 4 under on the front nine.
The Moore name is synonymous with great golf in San Diego. Haley Moore, who will be a freshman at Arizona for the spring semester, qualified for April’s LPGA major, the ANA Inspiration, and made the weekend cut.
“At first it was hard on me,” Tyler said of Haley’s success. “I wished I could be doing stuff like that. But at the end of the day she’s my sister and I’m happy for her. Instead of being jealous or giving her a hard time, I just need to sit back and let her enjoy it.”
There are openings for players in San Diego PGA Tour player Charley Hoffman’s foundation pro-am on Jan. 25 on the Torrey Pines North Course. Hoffman attracts numerous tour players to the event during the week of the Farmers Insurance Open. The cost is $2,500 per player. For more information, call (619) 571-2390 or visit charleyhoffman.com.