LITCHFIELD PARK, Ariz. – Sebastian Cappelen grew up in Denmark dreaming of being a pilot. On his final shot of 2012, he soared to new heights in the college golf ranks, canning a 15-foot birdie putt to win the Patriot All-America at The Wigwam’s Gold Course.
Army 1st Sgt. Blue C. Rowe, the fallen soldier in whose memory Cappelen played, would be proud of the 22-year-old junior at Arkansas. Cappelen fired a 2-under 68 for a total of 206 and a one-stroke victory over UNLV’s Kevin Penner.
The result was a reverse of November’s Western Refining College All-America Golf Classic, in which Cappelen closed with a 63 but finished one shy of Penner.
“Yeah, we’ve been going at each other a lot lately, and it did give me extra motivation,” Cappelen said.
This time Cappelen said “a little thing in his ear” told him on the 18th tee that he was tied for the lead and he might want to make birdie. The voice was that of his girlfriend, Audrey Dunn, who had never watched him compete before. He might want her to come around more often.
Cappelen absorbed the news, flashed a smile, and told Dunn, “Well, then, I’m just going to have to make birdie.”
Cappelen ripped a drive down the right side on the 440-yard, dogleg-left par 4. His 8-iron approach from 163 yards funneled toward the hole and stopped 15 feet away. Cappelen knew enough to look to the Estrella Mountains and figured it was breaking hard left.
“It broke maybe more than a foot,” he said.
For much of the day, it looked like the local kid – Grand Canyon University’s Jimmy Kozikowski – would make good. He shot a bogey-free, 5-under 30 on the front nine, including an eagle-birdie-birdie surge on Nos. 4-6, to climb into the lead. But bogeys at Nos. 11 and 14 and a pulled 2-foot par putt at 16 left him feeling queasier than the flight simulator he experienced at Luke Air Force Base on Dec. 27. He shot 68 and finished tied for third.
Penner, who was a first round co-leader with Cappelen, hit 17 greens but said his putter wouldn’t cooperate. He vaulted in front of Kowikowski with a 3-foot birdie putt at 17.
“I thought I needed one more,” said Penner, who missed a 20-foot downhill birdie at the last hole.
A day after making seven birdies to grab the 36-hole lead, Cody Proveaux made none and shot 4-over 74 to finish tied for fifth.
The 84-man field is made up of returning All-Americans from NCAA Divisions I, II, and III; NAIA; and NJCAA. In its second year, the tournament, established by the Golf Coaches Association of America, in conjunction with the Folds of Honor Foundation, seeks to honor fallen military members, while providing the top collegiate golfers a “bowl game” experience.
After hearing the inspirational story of retired Army Maj. Ed Pulido of the Folds of Honor, several of the collegians were said to be ready to enlist. All of the players carried a commemorative Ping golf bag bearing the name of a fallen member from various branches of the military. Cal’s Brandon Hagy had the name of his Pop Warner teammate and high school friend at West Lake Village (Calif.), Army Spc. Andrew J. Castro, who died on active duty in Afghanistan. Nagy tied Castro’s bandana that read “Warrior Pride” on his bag.
“It reminded me that freedom isn’t free,” he said. “It’s cool to see so much support for our military.”
It also might be the coolest winner’s prize in college golf: a hand-carved F-16 replica and a bomber jacket that Fonzie would envy. Cappelen long ago gave up on his childhood dream, but now he can at least look the part. He slipped comfortably into the jacket.