KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - She wanted her brother’s senior prom to be special.
So she asked him, “If you could take anyone to prom, who would it be?”
And Arielle Notte’s 19-year-old brother, Alex Notte, told her through a combination of sound and sign language that he wanted to go to prom with professional golfer Belen Mozo.
It wasn’t so far-fetched, Alex thought; he’d met Mozo two years before when attending the Wegmans LPGA Championship in Rochester, N.Y., while on vacation with his parents, Kristine and Richard Notte.
Then new to the Ladies Professional Golf Association, Mozo was teaching putting and meeting golf fans at the event. She made an immediate impression on Alex, who was just then taking up the game after tagging along behind Arielle, who played golf during her high school years.
He began following Mozo on the Golf Channel and on YouTube.
He described her to his sister: Beautiful. Kind. Talented.
So while she was home from college over the winter break, Arielle, 22, took a video camera and followed Alex to Gettysvue Country Club, where he plays golf almost daily during good weather, despite multiple physical and cognitive challenges.
There they filmed a short video of Alex golfing, dancing and signing a prom invitation to Mozo, backed by pop music singer Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe.”
Later, Arielle uploaded it to YouTube and to Mozo’s public Facebook page. She didn’t know if the golfer would ever see it. But Alex wasn’t worried. ( Link to YouTube video )
Alex’s positive attitude is what has helped him succeed at the game of golf, despite partial deafness, vision problems, neurological challenges and limited fine motor skills, said Louise Ball, Gettysvue’s golf instructor who’s been giving him lessons for the past three years.
Though he’s still not advanced enough to play for his school, Bearden High, he can drive the ball about 200 yards, Ball said.
“He’s gone from hitting grounders to just hitting it great,” Ball said.
Alex loves the driving range so much some days he’ll come both morning and afternoon to play. He’ll typically hit five or six bags of balls at a time. His favorite shot? “Bunkers,” he said, grinning; he likes the challenge.
Kristine Notte said she and Alex’s father didn’t realize he’d gotten a passion for the game from Arielle until she’d gone away to college.
“To be honest, I didn’t even know he could play,” Kristine Notte said.
So the Nottes decided to keep the Gettysvue membership they’d purchased for Arielle.
“It’s kind of extravagant, I admit, but getting kids like Alex involved in community activities is a challenge,” Kristine Notte said. “And Gettysvue has been very welcoming.”
Gettysvue found a way for Alex to participate in the Junior Club Championship, and he and his father played in a parent-child tournament. Kristine Notte said she’s been touched by the accommodations they’ve made for Alex.
“This is a country club,” she said. “They don’t have to do any of this.”
And she’s been struck by her son’s determination to succeed — not just in golf. Though it won’t be this year, Alex will graduate from Bearden High, something that didn’t always seem possible.
After Arielle returned to college in Canada, she noted a tweet on the social-networking feed Twitter in Spanish, referencing Alex’s video. Now a Florida resident, Mozo is a native of Spain who came to the U.S. on a golf scholarship to the University of Southern California, where she was a four-time NCAA All-America player. In 2006 she became the first golfer since 1972 to win both the Women’s British Amateur Championship and British Girls Amateur Championship in the same year.
Shortly after, Kristine Notte got a call from Mozo, whom Ball describes as a “rising star” in the LPGA, having turned professional in 2010 and qualified for the tour on her first attempt.
“She wanted to verify that (the video invitation) was real,” Kristine Notte said.
And then she got to tell her son some exciting news: Mozo said yes to a prom date.
Since then, any time Alex hasn’t been golfing, he’s been making plans for his May 11 prom. During spring break, he shopped for a tuxedo. Wednesday afternoons, he’s been practicing with the Dance Dawgs, an after-school club Bearden teaching assistant Monica Smyre began to teach special-education students the latest dances to current music. On a recent afternoon, the group ran through various hip-hop and pop songs as well as dance standards like “YMCA” and “Cha Cha Slide.”
But it’s Bollywood music that inspires Alex; he’s even made a video of his dance moves. And it’s dancing with Mozo at his “Arabian Nights”-themed prom that he most looks forward to. He signed that he’s confident she has some great dance moves of her own.
Mozo will have a busy day. On the morning of May 11, she’ll do a charity exhibition at Gettysvue to benefit Special Olympics golf. Alex has represented Tennessee in Special Olympics golf, and Kristine Notte said it’s their goal to bring the sport to Knoxville.
Then Mozo and Alex will begin