To witness an historic victory like Phil Mickelson had at 50 years old becoming the oldest player to win one of golf’s majors with his triumph in the PGA Championship Sunday at Kiawah Island is pretty cool.
To be able to witness in person the birdie on No. 5 that Mickelson said was the turning point of his round is remarkable. To see your son receive the ball he made the birdie with as he walked off the green and get a few words with the legendary player was unforgettable.
My 28-year-old son Kyler went to his first PGA tour event in April of 1999 at the age of six. At the event in Hilton Head a young golfer named Tiger Woods stopped briefly during his practice round to sign Kyler’s hat and then reached into his pocket and gave him a ball. The picture of that moment, the ball and the hat are in Kyler’s room and will soon be joined by a picture and ball from Mickelson.
Kyler has loved golf from when he was just over a year old, and I would put him in his car seat and bungee him into a golf cart whenever I played. His interaction with Tiger took things to a different level. We have been fortunate enough to attend well over 50 PGA tour events including several Masters tournaments as well as the U.S. Open and both of the PGA Championships held at Kiawah Island.
The 2012 PGA Championship was when we first met Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy, who we would become friends with. McDowell talked with Kyler for about an hour after he finished playing on Sunday back in 2012, and told Kyler if he hung around, he would introduce him to McIlroy. After the introduction McIlroy told Kyler to stay put and after taking pictures, he would spend some time with him.
Being a man of his word about an hour later McIlroy showed up with the trophy, took some pictures with Kyler, signed his flag and hat and autographed the glove he was wearing and gave them all to Kyler.
The friendship between McDowell and Kyler has stayed strong since then as they talk regularly on Facetime, and we have visited him at his house and have had him to our house. McIlroy has stayed in touch and through his manager has helped us out on a number of occasions.
One such occasion was giving us a chance to reunite at Kiawah Island as Rory set us up with tickets for this year’s PGA Championship. We went Wednesday and Thursday and caught up with Rory and some of Kyler’s other PGA tour buddies at Wednesday’s practice round.
Sunday, we returned with Kyler and my 19-year-old daughter Sloan. As beautiful as Kiawah Island is, it isn’t the easiest place to navigate with a wheelchair. For those unaware Kyler has cerebral palsy and is in a wheelchair. We had to have help a number of times this week as he got stuck in the sand.
When we went Thursday the marshals working the green at hole number five allowed us under the ropes in order to get a better look at the green. Sunday, they allowed us to get in roughly the same place and we had a great spot to witness Mickelson holing out from the bunker from 50 feet away.
Kyler has met Mickelson a few times and Phil has always been very gracious with him and his time. This was the Sunday of a major and all I expected was maybe a wave or thumbs up on his way to the sixth tee box.
Phil noticed Kyler quickly and came right up to him and said “I want you to have this lucky ball of mine. It’s good to see you back out here, thanks for coming and have a great day.” Sloan and I were capturing this on our phones and neither of us realized Kyler dropped the ball. Phil saw it out of the corner of his eye, came back picked it back up and put it in Kyler’s lap.
The crowd around us let loose with another big round of applause and the three of us just stood there not believing what just happened. About that time both Sloan and my phones blew up with text messages from friends and family saying they saw the exchange live on the CBS telecast. We took a few pictures and followed Mickelson and Brooks Koepka the next few holes before camping out with friends on the 17th hole.
After Mickelson played the 17th hole we joined the mob in walking behind him down the 18th fairway. The scene is something I will always remember, and I am glad I was able to capture most of it on video and through pictures. The smile never left Kyler’s face, and Sloan did flips down the 18th fairway following him and our friends.
I never take any of these moments for granted, but I am pleasantly surprised when something happens like it did on Sunday. I feel like it is similar to what Mickelson is going through with taking it all in because we know tomorrow isn’t promised.