Buried in Kyler Aubrey’s closet is a Masters flag from 2013 with the signature of just one player: Phil Mickelson. When Aubrey met Mickelson and his wife Amy that year at Augusta National, Mickelson immediately bent down to sign Aubrey’s flag. When Mickelson accidentally wrote the wrong name on it – then subsequently scribbled it out – a horrified Amy promised the Aubrey family that her husband would sign a new one and they’d have it shipped.
Sure enough, the flag showed up a few weeks later to the Aubrey’s home in Statesboro, Georgia. On Sunday at the PGA Championship, Aubrey acquired another piece of Mickelson memorabilia. He and his dad Josh were just inside the ropes by No. 5 green at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course when Mickelson holed out from the sand, securing the birdie that helped him separate himself.
“When we were there we could actually see a perfect view of Phil making the shot and we were just screaming. When Phil made it, he came up to us and said here’s my lucky ball, I want you guys to have it, thank you for coming,” Josh said.
“…We were so in the moment that we didn’t even notice that Kyler had dropped the ball. Phil turned around and picked it back up and set it on his lap.”
Kyler Aubrey, 28, has cerebral palsy and is in a wheelchair. At Kiawah, the sand is particularly hard for him to navigate – something they realized in 2012. The Aubreys had practice-round tickets to that PGA Championship there, and then lucked into tickets for the rest of the week, too. Statesboro is only a 2 ½-hour drive from the South Carolina coast.
“While we were going around the course we kept getting stuck,” Josh said. “David Feherty came up to us and said I notice you guys kept getting stuck – this was like Sunday afternoon – he said I want to give you this all-access pass, you can go anyway you want to on the golf course.”
Feherty’s generosity made a world of difference in traversing the difficult terrain. It also helped spark lifelong friendships. Roughly an hour before McIlroy closed out his win that year, Josh and Kyler were near the scoring tent.
“I was like, I wonder if we can go up in here,” Josh remembered thinking. “We went in there and they let us through and all the golfers that finished would walk right by us.”
The Aubreys had spoken with Graeme McDowell in a practice round early week, and when McDowell saw them sitting there on Sunday, he joined them to chat with Kyler for nearly an hour. McDowell then introduced the family to Rory McIlroy.
Through the years, the Aubreys have maintained those friendships as they’ve attended Tour events all around the Southeast like the Players Championship, the Tour Championship. McIlroy always seeks out Kyler to catch up, Josh says, and the Aubreys have stayed at McDowell’s house a couple of times while attending the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill.
Rory McIlroy and Kyler Aubrey at the 2012 PGA Championship. (Aubrey family photo)
A few years ago, Rickie Fowler, who has also become a friend, approached the Aubreys on the back of the practice range at Bay Hill and, when he found out they didn’t have Masters tickets for that year, got them tickets for the whole week.
Statesboro is also only an hour and a half from Augusta, so Kyler and Josh have frequently attended the Wednesday practice round at the Masters.
Kyler enjoys Wednesdays the most because it’s when he can interact with the players he’s developed relationships with through the years. He has been a golf fan since he was just a little boy, when Josh used to take him to the golf course and bungee his car seat into the golf cart while he played. Kyler loved to watch.
“When he was little, like 2 or 3 years old, he would get over to the TV and change the channel to the Golf Channel. Instead of watching cartoons, he was watching the Golf Channel,” Josh said.
Tiger Woods was just gaining in popularity about that time, and the Aubreys attended the Tour event in Hilton Head, South Carolina, in 1999 – the only year Woods played the event.
“Kyler was 6 when that happened, when he played,” Josh said. “That just kind of took it to a new level and then that’s all he wanted to do.”
Kyler Aubrey and Tiger Woods at the 2011 Players Championship. (Aubrey family photo)
Kyler’s younger sister Sloane, 19, also loves golf. She has played since the sixth grade, and continues to play, though not collegiately. Sunday at the PGA Championship was particularly special because Sloane was with the boys, too.
When Kyler was 22 and Sloane was 12, their brother Jordan, 17, died in a car accident. That’s when Kyler and Sloane grew closer. Golf has always brought the family together. The PGA Championship, however, marked the first time in nearly two years the Aubreys had gotten to be fans because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
At a tournament, Kyler is always an easy person for Tour players to spot.
“People would see him and he’s always in a good mood, he loves being out there, he’s always got a big smile and he always wants to give those guys hugs,” Josh said.
“I think that’s what he likes so much about golf is they’ll interact with him.”
Kyler brightens their day, just as they brighten his.
Phil Mickelson and Kyler Aubrey at a previous PGA Tour event. (Aubrey family photo)