Golfer with cerebral palsy defies odds
Should he win the USPGA Championship at the North Carolina course, the 24-year-old will become the youngest man in history to complete the career grand slam.
More than 2,000 miles north, just across the Canadian border, fewer TV cameras and spectators are at the Country Hills Golf Club, Calgary — but PGA Tour history has already been made nonetheless.
When Kyle Miller took to the first tee of the ATB Financial Classic on Thursday, he became the first person diagnosed with cerebral palsy to play in a PGA Tour-sanctioned event.
Thanks to a sponsors’ exemption, which has been earned through years of hard work, charity fundraising and sheer determination, Miller has realized a lifelong dream — and one that he was told not to reach for.
“It’s amazing,” a delighted Miller told CNN. “You know when you see your name on the PGA Tour app or the PGA Tour website and you’re reading the storylines … you realize your dreams are coming true.”
“And how many times I’ve read through those articles or looked at those tee times and seen guys that I knew.
“I’ve been able to teach and inspire countless people with disabilities that achieving your dream is possible, regardless of what people tell you.”
Miller’s road to reach the top has been painful, grueling and fraught with obstacles. Since being diagnosed with cerebral palsy, the 26-year-old has undergone 14 separate surgeries related to his condition.
The Canadian says he has been golf-obsessed “ever since I can remember” and was practicing every day by the time he was eight.
Though, due to the cerebral palsy, doubts remained as to whether he would ever be able to take his passion further than practice rounds and driving ranges.
“Let’s be honest, I have one good side and it’s a very difficult a sport,” Miller said. “You see there are mechanics that are involved, hand-eye coordination.
“There are a lot of things that as an athlete I actually posses quite well, it’s just I only have one good side to a certain extent.”
As the years went by, however, and Miller entered adulthood, his weaker, left side became stronger, healthier and much more active.
Over the last year in particular, he says, he’s picked up a lot of distance in his game, something he describes as “slow progression, late blooming.”
Miller’s skill and perseverance has seen him become a member of the PGA of Canada and a qualified coach at GOLFTEC Calgary Midnapore, a club he has given hundreds of lessons at since he became an instructor in 2014.
Making the cut
His aim at the ATB Financial Classic is to make the cut, though he says a hectic week of media interviews, continual fundraising and practicing hasn’t allowed him to think about potential celebrations.
“Right now, I’m just keeping one foot in front of the other,” he says matter-of-factly. “It’s all one thing at a time.”
Having “worked his tail off” playing on the Canadian tour for many years and, more recently, coaching and traveling with a tour professional, Miller is confident there isn’t anything that can surprise him.
“My experiential knowledge of traveling and handling a lot of stuff on the plate is pretty high, as far as a golf tournament goes,” he says with an air of confidence.
“One thing I do have to remind myself is I don’t have to make it more complicated that it is.
“You know, I’ve prepared for a lot of golf tournaments, I have good support around me and now it’s just to really go and enjoy it. It’s something that hasn’t been done before.”
While making the cut would represent some personal glory, whenever Miller takes the course he is never playing for himself.
“I’m doing a lot of effort on my part to raise money,” he says. “Any tournament I ever play, I’m gonna be raising money for charity, right? That’s part of the program.
“I have to do something, I am a pioneer in this concept now and I’m going to hold that strong. So I have to do it properly and that’s what I’ll do my entire career.”
Miller believes golf is “excelling” with its charity work and disability equality.
He says he has always admired the amount of money PGA Tour-sanctioned events have raised and believes other sports should follow suit.
Beating the odds
The chances of a young golfer making it to the professional ranks are slim — making Miller’s achievement even more remarkable.
“I’ve slipped the odds in life because at a young age I was dealt bad cards, hard cards to make a success out of,” he says defiantly.
“I had a lot of people looking at me with sympathy. I had a lot of people looking at me telling not to dream too big just in case it didn’t work out. You know what I’m saying?
“I knew very early on that I was going to have to create these cards into one of the greatest success stories.”
When the scratch golfer steps up and strikes the ball off the first tee, officially becoming part of the PGA Tour, Miller’s story will have come full circle.
Every year for the past 34 years, the PGA Tour has hosted the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, the same chain of hospitals at which Miller underwent the 14 surgeries that have today allowed him to compete.
“What are the odds of that?”