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California Firefighter Enjoying Emotional Ride at Mid-Am September 26, 2018 | Charlotte, N.C. By Stuart Hall

It's been an emotional ride this week for U.S. Mid-Am rookie and semifinalist Kyler Sauer, a firefighter from California. (USGA/Chris Keane)

U.S. Mid-Amateur Home

To say that Kyler Sauer is on an emotional rollercoaster at the 38th U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship this week at Charlotte Country Club is not hyperbole.

When Sauer, 27, of Valencia, Calif., learned that he was exempt into next year’s U.S. Mid-Amateur by virtue of his Round-of-16 win over Derek Busby on Tuesday, he became teary-eyed. Following his 3-and-2 quarterfinals victory over Ryan Eibner, 27, of Dallas, Texas, on Wednesday morning, Sauer learned that he had earned a two-year exemption for reaching the semifinals.  

“No way,“ said Sauer, while laughing and teary up again. “Holy crikey. OK. That’s cool.”

That triumph, in which he played the equivalent of 5-under golf (with the usual match-play concessions) over 16 holes, advanced Sauer to an afternoon semifinal encounter with Kevin O’Connell, 30, of Cary, N.C.

Rich Sauer, Kyler’s father, said his son’s response is the norm for the family.

“We’re all emotional. He wins a tournament and we all start crying,” the elder Sauer joked.

But Rich Sauer believes there is another reason why emotions are running close to the surface for his son this week. The elder Sauer’s brother, Brian, with whom Kyler is extremely close, suffers from cerebral palsy.

“He’s always been in the back of my mind with everything that I have done,” Kyler Sauer said. “He’s had it hard his whole life. It’s a reminder for me to be thankful for where I’m at and how blessed my family is.

“The fact to be out here and even to swing a golf club, walk a golf course, and travel is something he has a hard time doing. Every step is a blessing to go out here for sure. It's always in the back of my mind.

“When I was trying to play professionally, I think I put a lot of the stress on myself with him, because I wanted to play well enough to give him a better life, to give him something more.”

Sauer’s unexpected run has brought a smile to his uncle, who he has been in contact with throughout this week.

After playing collegiately at Cal State University at Northridge (CSUN), Sauer earned status on the PGA Tour Canada-Mackenzie Tour in 2015, but his time was short-lived. Ultimately, Sauer, who regained his amateur status last year, always wanted to walk in the firefighter footsteps of his father, his grandfather, Gary Preston, and another uncle, Dan Preston. He currently works for the City of Burbank (Calif.) Fire Department.

“Everyone calls it the fire family,” said Sauer of firefighting lineage. “It's just another family that's outside of your own home.

“Obviously as a little kid you see the big red fire trucks with the lights and the sirens and it's fascinating. Then to be able to go and see it and touch it as a kid growing up when my dad was working, the time spent at the fire station. I would think my dad gets to go to work and hang out and have sleepovers with his buddies every time he goes to work. And he gets to help people who don't know what to do on their worst day and they call for someone to help. To see the impact my dad had on the community we grew up in, that was something I wanted.”

Compared to the stress of firefighting, this week has been all about the experience. Sauer also could become the second consecutive firefighter to win the Mid-Amateur, following Matt Parziale.

“It’s been the same strategy every day: small victories, hit the fairway, hit the green, try to make a putt or get the two-putt and move onto the next hole,” said Sauer, who had never played in a match-play competition before this week and is playing in his second competitive tournament in the last three years.

When Sauer qualified for this U.S. Mid-Amateur, earning one of four spots from the qualifier at Soule Park Golf Club in Ojai, Calif., on Aug. 21, he immediately called his parents. Initially, they did not believe him.

But his parents, Rich and Julie Sauer, along with his grandfather are enjoying every single moment – and victory – in Charlotte this week. 

Perhaps even shedding a tear or two along the way.

Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work frequently appears on USGA digital channels.