Kevin Aylwin, first Pga Tour event after 12 years

Kevin Aylwin, a local legend of the mini-tours who has played New Smyrna countless times since childhood, is sneaking onto the back nine, as he often does

by Andrea Gussoni
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Kevin Aylwin, first Pga Tour event after 12 years
© Getty Images Sport - Julio Aguilar / Stringer

It's 7:30 on a Wednesday morning at the New Smyrna Beach Golf Club, a municipal course about three hours from the Innisbrook Resort, where the Valspar Championship will begin in less than 24 hours. Kevin Aylwin, a local legend of the mini-tours who has played New Smyrna countless times since childhood, is sneaking onto the back nine, as he often does.

But this time, it's different. Because Aylwin will be playing from the 10th hole the next day, in his first PGA Tour tournament, 12 years after turning professional. But why was he three hours away from the Innisbrook Resort on a Wednesday? Kevin, 35, has a natural swing.

He doesn't hit it long (by professional golf standards), but he finds most fairways and has a great short gameIf there was a mini-tour event or some hundred-dollar bets in Florida over the last 12 years, Aylwin was probably there, often winning.

Kevin Aylwin, history

He has over 30 victories in 36-hole events, not counting 18-hole tournament wins. With those, he says his total wins would probably approach three figures. When Hurricane Ian hit Florida in 2022, Aylwin and his wife Chelsea hunkered down thinking they were far enough inland to be safe from flooding.

They were wrong. Water was already in the yard when they woke up that morning. Within a few hours, it was ankle-deep. Kevin and Chelsea grabbed a backpack and a paddleboard, pushed them out the living room window, and paddled away...

They wouldn't return to live in their home for almost six months. It was then that Chelsea, a second-grade teacher, and Kevin decided he needed to find a full-time job. For years, Kevin made a living in the mini-tour grind.

He played only Florida tournaments to cut down on expenses and won often enough to stay in the black (nearly impossible in the mini-tour realm). However, such a lifestyle is unsustainable, and there were months when the couple would be in the red due to some high scores.

Shortly after the hurricane passed, Kevin started working full-time as an assistant professional at Cypress Head Golf Course in Port Orange. Most weeks he works 40 hours, but he still finds time to play some mini-tour events.

Aylwin still dreams of a PGA Tour career, and the club works as much as possible around his playing schedule. Last week, after signing up for Valspar Championship pre-qualifying late and being waitlisted, the PGA section that handles qualifying called Aylwin to let him know he had a tee time in Thursday's pre-qualifying.

Through ups and downs, he shot 69 to advance to Monday's qualifier. The Monday Qualifying, the most important, finally admits 4 players to the actual tournament. At Southern Hills, Aylwin closed the front nine 1 under par, but he knew he needed to do something special on the back.

And he did. Five consecutive birdies to close out the last nine in 30 strokes earned him a spot in the Valspar Championship. That very evening Kevin had returned home to celebrate with his family. For Monday qualifiers, the only day to practice on the course is Tuesday because in most tournaments, the course is closed on Wednesday to players not playing in the pro-am.

He had already played the course a couple of times, and multiple times on a simulator. Tuesday he played nine holes with Adam Schenk, whom he had played with a few times in Florida, finishing in the early afternoon. At that point, a decision needed to be made.

"I've never been a range rat," Aylwin said. "Unless I'm working on something specific, I hit five balls and lose focus." Hence the decision to make a three-hour trip back home. It's easy to get sucked into the whirlwind of novelty at a PGA Tour event.

Equipment manufacturer trucks are extremely inviting, offering free clubs and apparel. On the putting green, companies offer the chance to try their product for free. There's also pressure on the practice range, as a fair number of players hit countless balls.

A former player on the current Korn Ferry Tour once told me that in his first year with a card, seeing some of his colleagues hit balls for hours, he thought he should do it too... stepping out of his comfort zone. At a player's first PGA Tour tournament, it's easy to stray from what works best for oneself.

So Aylwin jumped in his car (he declined the courtesy car...) and headed home, away from the chaos of the tournament. "I'm playing," he said. "That's how I prepare for any event, so I figured I'd go home and play." So Wednesday morning, just a day before the biggest event of his life, Kevin Aylwin returned to the course he had played tens of thousands of times.

The club professional greeted him with a smile and a hug, and the few members he usually plays with met him on the tee. They invited him to join them, but Kevin politely declined. He played alone, hitting more balls on each hole.

About three hundred kilometers from the challenging course he would play the next day, "Monday Qualifyier" Kevin Aylwin was practicing the best way he knew how, playing at the municipal course where he grew up.

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