FIRE PIT COLLECTIVE
As he pursues a career in pro golf, Andrew Strother has been shaped by his time spent helping two autistic kids
Editor's Note: This article first appeared in Fire Pit Collective, a Golf Digest content partner.
I was with my colleague Michael Bamberger last month, lucky to have one-on-one time with the gifted writer and storyteller. “You never know where a story will take you,” he told me. I was working on a piece that I thought was going to be primarily about how Andrew Strother had sold his insurance agency to chase his dream of being a professional golfer. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Sure, that is part of the story, but I would soon discover it was only a tiny part. For four years, Strother worked as a caregiver for David and Austin Buncher. The boys are autistic and require around-the-clock care. That is the story: the effect the relationship has had on Strother as a person, a husband and a father, and what he has meant to the Bunchers.
It is Christmas Eve 2018, the first day Strother is caring for David without Cathy Buncher, the boys’ mother, by his side. The Bunchers have seven children, three of them adopted, and everyone has reunited at the family home in Lexington, Ky., for the holiday. David is overwhelmed, as spouses, grandchildren and dogs crowd the residence. David is non-verbal, so his needs are difficult to gauge. The noise and commotion become too much for him, and he is having a meltdown. He picks up a family picture and attempts to hurl it across the living room. Strother stops him, but David picks up another photo, then a lamp. Such incidents aren’t uncommon, and David often harms himself, hitting himself or anyone who gets in his way. Strother gets punched, scratched and hit with a shoe. David’s father, Mark, jumps in to help, and they usher David outside. But he continues to struggle, and Strother tries to identify what he needs. He runs into the house for ice cream, but that doesn’t work. The struggle goes on for almost 45 minutes. Finally, David calms down, but not before all three are exhausted and sweating profusely. Strother believes he will be fired, concerned he has done something wrong.
Strother grew up in rural Horse Cave, Ky., in a county that has just three stop lights. He was raised in a middle-class home; his father was a medical equipment salesman, and his mother worked at AT&T before moving to the medical insurance business. Depending on the season, golf was Strother’s second or third favorite sport. However, he made the varsity golf team as an eighth grader, though more due to the lack of participation by other kids. He didn’t dream of playing on the PGA Tour because, quite frankly, he wasn’t very good.
Cave Land Country Club, a nine-hole track near Horse Cave, is the only golf course in Hart County. It barely measures 3,000 yards and has only three bunkers. (Strother points out that two of the traps are on one hole.) Although in a beautiful setting, it’s not the kind of place that is conducive to developing a game that travels. Although Strother posted some excellent scores at Cave Land, he also shot more than 100 a few times as a junior.
He attended the University of Kentucky but didn’t play golf. He triple-majored in finance, marketing and communications, and during his senior year he purchased an Allstate Insurance franchise. He nearly missed graduation because he was in Chicago finishing up the required training to become a franchisee, landing in Kentucky the morning of the ceremony. At 22, Strother became one of the youngest franchise owners in a worldwide company. His future appeared laid out, but he soon felt like something was missing.
He had started to play more golf, and he was playing well. He began to play amateur events and enter long-drive contests (he failed qualifying for the world finals by just a few yards one year), and his game continued to improve. He weighed 300 pounds, so he worked on his physical fitness. As his game and his health improved, Strother in 2018 contemplated the craziest idea of his life — a career in professional golf. He was 28.
The first step was telling Kayla, his soon-to-be fiancé. They had met in 2016 at Drake’s, a hangout in Lexington, Ky., on the night of the national championship football game between Clemson and Alabama. Kayla was a nurse and was soon headed to nurse practitioner school at the University of Cincinnati. (She would graduate with a perfect grade point.) “I’d be lying if I didn’t say I had some concerns,” she says now. “I had pictured a marriage where both my husband and I have traditional careers.” Despite concerns, Kayla offered her full support.
The next step was to sell his insurance agency, which he did. He socked away the proceeds to fund his new career and immediately looked for a part-time job to help make ends meet. He worked at Lowe’s for the winter season and was employed at a grocery store for a bit, but that job didn’t mesh with his practice and playing schedule, so he decided to join Care.com. The plan was to do house- or pet-sitting between tournaments. That is when Cathy Buncher reached out.
In the first few minutes of a conversation with the Bunchers, I knew the focus of the Strother story would change. Finding care for their two special needs children has been an ongoing battle for the Bunchers. Cathy had tried everything, and although they had a few successes, most caregivers wouldn’t stay around for long. A detailed message explaining the Buncher family situation and the needs of David and Austin appeared in Strother’s inbox. He had never considered caring for anyone, let alone special needs teenagers (David is now 21, Austin is 20), but he agreed to meet with Cathy.
After the meeting, Andrew told Kayla what the job entailed. Kayla tried to talk him out of taking it because she didn’t believe he didn’t fully understand the challenges ahead. She was right. For training, Andrew worked alongside Cathy, and he immediately learned that the boys needed help with most daily life skills: being fed and dressed and help in going to the bathroom. Andrew soldiered on.
Then came that Christmas Eve. It was Andrew’s first night alone with David. The Buncher clan was back together, and the atmosphere overwhelmed David. Andrew walked away with a torn shirt, a few welts on his body and the respect of Cathy and Mark. Strother believed he might be fired that day, but Mark and Cathy could not have been more pleased with how he had handled the situation.
“When you have a child with special needs, you dream of caregivers like Andrew,” an emotional Cathy told me. “We love him. Andrew treats [the boys] as friends. It is all we want for our children. Andrew is a dream come true.”
Strother’s game hadn’t developed as he had hoped, so he remained an amateur and continued to practice. He and Kayla married in March 2019. (They pushed back the start of their wedding a few minutes, waiting for a Kentucky basketball game to end.) Austin was part of the wedding. Kayla had graduated from nurse practitioner school and accepted a job at the University of Kentucky in the addiction medicine department. Soon after, their first child was on the way.
How special was the relationship between the boys and Andrew? David was the first person Andrew told about the pregnancy. While on a zoom call with Kayla and Andrew, I asked Kayla how Andrew’s relationship with the boys had affected him. As Kayla gushed about how it has taught him patience and empathy and helped him become a fantastic father, she turned to Andrew and asked, “Are you crying?” He was.
In July 2021, almost three years after selling his insurance agency, Strother finally checked the box to become a professional golfer. His first start was at a tiny tournament in Kentucky called the Irvin Cobb. Strother snapped his driver on the first swing of the second day, finished T10, and collected $400. When he showed Kayla the check, she quipped, “No more shop credit, hey?”
In early July 2022, Strother headed south to Q school for the Mexican Tour, where he secured his card. He then flew back to the States for a Colorado Open qualifier, by far the most difficult state open qualifier around. He fired a 66 and earned a spot in the field.
The Colorado Open is the premier state open, boasting a $250,000 purse and a $100,000 payout to the winner. The field is loaded with current and former Korn Ferry Tour members. Strother opened with a bogey-free 65 and was T-9 heading into the final round. On the eve of the final round, his phone rang. Kayla was pregnant with the couple’s second child. She wasn’t due until early August, but she was having labor pains.
She had been scheduled to be induced a couple of days after the Colorado Open, but she headed to the hospital when the pain became too much. Andrew wanted to head home, but the earliest flight he could catch wasn’t leaving until the following day. Kayla encouraged him to stay. “The baby was going to be born with my husband on a plane or the golf course,” she says. “It was a huge opportunity for him, so I told him to stay.” Andrew stayed up all night, getting reports from his mother-in-law. As his proud father watched on FaceTime, Jack Strother was born at 4:30 a.m.
Playing on no sleep, Strother shot a final-round 72, finished T-27, collected $1,300 and headed home to meet his new son.
Strother is playing this season on the Mexican Tour. He missed the first cut but heads to Leon this week for the second event. He isn’t sure how long he will play, as he has burned through almost all of the money he collected for selling his agency. He skipped Korn Ferry Q school, saving the $6,500 for the expensive rigors of the mini-tour grind.
He has also cut back on his caregiver duties. He and Kayla agreed he should devote all of his time to golf, but the Bunchers remain great friends. They live on the course where Andrew practices, so they see him often. “David and Austin will always be part of our lives,” Andrew says. “That relationship alone has made this all worthwhile.”
Bamberger was right. You never know where a story will take you.