At this stage of his young pro career, all Mike Miller sought was to get the best out of himself. He was calm for the most part, and pumped when he needed to be. And he wound up only one shot away from tying the best that anyone has ever done on Bethpage Black.
The 22-year-old from Brewster shot 6-under-par 65, one stroke off the record at one of America's most formidable courses, and won the New York State Open Thursday -- his first title as a professional.
"This is beyond anything I could expect," he said after he finished the 54-hole event at 8 under, four strokes clear of Bethpage resident Adam Fuchs, and before he accepted a check for $17,500. "It hasn't sunk in. Some great players have won this event, if you go down the list, and to even be part of that list is phenomenal. And it's only going to make me move forward."
Moving forward is what caused Miller, whose father, Bob, is head pro at Knollwood Country Club in Westchester, to leave Penn State early and sign with the management company that also handles Phil Mickelson. Miller has played on the PGA Tour, in the Valero Texas Open, and the European Tour, in the Irish and Scottish Opens.
As nice as those experiences were, he acknowledged that Bethpage is "a home away from home." He played the state high school Federation tournament on the Black and shot 65 in a casual match before the international 2011 Carey Cup competition, which was played here.
Still, he had to remind himself to relax by repeatedly squeezing a golf ball. Having his dad on the bag helped, too. What helped most of all was a hot start: birdies on the first two holes, a birdie on the par-4 sixth and an eagle on the par-5 seventh. "I had 267 to the hole, I hit a nice little cut 3-wood to 15 feet," he said. "I knew it was kind of a special day."
He was fortunate that his hooked drive on No. 13 hit off a cart and bounced back into the fairway. "Everyone needs a little luck," he said, no doubt reflecting how the Black's 64 shooters felt (Craig Thomas, 2007 State Open; Mike Weir and Lucas Glover, 2009 U.S. Open; Padraig Harrington, 2012 Barclays). Miller finished off the 65 with a 1-foot birdie putt on the 18th.
He overcame a two-stroke deficit to Fuchs, who works a full-time job with Abbe Lumber. Fuchs credited his father-in-law, who is his boss, with allowing him time off to prepare for his solid 4-under-par finish.
Fuchs did all he could. He just lost to a guy who might be too busy to play in many more New York State Opens. "Everyone knows the type of player Mike Miller is, one of the best professionals around," Fuchs said. "It was just a fantastic round, and I'm sure we'll see him one day on the PGA Tour."