SUMMIT, N.J. — Mike Miller has crammed a lot of golf thrills into his 24 years, such as shooting a 65 at Bethpage Black — a stroke off the course record — while winning the 2014 New York State Open, turning pro at 21, signing with the management company that handles Phil Mickelson and having a locker next to Mickelson in his first PGA Tour event.
Not one day of it, though, compared with what happened Monday. The golfer from upstate Brewster shot 6 under par through 36 holes at Canoe Brook Country Club in Summit, New Jersey, endured a case of nerves on the final hole and qualified for the U.S. Open.
“Dream come true,” he said. “The first time I tried to qualify, I was 15. Nine years it has taken me to get here but there are some people who never, ever get to qualify. I’m just absolutely thrilled that I get to play in a dream tournament.”
He will be in the field at Oakmont Country Club in Pennsylvania next week, along with the greatest players in the world as well as five others who earned their way in at this sectional qualifier. Those golfers represent a typical magical U.S. Open cross section. It starts with a pair of co-medalists at 7 under from the PGA Tour: Jim Herman, who won the Shell Houston Open this year and Rob Oppenheim, who tuned up by shooting 58 at Sleepy Hollow in Westchester Friday.
It also includes an eclectic group at 6 under: tour pro Justin Hicks, Web.com player Andy Pope and amateur Christopher Crawford from Drexel. Crawford knew he needed a birdie on his final hole, a 601-yard par 5, and promptly hit a 40-yard hook. The trees were such an obstacle that he had to play up the 13th fairway and knocked his third shot, a 6-iron, on the green, 40 feet from the hole.
“The only shot I wasn’t nervous on was the putt,” he said. “I was so far away, I didn’t expect to make it.” Except he made it. He is on his way to Oakmont.
Miller’s tale had the most local flavor. He plays in events all over the country but chose to enter the Open qualifier run by the Metropolitan Golf Association, the organization that twice has named him player of the year.
He grew up around golf as the son of Bob, the Knollwood Country Club head pro. That did not prevent him from getting so nervous on the final hole that he was telling himself just to get the ball airborne. “I’m OK with it. I’ll finish bogey-bogey and get in the U.S. Open,” he said. “I’ve heard horror stories about how it’s going to be tough and Oakmont is brutal, but I don’t care. I’m just elated that I get to be there.”
“He should be,” said Marc Turnesa, a PGA Tour pro from Rockville Centre who tied Garden City Golf Club pro Bob Rittberger for low Long Islander at 1 under. “He’s got as good a chance as anybody. He’s a great kid, too.”