Miller delivers high drama in Columbus


COLUMBUS, Ohio - In the waning light of golf's longest day, Dennis Miller had his moment in the sun.

Miller arrived on the 18th green at Scioto CC, on the fourth hole of a four-man playoff for three spots in the U.S. Open. The 42-year-old had hit a 330-yard drive to start his 40th hole of the day. His aggressive approach to back-right pin on the firm green had rolled to the back fringe.

In better shape than the remaining participants, Scott Piercy and Justin Hicks, Miller lined up his 25-foot birdie putt with the circa 1992 Maxfli Tad Moore putter he put in the bag on Monday morning.

Miller struck the putt. The pace was perfect. The line was true. It should have gone in, but it stopped on the edge of the cup. A collective groan came from the crowd of 75 around the green.

Maybe it was the rumble of noise, or a gust of wind, but as Miller walked head-down to his ball, it disappeared into the cup.

'I didn't even see it go in,' he said.

The crowd roared. Miller looked up to see his destiny and celebrated with fist pumps, smiles and unadulterated joy. After 12 attempts to qualify for the U.S. Open and seven times at sectionals, Miller was in the U.S. Open.

As he walked off the green, the gallery walked up to shake his hand, pat him on the back and wish him well. One of us had gotten into the U.S. Open. It was time for every man to celebrate the everyman.

Miller made the trek from Youngstown, Ohio, where he has been the director of golf for Mill Creek Metro Parks for the last dozen years. Friend Kirk Hough accompanied Miller to be on the bag, as he has for tournaments during Miller's entire stint in his current job.

At 6:15 a.m., Miller arrived to Scioto CC - a course he had never seen - as the third alternate in the U.S. Open sectional qualifier. About 35 minutes later, tournament officials told Miller he was in the 7:50 a.m. tee time from Scioto's first hole. David Hearn had withdrawn.

With just 20 strokes with his new putter under his belt, Miller hit the tee box. Just around 6 p.m., he arrived at the scoring table at the Scarlet Course of the Ohio State University Golf Club at even-par 141.

Scores were updated on both sites only in nine-hole intervals. At that time, more than 20 players were a 1 under or better. Miller thought he had failed again.

'That number is the worst possible number for me,' Miller said to Hough after looking at the scoreboard.

The number, like the berth-clinching putt, turned out to be just right.

Clearly nervous as the playoff began back at Scioto’s par-3 ninth, Miller made a routine par at the first hole of sudden death. He sank a six-foot par putt at the second hole to stay alive after first alternate Morgan Hoffmann made birdie to lock up the first of the three spots.

His luck seemed to run out, however, at the third playoff hole, the downhill par-3 17th. Miller found the back bunker, where his ball came to rest just in front of a rock. The explosion shot imparted no spin on the ball. With 15 feet for par, Miller poured it right in the heart. Fitting.

The final hole was played flawlessly. He was long of the tee, aggressive with his approach and had the deftest of touch with his putt.

Hough knew the window was closing on his friend to realize a dream. The window was open just enough.

'He's like a good wine,' Hough said. 'He gets better with age.'

Miller is San Francisco-bound, but he was already heading to the Golden State this month. He had intended to go to the Monterey Peninsula on June 20 to prepare for the PGA Professional National Championship.  Now he can extend his stay in the Bay Area.

Hough will be on the bag in the Open, able to collect a small caddie stipend if Miller can make the cut.

'I'll take whatever he wants to give me,' Hough said with a smile.

Miller gives plenty. He has worked tirelessly to expand the junior golf program back in Youngstown, sacrificing time with his wife and five-year-old son, Nathan.

This good guy didn't finish first. But, in this case, 15th was just as rewarding.

'This is as close to 'Tin Cup' as it gets,' Hough said.

Hollywood isn't all that far away from Olympic Club.

In four years, Scioto CC will host the 2016 U.S. Senior Open. Unfortunately, Miller will not yet be old enough to compete with the 50-plus set. A Scioto member helping run the event seemed more than accommodative as he said, 'Maybe we'll have to do it again.'

If only every tournament could end this way.