By Mike Dougherty
Mike Miller logged countless miles this summer in pursuit of a Walker Cup invitation, pushing himself to make something happen.
It was a haul.
And when a single bad swing prevented the 21-year-old Brewster resident from advancing to match play at the Western Open recently, he paused long enough to reconsider the approach. Miller, who plays out of Knollwood Country Club, plans to play smarter golf during the U.S. Amateur this week, hoping to avoid the big numbers that have been derailing his momentum.
“I’m learning,” he said. “In order to compete against the best players in the world, you have to take some chances, but sometimes it’s costly. Sometimes a par is good enough. Sometimes a bogey will keep a good round going.”
Cameron Young (Sleepy Hollow), Dylan Newman (Bonnie Briar), Sam Bernstein (Century) and Theo Epstein (Sleepy Hollow) are the other players from Westchester clubs in the field. After 36 holes of stroke play, the top 64 golfers advance to match play at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., where Francis Ouimet put the game on the map.
Miller is currently ranked 35th among the world’s best amateurs. He was not among the five Walker Cup players named a month ago and likely has to make the final next weekend to be considered for a spot on the U.S. team that will be facing Great Britain and Ireland, Sept. 7-8 at the National Golf Links of America in Southampton.
Five more players will be named after the U.S. Amateur concludes.
“The last year has gone by quickly,” said Miller, who’s played in the national amateur championship four times and made the round of 32 a year ago. “Right now, making the Walker Cup is my focus. And if things don’t work out, I’ve done what I’ve wanted to do.”
If there is no invitation, Miller said he will turn pro for the Met Open, which is scheduled for Aug. 20-22 at Old Westbury Golf and Country Club.
A recent break in Lake George helped Miller refocus after taking a quintuple bogey on a benign par 3 during the final round of stroke play at the Western Open.
The goal now is to embrace the experience.
“I’m driving up with my dad right now,” Miller said by phone on Friday. “My mom is coming up. My girlfriend is coming up. I’m going to have to play my best, but you never know what’s going to happen. I’m going to absolutely enjoy it.”
Young, a 16-year-old who recently finished in fifth place at the PGA Junior Championship, is also coming in off a short break.
“I haven’t done a lot,” the Fordham Prep junior said. “I was tired.”
This will be the biggest tournament Young has played to date. And while he is remarkably calm, there’s no masking the increased level of excitement.
“I usually don’t get nervous at tournaments except for maybe the first shot of the first round,” he said. “This will be cool, getting a chance to play against guys I’ve read about, some of the top players in the world.”
Newman, who graduated from Iona College in the spring, isn’t getting caught up in the magnitude of the championship, either.
“You just keep playing,” he said. “I’ve played in tournaments my whole life, and I’m getting better and better at it. You have to stay in the present moment. I know everyone says that, but that’s really the case.”