SAN FRANCISCO - An anonymous club pro with a famous name has finally played his way into the US Open spotlight, more than a decade of trying and a 30-second YouTube clip catapulting Dennis Miller into one of this week’s pretournament media darlings.
Miller, a 42-year-old from Youngstown, Ohio, survived a four-man playoff for three spots in last week’s sectional qualifier in Columbus, Ohio. He birdied the fourth playoff hole to get in, knocking in a 20-footer from the fringe. As the cameras rolled, Miller watched his birdie putt break softly toward the hole but hang on the right edge. Miller turned away after a second, thinking it wasn’t going to drop. But when he turned away the ball trickled in, sending the director of golf at Mill Creek Golf Club into a high-fiving frenzy, his reaction certainly worthy of the moment.
The US Open is always within reach of anyone good enough and willing to try. It’s an elite tournament with spots available for an everyman like Miller.
“You could not script this story,’’ Miller said. “If I birdie one of the last two holes in regulation, I’m probably the same story. It’s a great story, 42-year-old Mill Creek golf professional, made it to the US Open. But to do it with the cameras rolling, the ball hanging on the lip . . . I can’t tell you how excited my family is.’’
It’s been a hectic week since Miller - who first tried to qualify for the US Open 12 or 13 years ago - finally got through. There were media requests, logistics to figure out, and attention that needed to be paid to his golf game, since it’s about to face its toughest test. But he also had work obligations.
“I think it’s everyone’s dream if you’re a golfer that one day you might have an opportunity to play at the US Open,’’ said Miller, who was wearing a 49ers hat during his practice round Monday because the team’s former owner, Eddie DeBartolo, is from Youngstown. “I still have a job to do back in Mill Creek. And we actually had a Chamber of Commerce golf outing Wednesday, had 300 golfers out there. I worked about 14 hours that day. That was my preparation up to this week.
“It’s been a whirlwind. We’re trying to enjoy it.’’
Colt Knost passed up spots in the Masters and US Open in 2008, courtesy of his victory in the 2007 US Amateur, when he decided to forfeit his amateur status and become a professional. Some were critical of Knost’s decision, but he was confident enough to feel that there would be other major championship opportunities down the road.
There is now. It took Knost four more years, and this time he’s going to play. He’ll finally make his major championship debut at this week’s US Open at the Olympic Club - as fate would have it, the same site of his Amateur triumph in ’07.
Knost was one of five players who received exemptions into the field this week. Branden Grace (No. 54) and Spencer Levin (60th) got in because they were among the top 60 players in the world golf rankings as of Monday. The US Golf Association set aside five last-minute exemptions, and since only two players earned their way in through the world rankings, three sectional alternates got the nod.
In addition to Knost, who was the second alternate from the PGA Tour-heavy sectional in Columbus, Ohio, the first alternates from Columbus (Justin Hicks) and Memphis (Kyle Thompson) also received spots.
Jordan Spieth, an 18-year-old freshman at Texas who lost a playoff in the Dallas sectional, joined the field on Monday when Brandt Snedeker withdrew with a rib injury. That bumped 14-year-old Andy Zhang to the front of the alternate list. Zhang, who lost in a playoff at the sectional in Lecanto, Fla., then became the youngest competitor in US Open history when Paul Casey withdrew because of a shoulder injury.
Full crowd scene
Practice began in earnest Monday, one day after a few dozen players were on the grounds at Olympic. Almost everybody spent time on the course or the range on a warm (at least for San Francisco) day. No fog delays, at least not yet . . . Defending champion Rory McIlroy is scheduled to throw out the first pitch at Tuesday night’s Giants-Astros game. It’s Irish Heritage Night at AT&T Park. Before Wednesday’s Giants game, Dustin Johnson, coming off a win at the FedEx St. Jude Classic, is supposed to launch golf balls from the field and over the right-field wall, into the San Francisco Bay.