SAN FRANCISCO – Kirk Hough has worked for some of the biggest names in golf.
He caddied for John Daly two weeks before the bomber would win the 1991 PGA Championship at Crooked Stick. Hough would buy his wife, Maureen, an engagement ring from Daly’s giving ways.
He’d also spend a couple of days on Lee Trevino’s bag, and would chase that carrying Arnold Palmer’s sticks.
But nothing topped what he experienced last Monday in Columbus, Ohio, while tending to the bag of Dennis Miller.
No, not the comedian.
Miller, a happy-go-lucky 42-year-old, earned a spot in the 2012 U.S. Open behind an improbable birdie to take the final sectional qualifying spot and a trip to San Francisco.
“You couldn’t script it any better,” said Hough, who has caddied for Miller in 12 U.S. Open qualifiers. “You know the window is closing (as you get older). That ball shouldn’t have turned and dropped into that hole. After it did, we thought it was God’s way of giving us that extra little push.”
Miller nearly didn’t play in the qualifier, having not advanced out of the last three local qualifiers and beginning to doubt his chances to realizing his dream of playing in America’s championship after 12 failed attempts. But curiosity got the best of Miller – he wanted a chance to check out the Scioto Country Club, one of the two venues used for the 36-hole qualifier in Columbus.
At the end of the day, a handful of Scioto’s members were toasting Miller and Hough, telling them not to worry about going back to their day jobs on Tuesday – they’d call their respective jobs for them.
“We were embraced like we were longtime PGA Tour pros,” Hough said. “They took us on a private tour. The outpouring of love was immediate.”
And so was the spotlight, with Miller – the golf director at Mill Creek Park in Youngstown, Ohio – now being followed by Golf Channel all week at Olympic Club, standing as an example as to why the U.S. Open is different than any other major on American soil: Everyone has a chance.
“I am not letting reality back in,” said Miller, who will play his first practice round on Monday afternoon and plans to play with two-time U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen on Tuesday morning. “Next week, my wife will go back to being a registered nurse and I’ll go back to being a golf pro. But, for this week, I am going to live this fairy tale.”
To live this made-for-TV moment, Miller pointed to the outpouring of love from the Youngstown community – and not just in the form of the thousands of text messages, but also the financial lift that sponsors such as the San Francisco 49ers (he and Hough donned plenty of gear during a Monday morning news conference) have offered to make this expensive excursion to California possible. The 49ers’ owners – the Yorks – are based in Youngstown.
He now has four sponsors – including Handel’s Homemade Ice Cream & Yogurt, Ristvey Investment Group and Auntie Anne’s pretzels – on his shirt where he didn’t have any a week ago in Columbus.
“I grew up a 49ers fan, so this is pretty neat,” Miller said. “(The support) all just snowballed.”
“That financial support allowed him to just concentrate on golf,” added Hough. “He can now just enjoy the experience.”
And he’ll be able to share it with his wife of 14 years, Denise, his 5-year-old son, Nathan, and his great niece, Paige.
“I told him to have fun, to relax, to enjoy it,” Denise said. “I told him I would take care of everything else.”
For Miller, he needs only to take care of one thing: A weekend tee time.