Miller takes bumpy road on GW Jr. Tour

Jeffery Miller during the Golfweek Junior Tournament of Champions

At my age, I’ve learned it is possible to have a role model who has not even reached his teenage years. Jeffery Miller, 12, is a role model, and his recent actions prove what the great game of golf teaches.

We have heard the stories about how golf teaches integrity and builds character. Remember the headlines a couple seasons ago when professional golfer J.P. Hayes turned himself in for unknowingly playing a non-conforming golf ball in the second stage of PGA Tour Qualifying School? It cost him a chance to play full time on the PGA Tour.

And at the 2001 British Open, Ian Woosnam was very much in contention to win, but started the final round with 15 clubs in his bag, one more than allowed. Woosnam called the two-shot penalty on himself and went on to finish four shots behind champion David Duval.

This is the way it is supposed to be, right? Golf is a sport in which the players police themselves. Miller has learned that at a young age.

In November, Miller posted rounds of 75-79 to finish second at Golfweek’s Junior Tour Orange Tree Open in Scottsdale, Ariz. A runner-up finish more than likely would have given him enough points to earn a spot in the GJT Ryder Cup event - a goal of his.

After returning to his nearby Phoenix home the night of the final round, the sixth-grader realized there was a 15th club in his bag. It was an 18-inch hybrid club that belonged to his brother Nicholas. The club had found its way into the bag the night before when it is believed that the younger Miller had placed it there after the two were outside practicing in their backyard.

“It was raining that day, and I had tried to put an umbrella in my bag, but I felt something in there and did not know what it was, and it wasn’t until afterward when I got home and went to clean out my bag that I found that club,” Miller said.

Miller did not take long to decide what he needed to do: report the breach of Rule 4-4.

“It was very sad for me, because I knew if I finished top-3 I would have enough points to get into the Ryder Cup, so it was really hard for me and I was crying because if I DQ’ed myself, there would be a very low chance that I would make it to the Ryder Cup.”

When Miller was asked if it ever crossed his mind not to say anything, he said: “At beginning, but I couldn’t live with myself because it’s not the right thing to do. Those are the rules of golf.”

Miller told his mother, Julie, of the situation, and the next day he called the directors of the tour to inform them of the rules violation.

“I was extremely proud of him,” his mother said. “All of the things he has learned playing golf – a lot more has sunk in than just learning how to play golf.”

If that were not enough to make you admire the pre-teen, he did something at his next event that would once again make anyone proud to know him.

The GJT major at Dove Mountain in Tucson, Ariz., was a tournament Miller had been looking forward to for a couple of reasons. It was the site where the pros play the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, and the winner of the event automatically gets a spot on the GJT Ryder Cup team.

On the sixth hole, Miller’s right hand found a Jumping Cholla Cactus plant that left more than 20 needles lodged in his right hand. After a brief delay to get each needle removed - even some that went all the way through his hand - Miller did not withdraw. Instead, he finished the round and posted a 17-over 89.

“I finished the round and was tempted to withdraw, but I did not want to have a DQ and then a withdrawal on my scores, so I just finished out,” Miller said.

In my many years around junior golf, I have heard stories and seen many kids find any excuse they can to withdraw from an event. Anything to avoid posting an 89. Twenty needles from a cactus plant would have been a justified reason, but not for Miller.

It was not about the score. Miller simply wanted to play the course that the pros play. But, again he thought his chances to make the Ryder Cup team were gone.

But, at his next event, at Silverado Golf Club, Miller shot 72-69 to win and earned enough points to make the team.

His mother stated it best that “all the stars had to align” for Miller to reach his goal.

Something tells me the stars will align often for this young role model who is learning valuable life lessons through golf.

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