FRENCH LICK, Ind. – John Spider Miller will captain the United States Walker Cup Team in September 2015 at Royal Lytham & St. Annes in England as the USA attempts to retain the cup. Before that, however, Miller has his eye – and his allegiance – squarely on a competition on his home soil.
I’m going to challenge the guys that are here with us from Indiana, said Miller, singling out Sean Rowen and Brett Widner, two of the three players who will represent the Hoosier State in the 11th USGA Men’s State Team Championship, which will be contested Sept. 30 through Oct. 2 at the French Lick (Ind.) Resort’s Pete Dye Course.
Miller, a native of North Vernon, Ind., and a two-time Men’s State Team competitor, helped Indiana to a third-place finish in 1997, the state’s best performance.
This is your year, and I’m counting on the Indiana boys to do a little better than third place, Miller said during the championship’s media day.
The Men’s State Team is being contested in Indiana for the first time. The championship consists of 54 holes of stroke play, with all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia entering teams of three players. The two lowest scores out of three will make up the team’s score for each round.
Each state chooses the criteria for team selection, with performance in state events and USGA championships throughout the spring and summer generally playing a large role. Miller is a two-time U.S. Mid-Amateur champion (1996, 1998) who also values the opportunity to compete at the state level. He won two Indiana Mid-Amateurs, along with state player-of-the-year honors in 1984 and 1998. A beer distributor who lives in Bloomington, Miller played in two Masters Tournaments, as well as on the 1999 USA Walker Cup Team. The chance to represent his state in the inaugural Men’s State Team is another memory that he cherishes.
I do remember in 1995, I was told that if I continued to play well in state events, it was likely I would make the team, said Miller, 64. It was a great incentive for me to work harder. As an amateur, you evolve and you begin at the local and state levels. When you’re chosen as one of the best three players in your state, that’s a great honor. It’s something that is not easy to do. I’m very thankful that I’ve done it.
Miller competes sparingly now, and devotes most of his energy to his Walker Cup captaincy. He was at the U.S. Amateur at Atlanta Athletic Club in August, familiarizing himself with the talented young players who will be fighting for spots on the 2015 squad.
For me, as Walker Cup captain, I’m thrilled beyond belief to represent our country, said Miller. I know that representing your state is, in its own way, just as important. So, I thank the players that are coming here, and I know they will feel the same way that I feel and our team will feel when that flag goes up and they hit that first shot.
Indiana Embraces Home-Field Advantage
As three of the top amateur players in Indiana, Kenny Cook (Noblesville), Sean Rowen (Greenwood) and Brett Widner (Avon) often butt heads in championship play at the state level. For three days, all of that is put aside.
All three of us played college golf, so you’re able to revert back pretty quickly, said Rowen, who defeated Cook in a playoff to win the Indiana Tournament of Champions in May. We’re here to win; we’re here to represent Indiana. If I go out and shoot 72 every round, and it doesn’t count, that’s fine, you’re good with it.
With travel arrangements not as much of an issue for the host state, Indiana was able to wait until August to select its team. All three members have seen success heading into the championship.
Cook recently reached the Round of 32 in the U.S. Mid-Amateur, while Widner won the Indiana Mid-Amateur for the second straight year, in August.
Having played the host course also benefits the home team, but the challenging layout offers few breaks.
It can hold its own – there are just so many things that the golf course requires, said Widner, who competed there in the 2012 Indiana Open. You have to drive the ball well; it can take driver out of your hands a few times, but that’s something you have to do. Even doing that, if you miss these greens, there are so many spots where you can make a big number, even with a wedge in your hand.
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