John “Spider” Miller claimed a pair of U.S. Mid-Amateur titles in the 1990s, defeating future champion Randal Lewis, 3 and 2, in 1996 at Hartford (Conn.) Golf Club and two years later defeating Chip Holcomb, 1 up, on the South Course at NCR Country Club in Kettering, Ohio. Miller, a father of five who has operated a beverage distribution company in Bloomington, Ind., since 1979, also played on the 1999 USA Walker Cup Team and served as USA Team captain for the 2015 Match at Royal Lytham & St. Annes. He will captain the USA again in 2017, when the Walker Cup is played at Los Angeles (Calif.) Country Club.
How special is it to be one of five players to have won multiple U.S. Mid-Amateur titles?
Miller: The second time, I guess I knew what to expect. I was actually playing better. Conditions were somewhat similar for both [championships] in that we had rain early and somewhat soggy, wet bentgrass and then as the week wore on, things dried out and the greens became harder and faster. It was a great reward. When you do something once, you always are wondering if you can do it again. I was two and out and I was very lucky to have won twice.
How did it change your life?
Miller: It didn’t change my life at all. I went back to work the next day. I knew I was going to work. My kids were younger and all they knew was that Dad was playing golf. I didn’t let it change my life. I have a lot of great friendships [through golf], so from that perspective it has [changed my life].
Of course, winning does bring a Masters invitation. What was the experience like?
Miller: Fuzzy Zoeller and I are good friends. The first practice round that I played there was with him, Arnold [Palmer] and Tom Watson. Then the next day it was him, Arnold and Jack [Nicklaus]. I told Fuzzy on the first tee that something has happened here. He was puffing on that cigarette, and he said, “What’s up Bubba? What’s happening?” I said, “Somebody has sucked all the air out of this place.” I’m looking at Jack and Arnold and I can hardly breathe. As you can imagine, those two are so gracious and I’ve had the great fortune to be pals with Arnold since that time. In this whole world, there can’t be a nicer or greater gentleman for every reason. Forget the golf. Just for a human being and a great person. It wouldn’t matter what he did for a living. He’s the best.
Was making a Walker Cup Team important at that time in your career?
Miller: It’s something you take one step at a time. Initially, it would have seemed to be an unattainable goal. I won one, OK, it is within my reach. But you have to keep playing well. It is the ultimate honor for an amateur player to be on the Walker Cup Team. I was on in 1999 at Nairn [Golf Club in Scotland].
What were your feelings when the USGA called to make you captain of the 2015 USA Team?
Miller: That is the ultimate honor for me. It’s been very rewarding to get to know the younger players and get re-engaged with them at that level. It’s a great group of young players. Even better than that, I am meeting a lot of nice kids and getting to know a lot of parents who have done a really good job raising those kids. That’s the rewarding point.
And the Mid-Amateur figures prominently in all of this, doesn’t it?
Miller: I saw Chip Holcomb, who I beat in the second one [in 1998], and he says, “I can’t believe you hit that 5-iron on the last hole.” And I said, neither can I. We were both laughing. I said if I hit my normal shot, I would have been in that left bunker and you would be the [Walker Cup] captain right now.
You raced motorcycles as a child, correct?
Miller: I rode some flat track in my teenage years and a little motocross back before they had all the good equipment.
When did you start playing golf?
Miller: I played [golf] as a youngster and caddied as a kid. I worked at the golf course [at Indiana University] through college. That’s how I got through [school] full-time. I worked for the old golf coach. He said you can do anything here and have any title you want except for golf coach.
Is there any one memory that stands out from your Mid-Amateur triumphs?
Miller: The last one at NCR [in 1998] my kids were all there. And I can still remember my wife and all the kids coming out onto the green. They were there for the last match because [Dayton, Ohio] was within driving distance from where we lived in Bloomington, Indiana. I can still remember the kids running out onto the green. They were probably from 10 years old to 18. I have five kids. Four of them were there. Now they are all married and in the workforce and all grown up. That was exciting. That was special for me.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.