U.S. WOMEN'S AMATEUR FOUR-BALL
Gold-Medal Gymnast Miller Inspires Women’s Four-Ball Field April 27, 2019 | Jacksonville, Fla. By Ron Driscoll, USGA

Olympic gold medalist Shannon Miller (center) poses with defending champs Ellen Secor (left) and Katrina Prendergast. (USGA/Ron Driscoll)

The next time one of the players competing in the fifth U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship makes an uncharacteristic double bogey, she should remember Shannon Miller’s recovery from an embarrassing faux pas in the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.

“It was the vault competition,” Miller recalled at Friday’s players’ dinner at Timuquana Country Club. “I ran down that 70-foot runway as fast as I could, hurtled onto the springboard and flew over that vaulting horse – and landed right on my backside for the entire world to see.”

Much of the world did see it. Miller, then 19, was part of the USA gymnastics team dubbed the “Magnificent Seven” for the team gold medal they had won days earlier – the country’s first team gold in that event.

But Miller’s pursuit of additional gold in Atlanta was not going well. First, she stepped out of bounds during the floor exercise for the individual all-around title – which she was leading at the time – and the penalty for the misstep dropped her out of medal contention. Then came the inexplicable crash landing in the vault, which lives on via “the magic of YouTube,” as Miller ruefully noted. Later that night, Miller tried to make sense of the stumbles as she awaited her final Olympic shot.

“I remember that I started to vent about it to my mother [Claudia],” said Miller, 42. “I said, I don’t understand it. I stepped out of bounds, and things like that happen, but this vault – I’ve never missed it, not in training, not in competition. And then, ‘Splat!’ And now, I was terrified.”

It didn’t help that the final 90 seconds of Miller’s Olympic career would be played out on the 4-inch-wide balance beam, or as she called it, “the most feared event in gymnastics.”

“My mother stopped my venting and said, ‘Let me ask you – have you done the work? The competitions, the training?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I’ve done the work. I don’t always get it right, but I give it everything I have every time I go out there.’ And she said, ‘I know. And that’s why I also know that you can walk into that arena with your head high, confident that no matter what happens, you’ve done everything you could to get it right.’”

Shannon Miller's two Olympic gold medals from 1996. (USGA/Ron Driscoll)

Miller nailed the balance beam routine, but more important than the fact that she won the gold medal – her record seventh gymnastics medal for the USA over the 1992 and 1996 Games – was her memory of how she had lived in the moment and appreciated the opportunity she had been given.

WATCH: Shannon Miller’s gold-medal winning balance beam routine

The 128 competitors in the 5th U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball might not be able to rule the balance beam as Miller did in 1996, but they also have an opportunity this week. Miller is both envious of them and excited for them.

“I’m a gymnast, right? I flipped around on a 4-inch-wide beam; how hard can it be to hit a ball?” she asked, then answered her own question. “OK, so it’s really, really hard! But I love golf. I met my husband on a golf course in Jacksonville, and it’s a wonderful family sport. Our two kids take lessons here at Timuquana.”

Miller noted that an eight-time USGA champion practiced methods that mirrored her gymnastics routine.

“Jack Nicklaus once said that he never hit a shot without first picturing it in his mind down to the very last detail,” said Miller. “So many top performers in every field rely on that positive, powerful visualization. I love that golf reminds me so much of the mental aspects of gymnastics.”

Golf has also helped Miller in her post-gymnastics career, as she has become an advocate for women’s health after successfully battling a rare form of ovarian cancer in 2011.

“I was painfully shy growing up and standing up here and talking would have been so hard for me,” said Miller. “But I set goals for everything, and I think everyone in this room is with me. I treated my shyness as a challenge. I needed to start saying yes to those requests to speak at events and be part of charity golf tournaments. Riding in a golf cart for four hours with people I didn’t know helped pull me out of my shell.”

The final lesson that Miller left with the audience is that her Olympic moments of glory are not what reverberate most in her memory.

“It’s natural that people remember me from that gold-medal moment – it was pretty amazing,” said Miller. “But the moments that matter are the days in the hot, sweaty, chalky gym, doing pushup after pushup when nobody’s watching. It’s not glamorous or exciting, but that’s where the magic happens, in the work we do every single day. If you give it 100 percent, even in the small moments, it all adds up over time.”

Yet another corollary with golf that her listeners could embrace as they began their quest for a national championship.

Ron Driscoll is the senior manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at rdriscoll@usga.org.

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