In February, the Millers of Youngstown, Ohio, visited Walt Disney World in Florida. Dennis, his wife, Denise, and their 5-year-old son, Nathan, were one of thousands of families on vacation at the theme park.
But Dennis was hardly anonymous. As he toured the Magic Kingdom and Epcot Center, three people asked if he was the guy from the U.S. Open.
Miller was, but it wasn’t necessarily his play during the 2012 U.S. Open at The Olympic Club in San Francisco – he shot 80-82 – that made him so recognizable. It was the way he finally qualified for the U.S. Open after more than a dozen attempts.
The director of golf at Mill Creek Golf Course, a municipal facility in Youngstown with two Donald Ross courses, Miller made a birdie putt from off the green in a U.S. Open sectional qualifying playoff at Scioto Country Club in Columbus, Ohio.
A Golf Channel camera captured his putt, which hung on the edge of the hole for several seconds before rolling over the lip. When the ball dropped, the small group of spectators around the green – as well as Miller, who didn’t see the ball drop into the hole – exploded in spontaneous celebration. Not only had Miller, now 43, fulfilled a lifetime goal of qualifying for the U.S. Open, he had done so with one of the most memorable putts of the year. (Click here to watch the video.)
Fellow Walt Disney World visitors weren’t the only ones who saw the video. Prior to a practice round at Olympic, Miller was warming up on the practice range when an imposing figure approached. Kirk Hough, Miller’s caddie, saw him, but Miller did his best to keep from looking.
“Nice putt, Dennis,” said Tiger Woods.
At Olympic, Miller received a lot more attention than first-time U.S. Open competitors normally do. He had dreamed of playing in the U.S. Open, but never thought he would be chatting with Woods or giving a pre-championship press conference – an invitation usually extended only to the top players.
Ten months later, the magical ride that began when Miller’s putt dropped at Scioto has yet to end.
“It’s really indescribable how last year changed my career,” said Miller.
Back in Youngstown, Miller received plenty of attention and celebrity treatment – even the number of complaints at Mill Creek dwindled. He also received a significant promotion in September, to executive director of Mill Creek Parks. Miller now oversees the 4,500-acre complex, which includes three lakes, playing fields, tennis courts, bike paths, an outdoor pavilion and an 18-hole par-3 course – in addition to the golf courses.
In what little spare time he has, Miller is trying to keep his game sharp for the upcoming competitive season. Now that he has attained one of his lifelong dreams, he is looking to qualify for the PGA Championship by finishing in the top 20 of the PGA Professional National Championship, to be held at Sunriver (Ore.) Resort, June 23-26.
“That’s my next goal,” said Miller.
And on May 7, Miller will return to Beechmont Country Club in Cleveland – the course where his remarkable journey to Olympic began last year – for his U.S. Open local qualifier, the first stage on the road to Merion Golf Club and the 2013 U.S. Open.
Friends and family now think that because he’s done it once, Miller can qualify again. Having survived the gauntlet after so many attempts, Miller knows how unrealistic such expectations are.
“People are [already] trying to line up tickets [for Merion],” said Miller. “I said, ‘Wait, you need to relax here.’ I don’t know if I would go that far.”
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.