Walker Cup Preview: Q&A with U.S. Captain Spider Miller
11 Sep 2015
by AmateurGolf.com Staff

see also: The Walker Cup, Royal Liverpool Golf Club

John "Spider" Miller, at the 2015 Jones Cup<br /> Tracy Wilcox photo
John "Spider" Miller, at the 2015 Jones Cup
Tracy Wilcox photo

As the 45th Walker Cup Match looms between the United States and Great Britain & Ireland September 12 and 13 at Royal Lytham and St. Annes Golf Club in England, Manager of Championship Communications Brian DePasquale of the United States Golf Association sat down with United States captain John "Spider" Miller — a two‑time USGA Champion and a member of the 1999 USA Walker Cup Team — to discuss the impending match between the two nations top amateur players.

Having travelled with the team to Latrobe Country Club outside Pittsburgh, Pa. to spend some quality time with none other than Arnold Palmer, Miller reflected on the time they spent with the 7-time major championship winner.

BRIAN: What was the biggest piece of advice you took away from Arnold Palmer, not necessarily for you but for the kids, something that really stuck with you?

CAPTAIN MILLER: I think what really hit home with the kids was how to conduct your professional life. I believe that as — we all believe, that all of our young guys will likely turn professional at some point.

I think they learned if you treat people right, if you're polite and you always do the right thing, that your professional life can extend for so long. I don't know that any will ever extend as long as Arnold's, maybe so, but I think they all learned that this is how you act as a professional. I think this was the biggest takeaway.

And that's what I wanted them to learn. I wanted them to see how to handle themselves and that the rewards you can achieve by simply treating people will and always being respectful.

BRIAN: Could you comment on your personal experience, if any, over the years, at Lytham, and comment on the golf course if you have seen it since your appointment as the captain and your take on how the golf course might play and how it might play for the American kids.

CAPTAIN MILLER: Well, my experience is limited. I went over last summer for a week and I played with Robert Webb and a couple of his friends. And unfortunately or fortunately, the weather was perfect. We had 70‑degree days and very little wind.

But aside from that, I know playing conditions are going to change. I can't ‑‑ you know, trying to guess those conditions, you don't know. But the golf course, the surround, the setting, where it is positioned and everything about it, I really like.

As you know, the bunkers are the dangerous part. So that's part of my reasoning. I want the kids to have as many looks at the golf course as we can get. That's why I'm going there immediately on Monday when it becomes available to us, and these guy the are going to have to decide their clubbing, some of the bunkers that they will lay up short of, and some that they will hit downwind. The only player in the group that has played the course is Jordan Niebrugge.

And I asked Jordan, I said, how many when you played ‑‑ of course, all wind condition, how many drivers he hit, and he said two. So I expect that there will be a lot of position playing, and that was my take when I played there, as well. It's all about avoiding those bunkers.

BRIAN: I'm curious, you mentioned obviously wanting to get the guys as many looks as they can at the course once you all get there. But how do you try to handle the week up to, obviously Saturday when balls are first being hit in earnest. How do you balance playing too much and getting acclimated to not playing too much and maybe overdoing it before? And have you spoken to any past captains on what advice they might give you on how to balance that?

CAPTAIN MILLER: Well, I'll answer the latter first, and yes, I've spoken to most all of the recent captains. But I also had a great conversation recently from the most gracious guy in the world, Dave Stockton, was kind enough to talk with me for about an hour, maybe more, about different philosophies and things. He couldn't have been better. He was a great help.

My challenge for me is to provide a framework and a schedule that allows all these players to be their best on Saturday morning. So I'm going to allow them time to do the routines that they normally do, and each one I expect will be different. So I'll find out what their typical routine is the day before they play, two days before they play.

It's not going to be military golf. You know, I want each one of them vested in the process, and so they know they can talk freely with me, and I listen to what they say. So that's my plan.

BRIAN: Jordan [Niebrugge] is the one guy on the team that's played a lot of links golf this summer. How much is he going to be a factor in terms of giving information to the other guys. He qualified at Hillside, he's played Lytham and he's played St. Andrews and he is the one guy with a lot of links experience, and he also played on the team two years ago. How much are you leaning on him to help the other guys?

CAPTAIN MILLER: I think Jordan will be a great influence. I like his age. I like his experience and his demeanor. He's going to be a great teammate for all the guys and they know him well. Jordan I expect when I'm not around and when they talk among themselves, I expect that he will be a great influence.

I mean, he understands the yardages and he can talk to them. And I talked with him about it, to share his thoughts on certain holes and when you think you should lay‑up to this bunker and when you might carry one bunker and the effects of that.

Yeah, all that's good, and he'll have that ‑‑ he has had and will have more opportunities to share his thoughts. I think that's very important and I couldn't be happier to have Jordan on the team.

BRIAN: Along those same lines, I know you've had limited experience with them in the same room, but who do you anticipate will be a few of the more vocal leaders of this team?

CAPTAIN MILLER: Well, I think everyone enjoys Bryson's company. I think he will provide good leadership. I have a couple players who are kind of quiet. Jordan's quiet himself, and Lee McCoy has an outgoing personality.

You know, I think they will coalesce as teams. I'm letting them vest in the process of selecting their partner. It's not going to be me trying to match them up. I'm listening to what they think, and it's all going good.

I expect the Mid‑Amateurs will emerge as kind of a miniature playing captain, so to speak, and they have melded and interacted well with the younger guys.

I will tell you, Lee calls Mike McCoy "Uncle Mike," so it's been good. I guess I'll have to wait and see which one steps up and provides that energy. It could be any number of them.

BRIAN: Obviously your team is a very good team but it could be so much better if three players, off the top of my head, Jordan Spieth, Patrick Rodgers and Justin Thomas had stayed and decided to play. Are you concerned that we're getting to a point in amateur golf where the good players are leaving too early, making it more difficult for the captains going forward for the US Walker Cup Teams?

CAPTAIN MILLER: You know, that's an interesting question. I guess I've talked with ‑‑ all three of those guys are great guys. Their decision to move on to the professional ranks certainly was well thought of by all three.

I think as a captain, the group of players are better, younger. That class with those three and the guys that I have on this team and the same class has to be an unbelievable class of players.

I couldn't go back that far back, but my goodness, just pick the ones you named, and then Ollie Schniederjans, you had Brian Stewart, and the group that I have.

What I tell them is, I tell them, they only have one chance at getting their degree, and that may or may not be true. But in all likelihood if they don't get their degree while they are in college this time, that may not happen.

And I said, the thing you have to look back on is: One day you are going to have children and grandchildren, and you're going to want your kids to have their degree, and it's going to be a lot easier for you to dwell on that if you have your own. And I said, that's all I'm going to tell you. That's words from an old boy who has been through it, and I'll leave it at that. That's my feeling.

BRIAN: Some of the kids can graduate in three years.

CAPTAIN MILLER: When they do, I say that's great. And if they are ready to move on, I think it's great.

BRIAN: You've known you were going to be captain for this Walker Cup for a while now. But it's finally really coming here and you've got your team and you've got this itinerary that's about to happen. What are your emotions like right now, and how do you think things will play out for yourself going forward in the next week or so?

CAPTAIN MILLER: Well, I know I'm busy. I'm very busy and it's coming quick and I'm trying to fulfill my obligation the best I can. I do my role just like I have anything I've agreed to do or I have to do. I'm trying to do it the best I can. I've put a lot of time and energy into it. I've been to 13 events this year alone.

And I know the kids. I think the important thing really for me was to get to know them and for them to be comfortable with me, and I feel that I've done that going into the tournament.

Yeah, I'm ready. I'm ready to go. I'm all packed and we'll be leaving tomorrow. It's time. It's been a two‑year process for me, and people ask me about it and they say: How do you feel about that?

And I can give you two analogies. One was the first time I won the Mid‑Amateur and I qualified for the Masters in April. And I had five kids and a job and payments, and I'm up here in Indiana and it's freezing cold in January, February ‑‑ December, January, February, March and I know in April, I have to play. Let me tell you, time goes quick when you're out there watching. Just said, just give me one day where I can go hit balls.

And the other analogy is: You take out a big loan and that first of the month comes around pretty quick (laughs) and that's kind of the same way with this. It's snowballed, now it's coming very quick and I'm happy.

BRIAN: You mentioned a moment ago that the players were going to have input in terms of their partners and whatnot. How do you anticipate that going next week? Is it the kind of thing where you would literally sit down with each of them and talk about, how are things going and who do you feel more comfortable and how will that process of their input actually come to play, do you think?

CAPTAIN MILLER: Well, I'm going to ask them to give me their playing partners, one through five. And some will tell me they can play with anyone, and some will, and I'm going to try and match them up.

I guess what I'm not going to do is I'm not going to sit down and try and analyze each person's game, and say, okay, this guy drives it straight, this guy putts it good, this guy is a good chipper. You'd drive yourself crazy.

And part of the takeaway that I got from Dave Stockton is that you match by personalities. I'm a big believer in that, and I'm going back to my experience and that's what I intend to do.

BRIAN: In your past conversations with Jim Holtgrieve, what do you think you learned from 2011, because when you look at that team on paper, it was arguably one of the best the Americans have ever assembled, yet they still lost on foreign soil. So I'm curious what kind of takeaways you took from your conversations with him.

CAPTAIN MILLER: Well, I guess part of it was I'm conscious to have the guys all involved in everything. Jimmy didn't give me any specific thoughts other than, you know, it's important that they are all involved and that's what I've tried to do.

I don't have any outliers and personalities. All my guys have good, strong team personalities. Yeah, I don't know that I had anything to do or not to do. Jimmy has been a great help to me, some things like what I can expect, just little things, but he's been great, very gracious, and has have been all of the captains.

I spoke with all of them, and each team is different, as you know, and I expect that what may have worked for them may or may not work for me. But I have my plan and I'm very confident in my decisions to involve us and to make every effort for us to coalesce as a team. That's my emphasis.

BRIAN: What did Jim say you could expect?

CAPTAIN MILLER: Oh, he gave me pairing thoughts, where to put players, things of that nature. Now that doesn't mean Nigel will do what he has always done, but Jimmy ‑‑ now, if he reads this, I know he'll do what he wasn't planning to do. (Laughter) but I expect that anyway.

You know, I'm a believer in what you do ‑‑ it's like the guy said about your ball: I only worry about my ball. I only worry about my team. I'm not worried about what he does or he doesn't do. People have asked me about his players. I say, you know, what I concentrate on our team, our ball. When I played golf, if I hit it in the fairway and somebody hit it to the right, I was only looking for my ball, and I was worried what I was going to do.

Well, I feel the same way about this team. I am concerned with what we are doing, and what he may or may not do is his decision. But I have a lot of concern and my focus is solely on what we are doing as a team.

BRIAN: What are maybe a few things that you have learned about the team as a group in the short time you've been together?

CAPTAIN MILLER: Well, I've learned they are ‑‑ I have a smart bunch. Quite frankly they are all smarter than I am. They are a diverse group. I have a physics major, I have informatics majors, sports majors. They are all individuals. They all have their own way and mannerisms and the way they set about it; from Bryson gets down and triangulates with that putter.

And I told him when I first saw him do that, I said: Bryson, if I saw a guy play with me that got down there and did all this triangulation, I'd say: "Look at that guy, he doesn't have a clue in hell what he's doing down there.

But I told him, I said, "Now that I know you and your case, I believe sincerely that you are getting something out of it because you're smart enough. If anybody else did it, I'd say, that's all a show, he doesn't have a clue what he's looking at." But Bryson, he's getting some information from that.

No, it's a great group. And we have fun. I joke with them and they joke back with me.

ABOUT THE The Walker Cup

The Walker Cup Match is a biennial 10-man amateur team competition between the USA and a team composed of players from Great Britain and Ireland and selected by The R&A. It is played over two days with 18 singles matches and eight foursomes (alternate-shot) matches.

The first United States Walker Cup Team, which in 1922 defeated the GB&I side, 8-4, at the National Golf Links of America, is considered among the best teams ever and included Francis Ouimet, Bob Jones, Charles “Chick” Evans and Jess Sweetser. Many of the game’s greatest players have taken part in Walker Cup competition, including U.S. Open champions Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth for the USA and Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose for Great Britain and Ireland.

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