Club pro Miles enjoys breakthrough year

CHASKA, Minn. (AP) — Mike Miles had just finished nine holes of a practice round at Hazeltine National when he stepped off the ninth green to take a picture with some family and friends.

“Make sure you get the scoreboard in it,” Miles told a fan who volunteered to take the photo.

Just over his right shoulder was the leaderboard that read, “Welcome to the 91st annual PGA Championship.”

When Miles first got his tour card at age 24, there was no way he thought it would take him 23 years to get here.

“I made all the mistakes that a 24-year-old with a tour card can make,” Miles said Wednesday. “Too many tournaments. Too many swing changes. Too much golf. That’s my story. I’m not the only one.”

Yet here he is, finally, at 47, playing the best golf of his life and appearing in his second major of the summer. Until this year, the only major he had played was the 1987 U.S. Open at Olympic Club.

Miles made birdie on the first playoff hole in the second stage of qualifying to earn a spot in the U.S. Open at Bethpage Black. He was among 20 club pros who qualified for the PGA Championship.

The assistant pro from Huntington Beach, Calif., will have played in more majors this year than Scott Verplank and Woody Austin, two guys who only two years ago played in the President’s Cup.

The rebirth is anything but a surprise to Paul Goydos, a PGA Tour member since 1993 who was a freshman at Long Beach State when Miles was a senior. Goydos belongs to Virginia Country Club in Long Beach, where Miles now works.

“I think he’s probably a couple of putts here, a couple of putts there, 20 years ago, from me and him switching positions,” Goydos said. “I’m not a better player than Mike Miles. That’s just fact.”

Miles would concur.

“I’ve always been a good player. I was a good player when I was on tour but I kind of played my way off the tour,” he said. “I played too much and worked too hard on it.”

Miles played on the tour in 1986 and 1989, but flamed out quickly. Exhausted and frustrated, he gave up the game for seven years to work in real estate and marketing, a familiar tale of a talented player who couldn’t quite put things together to stick around.

“There’s a thousand Mike Mileses out there who were good enough to play on the tour and it just didn’t happen for whatever reason,” Goydos said. “We underestimate timing and luck in a sense. He’s got the game to have been a tour player for the last 20 years and, for whatever reason, it didn’t work out for him like it did for me.”

After his long hiatus, Miles was watching a friend play well at a Nationwide event and it was easy to see that old gleam return to his eye.

“I hadn’t even played golf in five years,” Miles said. “I looked at my wife and she said, ‘You want to start playing again, don’t you?’ And that was big.”

He took the assistant pro job and began teaching the game. But it wasn’t until he accompanied a few members of Virginia Country Club to the Masters this spring that the fires really were stoked. He watched Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player play in the Par 3 Tournament and realized his golfing career wasn’t over.

“That really was amazing to watch,” he said. “Those were the guys when I was little that all I wanted to do was be like that. That was an emotional thing for me. You realize, ‘Shoot, I could relive that all these years later when I’m 50.”‘

He finished 16th in the PGA Professional National Championship, joining the 20 club pros invited to play in the final major of the year. And even though he missed the cut at Bethpage Black, he arrives in Minnesota brimming with the optimism and energy that had once been extinguished by his struggles on the course earlier in life.

“I’m looking for a good finish. That’s what I hope for. And a big check,” he said with a chuckle. “They’re giving away a lot of money and I would like to take some of it home.”

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