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Unlikely Pairing Pays Dividends

Golf, like politics, makes for strange bedfellows, and they have a way of bringing together people of disparate backgrounds and beliefs. What’s different, however, is the motivations behind those unions. For politicos, the bonds are mostly the result of necessity and convenience, while the ones that occur in golf usually arise from deeper and purer rationales. Namely, mutual love and respect for the game. Over the years, I have watched foursomes of strangers from wildly divergent cultures relate easily and happily on golf courses – and in pubs and bars afterwards. One time in Morocco, I discussed yardages with my caddie in French because that was the only language we had in common. I also recall a recent round at Turnberry when I played with a personable minister from Mississippi who endured my occasional profanity – and did not mind philosophizing between shots with this very lapsed Episcopalian, or having a beer with me afterward. We became fast friends, and are now Facebook friends, too. I have witnessed many times the ways in which other odd couples have been united by golf. Not only for a round, but also for a lifetime. Consider Mike Miller, a young American trying to make the 2013 Walker Cup team and Pat Finn, a middle-aged Irishman who runs his country’s Golfing Union and has taken the big-hitting boy under his wing. It is a story of connection as old as the game itself. In fall 2011, Finn came to the United States for the Carey Cup, a biennial competition between amateurs from Ireland and the Metropolitan New York area. The trip was part of his job at the GUI, and he found himself paired with Miller in the so called “am-am” before the actual tournament. Only 19 at the time, Miller had recently won the prestigious Met Am, and Finn marveled at how well he hit the ball. “We played Bethpage Black, and Mike shot 65,” he says. “I liked his game and also liked him right away as a person. And then he told me his story.” Miller’s story was that he had left Penn State the previous winter, primarily due to differences with the golf team coach. But rather than go back to school, the young man took the very unusual step of striking out on his own and competing as an independent in elite amateur events. “I could see he was in a tough spot, so I suggested he play in the Lytham Trophy in England and the Irish Am in Dublin the next spring,” Finn says. “I thought it would give him some good playing experience while his peers were competing in college tournaments.” As it turned out, the trip went well, and Miller finished T4 in both events. “I had fun being with Pat, and he really made me believe I could get what I wanted, which was to be on the Walker Cup team,” he says. Shortly after Miller returned to the States, they hatched plans for him to come back across the pond in 2013. Only this would be a longer trip, with Miller, who had won consecutive Player of the Year awards for the Metropolitan Golf Association, playing the Portuguese and Spanish Amateurs in February and then competing in the Carey Cup as well as the Lytham Trophy and the Irish Am. Married and the father of a four-year-old daughter, Finn offered to caddie for Miller in Portugal, and also have the lad stay with him in Dublin afterward. Things got off to a rocky start, with Miller carding a 3-over 39 on the first nine of his first event. “I wasn’t too happy about that, and then Pat asked, ‘Who booked this trip, anyway?’ ” Miller says. “I don’t know how I would have reacted if anyone else had said that. But when the words came out of Pat’s mouth, I just laughed.” Finn also reminded Miller of how Tiger Woods had shot 40 on the first nine of his first Masters and then came in with a 30 to finish with a 2-under 70. “Mike proceeded to shoot 31 on his second nine, and finished the event T3,” Finn says. “And it’s a good thing, too, because otherwise, he would have sacked me.” The Portugal expedition turned out to be fun for both men, on and off the course. And an adventure. “I ate fish for the first time there,” says Miller, who just turned 21. “Pat started ordering it for me, and I didn’t even know how to cut it at first. But I trusted him.” As much at the dinner table, it seems, as on the golf course. There was a week off between the next event, so they returned to Dublin for a break that included rounds at the K Club, Portmarnock and the European Club and practice sessions at Carton Hall, where the GUI is based. Even better, as far as Miller was concerned, was the night Finn treated him to his first rock concert. “The band was The Killers, and it was amazing,” Miller says. What is also amazing as far as Miller is concerned is the way Finn has supported him and helped him become a better golfer as well as a better-rounded person. As for Finn, he relishes the opportunity to lend a hand. “Mike is an extraordinary talent and person, and we have become good friends,” he says. “He needed some opportunities and doors opened, and I was only too happy to assist.” “I have never done something like this before,” Finn adds. “But it seemed like the right thing to do.”


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