For Kelly Miller, turning off the busy road in Juno Beach, Fla., into the entrance of Seminole Golf Club is a moment unto itself.
“Every time I roll across those stones going in there, I feel like the luckiest guy in the world,” says Miller, who is at Seminole this week teeing it up in the Coleman Invitational, one of the country’s most prestigious amateur events.
The Coleman is no ordinary amateur tournament. Like the Crump Cup at Pine Valley, the Thomas Invitational at Los Angeles Country Club and a handful of others, the Coleman occupies the rarefied air shared by the elite events where golf, classic layouts and camaraderie create their own special feeling.
Miller won the Coleman in 2001, a highlight in a career that also includes the 1994 North Carolina Mid-Amateur championship, the 1993 Carolinas Mid-Amateur championship and the 1996 Azalea Amateur.
Golf and Miller, 60, are intertwined. He is married to Peggy Ann Bell, daughter of World Golf Hall of Famer Peggy Kirk Bell, and they run Pine Needles and Mid-Pines, sister courses designed by Donald Ross in Southern Pines, N.C. Miller and his wife met at the University of Alabama and the game is a part of them, just as they are a familiar part of the game.
Next month, the U.S. Senior Women’s Open will be played at Pine Needles, adding to a legacy that includes three U.S. Women’s Opens played there for which Miller was the general chairman.
Before the Senior Women’s Open, however, Miller has his own golf to play at a place close to his heart. Miller has played in every Coleman Invitational, dating to the 1982 inaugural.
“It’s a great thrill for me because I have such a love of this place,” Miller says. “It’s such a thrill to have my name on the (Coleman champions) board in the locker room.
“I’m the rare guy who gets to work at something he loves. I get to play in events like the Coleman and the Crump and have this great schedule. Those of us who play in these events, we still love to compete and we get to travel the country.
“When the round is over, we’re going to shake hands, have a beer and then go get a steak for dinner together. Then we’re going to get up the next morning and do it again. I can’t think of anything better.”
“First-timers learn a lot the hard way. A lot of thinking is required.” – Kelly Miller on Seminole
Miller doesn’t play as much tournament golf as he once did but he still knows how to get around a golf course. A tender shoulder has been bothersome at times but the desire and the enthusiasm to be part of the amateur game remain driving forces in his life.
At Seminole, where Miller is a member, the Coleman holds a special place in his golf and personal calendar. Miller has seen it evolve through the years, growing into what it is today.
“For a long time, people didn’t know that much about Seminole and about the Coleman,” Miller says. “Everyone raves now about the course, and the condition is spot on.
“It’s such a challenge. It’s not often here in the States that you can get the wind from a different direction every day. You know the greens are going to be firm and fast. You learn where to miss it. You don’t want to hit downwind bunker shots.
“First-timers learn a lot the hard way. A lot of thinking is required.”
Like most golfers, Miller arrives at Seminole knowing what’s possible while understanding that his most competitive days could be behind him.
“I’m trending toward the fun part of golf now,” he says. “I like to be competitive but I haven’t played or practiced enough. But you never know.
“At my age, your swing isn’t changing much. It’s just a matter of what works that week.”
What never fails, Miller says, is the joy of being at Seminole for the Coleman Invitational.
“One of the wonderful things about the game is that most of my friends I’ve met through golf,” Miller says. “Through golf, you make friends who become lifetime friends.
“I remember Mrs. Bell asked Babe Zaharias, who played so many sports, what the greatest game was. Babe said that wasn’t hard – it was golf because it puts you with so many great people.”
Kelly Miller during the 2018 U.S. Senior Amateur at Eugene Country Club in Eugene, Ore. Photo: J.D. Cuban, Copyright USGA
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