Miller took sobering shot at qualifying for golf major
Who's the best golfer on the Vancouver Canucks?
At the annual Jake Milford Charity Invitational Golf Tournament last September, the consensus wasn't surprising. The club's imposing forward, who packs a pretty good wrist shot, is also adept at launching bombs off the tee box, hitting greens with short-iron precision, and sinking birdie putts.
“It's got to be J.T. Miller,” said defenceman Kyle Burroughs.
“I hate to say this, but J.T. Miller,” added winger Brock Boeser.
“Probably Miller,” said blueliner Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
“Miller,” confirmed defenceman Quinn Hughes.
The reaction happens when your teammate has attempted to qualify for the prestigious U.S. Open. He was at it again Monday in an 18-hole test of will and skill in local qualifying on the demanding course at The Club at Nevillewood in the hills of western Pennsylvania.
Only four in a field of 78 would advance to the next qualifier. While Miller held his own at even par after nine holes and was tied for sixth, the back nine was tough. He was two-over-par after 11 holes and tied for 14th. He then slipped to five-over after 14 holes to sit tied for 25th, and finished six-over with a round of 78.
At that point, Miller was tied for 27th, but would slip to 35th as more competitors completed rounds.
The fact that Miller wanted to attack a tough track in a step to advance to the next qualifier — and the reward of competing in the U.S. Open at the Los Angeles Country Club on June 15-18 — spoke to his competitive edge because the back nine Monday was brutal.
That wasn't going to stop him because he has game. The entry bar is a handicap index better than 1.4 strokes and US$200 for the entry fee for local qualifying. Miller is a minus-1.2 handicap, which indicates that he's better than scratch (0.0).
“I'm still going to be nervous,” Miller told NHL.com last week. “I'm human. That's part of it. I think that's why a lot of hockey players are so fascinated with the sport of golf is how hard it is personally and how hard it is mentally.”
Last year at Butler Country Club in Butler, Pa., he tied for 40th with a seven-over-par 77. Not bad after an NHL regular season that ran longer because of the Winter Olympics break.
“I had, like, one day to practice,” added Miller. “I hadn't played in seven months outside of one round with rental clubs, which is how it is every year.
“From October to April, we probably play three to five rounds of golf if we get lucky on the road with rentals. So I came home and it was basically my first round, and I was humbled quickly by how fast the greens were.
“I just wasn't ready. I started to figure it out on the eighth hole, and I played one-over from there on, so I played pretty well.” Monday was also a stiff test. The 10th hole at The Club at Nevillewood is a long par-4 laced with bunkers down the left side. The 11th is a long and narrow par-4 that demands accuracy, the 12th is a humongous par-5 with a bunker in the middle of a long fairway, and the 13th is a par-3 with an unforgiving, three-tiered and undulating green.
The finishing holes are also tough. The par-3 17th hole requires a high and soft tee shot to find the green or end up in the deep, grassy hollow. The 18th hole is another treacherous par-4 that demands driving between the fairway bunker and water to the right for the best second-shot approach.
JOVANOVSKI: IF YOU BUILD IT, WINS WILL COME
Ed Jovanovski not only played with a certain swagger while with the Canucks, he remains an observer as a Florida Panthers broadcaster and fan of all things Vancouver.
He saw how vital it was for the Panthers to allow first-round picks Aleksander Barkov and Aaron Ekblad to mature and not panic when production flatlined. The same has allowed Canucks' first-rounder Elias Pettersson and Hughes to round into dynamic players.
“You have to understand that they (Pettersson, Hughes) are young players and expectations in Vancouver are always high to do well and win,” Jovanovski told Postmedia. “With success at an early age, people just want more. It raises the bar, but star players garner extra attention and it's tough out there.