SAN FRANCISCO – Just think if Dennis Miller had made that 8-foot birdie putt on the next-to-last hole of U.S. Open qualifying.
He would be just another long shot in the field at Olympic Club, a burly, 42-year-old teaching pro from Ohio who got into this major on his 12th attempt.
There are stories like that, players like him, just about every year in the U.S. Open.
One putt that hung on the lip changed everything. Miller was famous even before he arrived.
As he settled into his chair Monday morning, the USGA played a video that has gone viral. In a four-man playoff for three spots into the U.S. Open, Miller rapped a 20-foot putt from the fringe and watched it graze the front of the cup and stop there. He took one step, then two, and turned his back to the cup on the fifth step when gravity took over the ball dropped into the cup. The small gallery threw their arms in the air in disbelief, and Miller was awash with shock.
Twelve years trying to play in his national championship, never coming particularly close, and now this.
"I could never have dreamed of qualifying for the U.S. Open in this fashion, that's for sure," he said before going out for his first look at Olympic.
Less than a week later, the video is closing in on 400,000 hits on YouTube. Miller, the golf director at Millcreek Metroparks in Canfield, Ohio, received more than a thousand text messages and emails. He called some of his colleagues who have experience on a national stage — former tour pro Jerry McGee and ex-Walker Cup captain Bob Lewis among them — asking for advice.
One of them was George Bellino from Tippecanoe Country Club.
"I asked George, 'Do you have any advice?' He said, 'Yeah, stay home,'" Miller said with a laugh.
Not a chance.
Miller played college golf at Youngstown State. His biggest thrill in golf was winning the Ohio Open.
"Yeah, that wasn't the top highlight on ESPN," he said.
He has been to the Professional National Championship a few times, but never finished high enough to get into the PGA Championship. He made it out of local qualifying seven times, though never came closer than four shots to getting into the U.S. Open. His time was running out.
Miller was an alternate out of the first stage of qualifying and wasn't even planning to show up at the sectional qualifier in Columbus, Ohio, except that he had never played Scioto Country Club, where Bobby Jones won the 1926 U.S. Open and where Jack Nicklaus was raised.
"We were actually debating going to the qualifier because I was an alternate," Miller said. "We didn't play a practice round. One of the reasons I did want to go is the fact that I wanted to see the golf course. I didn't play Sunday. Actually, I took my son and my wife, we went to a Cleveland Indians game. And they lost."
One of the thrills of U.S. Open qualifying is the chance to be paired with a PGA Tour player — Blake Adams in this case, and he also qualified. But expectations were not terribly high until everything finally fell his way — a great day of driving, making enough putts, finishing on 141 and being told it probably wouldn't be enough, finding out he was in a playoff, making a 25-foot par putt to stay in the playoff, and then the putt that decided to fall and fulfill a dream.
Miller never imagined being compared with Tiger Woods, for the way the putt dropped was reminiscent of Woods' chip-in at the 2005 Masters.
"You couldn't script this story," he said.
Miller swapped out his Titleist cap for the San Francisco 49ers, but don't get the idea he's playing to the crowd. He's been a fan since the Youngstown-based DeBartolo family owned the team, and John York and Denise DeBartolo supported his trip out west. Some local groups got together to sponsor him, and Miller now looks like some of the pros with logos on his shirt — Handel's Homemade Ice Cream & Yogurt and Ristvey Investment Group on the chest, and Auntie Anne's pretzels on the sleeve.
"I've got ice cream and pretzels. What does that tell you," said Miller, not needing to say he has indulged in both more than once.
Miller is not here to soak in the scenery, rub elbows with the best and go home. He expects to play well. He has no false illusions about winning. He realizes who he is and what brought him to this stage. And he understands what — and whom — he is up against.
He is a working-class golfer, a point driven home to him just two days after his greatest moment in golf.
"We actually had a Chamber of Commerce golf outing Wednesday," he said. "Had 300 golfers out there. I worked about 14 hours that day. That was my preparation up to this week."