Fairfield’s Miller competes in U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship

May 24—GOSHEN — Brayden Miller has missed the last four days of school, but for good reason.

The Fairfield sophomore was representing Indiana as part of the U.S. Golf Association Four-Ball Amateur Championship in Kiawah Island, South Carolina the last week, with him and Gibson Southern High School sophomore Peyton Blackard teaming up to make it to the Round of 16 of the event.

“As two 16-year-olds, we weren’t event supposed to make the championship,” Miller said. “We weren’t even supposed to be down there. Nobody expected it, and I honestly didn’t expect us to make the cut. It’s such a good field of players there, and I didn’t expect us to make the cut. We did, and then we got through the first round of 32.”

Miller and Blackard earned a spot in the championship tournament back in October. The duo entered a qualifying event at Ackerman-Allen GC in West Lafayette, with the top two finishers advancing to the championship tournament. Battling the cold elements that late October brings in Indiana, the two teenagers shot a 6 under, finishing second to advance to the tournament in South Carolina.

More than 100 duos were part of the championship field, and it wasn’t just limited to high school players. According to Miller, as long as players had a handicap lower than one and weren’t professional golfers, they could enter the qualifying tournaments.

Everyone was guaranteed to play two rounds — one on the River Course, and another on the Cassique course at the Kiawah Island Club. In the first two rounds, it was played under stroke play rules. Both players in a group would play the hole, and whichever person had a better score, that went toward the team score.

Miller and Blackard played the River Course first, shooting a combined 3 under in the first round Saturday afternoon.

“We didn’t play well the first day,” Miller noted. “We played on two different courses, and we played the tougher course the first day. … We could’ve easily gotten to 8 or 9 under, but we just didn’t make putts.”

While it wasn’t impossible for Miller and Blackard to still make the cut, the duo had their work cut out for them as they began the second round of stroke play Sunday. Fortunately for the two IHSAA All-State golfers, they caught lighting in a bottle in their second round, specifically on the back-nine.

With their score sitting a 6 under, Blackard and Miller alternated birdies on holes 14-16 to run their score to 9 under. They then made par on the final two holes, tying them for 27th in the final standings and advancing them to the match play portion of the tournament.

“As we were going into the second day, we were thinking that we had to shoot a low number to make the cut,” Miller recalled. “We thought if we got to 10 under, we’d be inside the cut. We got off to a really slow start on the front nine, so we had to play really well on the back nine to make it to the Round of 32. We played lights-out on the back 9.”

After tiebreakers, Miller and Blackard earned the 29th seed, pitting them against the No. 4-seeded duo of Robb Kinder and Alex Price. Both are collegiate players at Christopher Newport University in Virginia, with Price a senior and Kinder a junior.

In match play, all the players play like they did during stroke play. Whichever player shoots the lower score of the duo gets used toward the team score, and whichever team shoots a better score then wins that hole.

Playing the Cassique course Monday afternoon, Blackard and Miller went one-up early with a birdie on the second hole. Kinder and Price tied it back up on the next hole, then went one-up on the fifth hole after they made birdie. The Indiana kids tied it once again on the sixth with a par on the hole, while Kinder and Price bogeyed.

Eventually, the collegiate players gained control, going two-up after the 11th hole. Showing some fight, Miller and Blackard birdied No. 12 to cut its deficit in half. They then tied it up on hole No. 15 after they made par and Kinder and Price bogeyed.

The match remained tied going to the 18th hole. After Kinder and Price made a birdie, the pressure fell on Miller to step up for his team. The Fairfield standout did that, making a 10-foot birdie putt of his own to force a playoff.

Both teams shot a par on the first playoff hole, No. 1, before Miller and Blackard won the match when the Gibson Southern sophomore drained a 20-foot birdie putt on the par-5, 535-yard second hole.

“We wanted to make it fun,” Miller said. “Our goal was to win, obviously, but we just wanted to get past the first couple of rounds. We definitely wanted to win the first round because we played some really good guys in the Round of 32; college players. We were down the whole match, and it started getting frustrating down the stretch. We had to keep our minds in it, stay in the game; we couldn’t give up.”

The dream run for the Indiana teenagers then ended in the Round of 16, losing to the pairing of Tyler Goecke and Bryce Haney, 3 and 2, on Tuesday afternoon. Goecke and Haney then won its quarterfinal match Wednesday to advance to the semifinals Thursday.

“Looking back at it, it’s memories for a lifetime,” Miller said. “It was awesome. I’ll remember that for the rest of my life, and remember that week I had with Peyton and the good times we had.”

Playing in this high-profile event came at a little bit of a cost for Miller, as he couldn’t be with his Fairfield teammates for the Northeast Corner Conference championship tournament this past Saturday. After the Falcons went 10-0 in the regular season nine-hole contests, they finished runner-up to Lakeland at the tournament to split the NECC title.

“I felt pretty bad,” said Miller of missing the NECC tournament. “We have four seniors, and two of them are on varsity. I felt bad because it’s their last year and we had a really good chance of winning the conference tournament this year. … The USGA is a big tournament, but I felt terrible leaving the team like that and losing the conference tournament for the seniors.”

Miller said his teammates didn’t hold his journey to South Carolina against him.

“They were in full support of me,” Miller said “They were letting me know it was all good and that everything’s going to be fine.”

Miller will now rejoin his Fairfield team, which next plays this Tuesday, May 30 in an 18-hole match with Lakeland and Northridge at Meadow Valley GC in Middlebury. All three schools will then play on the same course as part of the sectional tournament next Friday, June 2.

“I’m just going to grind it out the next week or so before sectionals; get back on the range, get back on the putting green and see what we can do,” Miller said.

Austin Hough can be reached at [email protected] or at 574-538-2360. Follow him on Twitter at @AustinHoughTGN.