He was reluctant to be away from the 16-month-old he cares for at home, his game needed a little tweaking and, let’s face it, Anniston isn’t exactly a drive around the corner from his home in Daphne.
Ultimately, he changed his mind and now must be glad he did.
Playing in the first group of the day, the former national champion and two-time All-American at Georgia shot a bogey-free 4-under-par 68 Friday to take the first-round lead in the Emerald Coast Tour portion of Cane Creek’s signature event.
Miller, who earlier in his career had some status on what is now the Web.com
Tour, holds a one-shot lead over Pensacola amateur Clayton Vannoy and a two-shot edge over defending champion Kyle Sapp of Gardendale.
“I’ve actually started playing on this tour a little more,” Miller said. “It’s a lot closer to home.
“Competition is competition, whether it’s this tour or a bigger one. If I can stay closer to home and play good competition I will.”
Miller, 34, was clued in to this event by Nick Rousey, a former Anniston resident and last year’s FMCUPI runner-up who grew up playing the golf course. Miller debated as late as Tuesday whether to play. He got a lesson the next morning, shot 5 under on his home course later in the day and decided to pull the trigger.
He got to town so late he raced with daylight during his practice round just so he could see the entire golf course.
On Friday he made birdies on Nos. 7, 9, 11 and 17 and nearly holed out a chip for eagle at No. 18. He and Silver Lakes assistant pro Brennan Clay breezed through their round in 3 hours, 18 minutes. They got around so quickly, the group behind them was just putting out on 13 when they walked off the 18th green.
“Makeable putts I missed a couple then putts I was trying to two-putt I’d make them,” Miller said. “I was rolling it all over the hole.”
Vannoy had a shot to tie for the lead on No. 18, after hitting driver/9-iron to the front of the par-5 green, but misplayed his third shot and had to settle for par to finish one shot back.
The 18-year-old incoming Troy freshman acknowledged to some nerves early, but quickly settled into his surroundings. He birdied Nos. 5, 9, 14 and 17, and gave a shot back with a bogey on No. 13.
“I’m just trying to get as much play in as I can,” Vannoy said. “I didn’t want to play to play in the amateur part because it was only two days.”
Clay is one of three players with local ties in the pro field. He shot 77, while Jacksonville’s Nathan Bennett and Anniston amateur Jaylon Ellison both shot 75.
“Every bogey I had was because of bad tee shots,” Clay said. “If I hit a good tee shot I had a better score. There’s nothing wrong with the swing, it was just a bad shot in bad places.”
While Clay had trouble off the tee, Ellison lamented a balky putter. He hit
17 greens, but had 41 putts.
“If I putted well I felt I could have shot a couple under or even and stayed closer to contention,” he said.
Bennett, who now lives in Mobile, played the front in even par -- making birdie on both par-3s -- but entered The Hollow that opens the back nine, a four-hole stretch he calls “the Amen Corner of Anniston, Alabama,” and played its first three holes in 4 over.
“I was a little tense all day,” he said. “I couldn’t get relaxed. I wanted to play good out here. I played solid on the front, but I went to the back and 10 ate my lunch.”
Al Muskewitz covers golf for The Anniston Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.