By John Coyne
Copyright © John Coyne. Used with permission.
“I STILL HAVE YOUR BOOK,” ALLEN MILLER confessed when I reached him by phone in Florida, where he was spending the winter.
Allen today is the director with his wife Cindy, an LPGA professional (cindymillergolf.com), of Allen Miller Golf (allenmillergolf.com) in Silver Creek, New York. They are, in fact, the only married couple to have played on all four major tours—the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, PGA Tour Champions and Legends Tour.
In 1971, however, Allen was only 23, and ranked the No. 2 amateur in the United States by Golf Digest. He had come to the PGA Tour Qualifying School that year with 357 other players seeking to earn a spot on the 1972 PGA Tour and had reached the last stage of the competition. He was ready to play in the 72-hole final event at PGA National Golf Club in Palm Beach Gardens.
All that mattered for Allen and the other young competitors was not their ranking as amateurs, but the next six rounds of golf, where not money, but their futures, were involved. If they didn’t win one of the 23 spots, they would have to wait a year for another chance to make the tour.
“I came to Florida with a game plan,” he said. “It was not to have any double bogeys.”
He and Lanny Wadkins were considered the two best ball strikers in this crop of young players and Allen showed it the first day, shooting 69. Only Chuck Thorpe, from Detroit, was better. He shot 68 to lead the tournament.
Allen’s opening 69 put him in a great position to earn his card, and on the fifth day of the tournament he shot 67, the low round of the tournament. “Still all that mattered,” Allen remembered, was “get the card.”
At the time, Allen recalled, “Our only goal then was to get out of college and get on the PGA Tour. That’s all we thought about.”
But once on the tour, it wasn’t an easy life. They all had to qualify on Monday for each tour event until they made the cut. And the tour then did not have the grand paydays that it has today. While almost none of these players had endorsements, some, like Allen, did have sponsors who financed them.
“I had a couple businessmen from Delaware. They put up money for me to play. They covered my expenses and shared in my winnings. They were great guys. They helped me. In ’71, it cost about $20,000 to play the tour for a year. But once you won, you were a life member; you couldn’t lose your card. And you got at least a two-year exemption.”
The first challenge for the new pros was to qualify on a Monday for that week’s event, and then to win a tournament. Allen’s first win came at the 1974 Tallahassee Open. He shot 274, 14-under par and earned $18,000. It was his only win on tour.
In his 15th year on tour he lost his playing rights.
“That year, our second child was born and I was preoccupied with that birth. I didn’t qualify and I said, ‘That’s it. I’m done.'”
Having played in five Masters, as well as the U.S. Open, his tour career spanned 15 years and he officially retired in 1986 to teach full time. He was in his mid-thirties.
“I had to go to Buffalo to find a teaching job and that was at a driving range.
“I was there for the summer. I have been teaching in Buffalo for some 30 some years. We don’t teach in private clubs, but at a public driving range and a golf dome.”
Allen and Cindy have their own lesson business and are associated with The Golf Channel Academy.
Cindy is a veteran of five U.S. Women’s Opens and plays today on the Legends Tour when she isn’t teaching. She is perhaps the best known of the two teaching Millers for her appearance on the Golf Channel’s reality series The Big Break III: Ladies Only in 2005.
I asked Allen how golf had changed on the tour, with new golf equipment, golf course conditions and better techniques.
“Well the modern swing was around when I started. Swings go in cycles. Pros are hitting the ball 30 to 35 yards longer, courses are dryer and the ball is better and it rolls farther. But it is like trying to compare cars from the different decades, or comparing gravel roads and super highways. I’d say most greens are perfect now. We didn’t have them in our days. Augusta National was great…now they have perfect greens. Modernization is everything. But there were good players in my days, and there are good players today.
“What has changed is prize money. In 1975 I finished 15th at the Masters and won $2,800. Even counting inflation, you can’t compare the prize money of today to what we earned in the early 1970s.
“One thing that hasn’t changed is the relationships of touring pros. We were all good friends coming out of the PGA School in 1971, and we stayed friends over the years, traveled together in caravans from tournament to tournament, helped each other. Today, my daughter, who works for the Golf Channel, tells me that most of the young pros are really nice kids.
“That’s golf for you. It brings out the best in people.”
TO BE CONTINUED.
John Coyne is a bestselling author whose most recent golf novel is The Caddie Who Won the Masters. Learn more at John Coyne Books.