Cole Miller and Nick Vecellio ate lunch in the U.S. Open players’ lounge Tuesday while the golf world swirled around them.
Graeme McDowellthe 2010 U.S. Open champ, sat nearby. So did major-winners Nick Price, Jim Furyk and Keegan Bradley. Tiger Woods’ agent breezed through the room. Just outside, Jack Nicklaus conducted an interview.
Not to mention the complimentary, custom-made smoothies and red-velvet whoopie pies.
So just how did two guys from Northwestern Lehigh High School get here?
“It’s a little surreal at first,” Vecellio said. “Then, after a couple hours, you’re like, ‘OK, we belong.’”
Five years ago, Miller and Vecellio won the Wasser Cup, a summer high-school golf tournament, by shooting a better-ball score of 9-under 61 at Shepherd Hills. The Northwestern Lehigh graduates reunite this week at the U.S. Open, where Vecellio will caddie for Miller in one of golf’s biggest championships.
Amid all the high-profile player/caddie pairings, Miller and Vecellio stand out as the 22-year-old faces staring wide-eyed at Shinnecock Hills. Miller, a recent Penn State graduate, is playing in his second professional event.
Vecellio, a mechanical-engineering student at the University of Delawareis putting his gift for spatial relations into reading Shinnecock’s wavy greens.
They have played golf together and against each other for years, and their temperaments compliment one another. Miller likes having a part of home to work with, and Vecellio reminds Miller how to stay grounded.
Together, they’re making the most of their first U.S. Open experience inside the ropes. Particularly Vecellio, whose eyes wander when he glimpses another major winner.
“You’re fanboying,” Miller needled over lunch. “I mean, I’m here, too.”
“I’m your biggest fan, I promise,” Vecellio responded. “But if you go to a playoff with Tiger [Woods]I don’t know. I might give you the wrong number [yardage for a shot].”
“I’m going to kick you off the bag,” Miller said.
Vecellio, a senior who walked onto Delaware’s golf team last season, arrived at Shinnecock Hills last week to scout the course and take notes. He found a surprising introduction. Vecellio walked some of the course with world No. 1 Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowlertrying to remain calm in their midst.
Vecellio is an experienced caddie, having worked at Saucon Valley Country Club for seven years. He also has carried bags for Miller at events of varying sizes. The first was the Lehigh Valley Junior Amateur. Last year, the two went to England for the British Amateur.
They mesh because Vecellio knows how to help Miller manage his game and his nerves, which could get overwhelmed during Thursday’s first round. Carl Miller, Cole’s father, admitted that Vecellio is better suited to caddie for Cole than he is. In fact, Cole has fired his dad from the bag at least three times.
“He knows my game so well and he’s great at reading greens,” Miller said of Vecellio. “And when it comes to managing my emotions, I always kind of want Nick on the bag.”
Miller arrived at Shinnecock Hills on Monday afternoon, fried after an overnight flight from British Columbia and a week that’s still blurry. Miller qualified for the U.S. Open, tied for 23rd in his first professional event on the Mackenzie Tour, flew 5,000 miles round trip and went straight to the course from the airport.
On Monday afternoon, with little sleep, Miller stood on the first tee at Shinnecock Hills with a 4-iron, ready to play nine holes. His playing partners all took driver.
“I told Nick, ‘I’m not about to be the only person who hits an iron off this tee,’” Miller said. “So I grabbed driver.”
Miller then hit the perfect welcome shot, driving the 399-yard par-4. His ball landed 30 feet from the hole (he made birdie). That prompted a “Whoa,” from playing partner Trey Mullinax, who leads the PGA Tour in driving distance (318.4 yards).
“That was fun,” Miller said. “Good way to start.”
It’s all been fun so far. Miller recently signed a sponsorship deal with Srixon, which includes equipment and some important seed money for his career. Vecellio will carry one of the huge Srixon tour bags during the tournament. He’s unsure how heavy that will be.
Miller’s parents, Carl and Jenny, walked the course Tuesday, and Jenny marveled at her son signing autographs outside the clubhouse. Carl Miller showed off his “Player Coach” badge, which is true: He’s the only swing coach Cole has had.
They’ll play another practice round Wednesday, tentatively with major-winner Jason Dufnerbefore teeing off at 8:46 a.m. in Thursday’s first round.
“I’m tremendously proud of both of them,” said Tim Miller, Northwestern Lehigh’s golf coach and the head pro at Olde Homestead. “They both had the mental makeup that allowed them to forget about the bad things that happen and concentrate on the next shot. It will be exciting for me to see how they play.”
And frame of mind is key. Vecellio said Tuesday that his family plans to attend the weekend rounds “if we make the cut.”
“When we make the cut,” Michael McKenna, Miller’s agent, quickly corrected.
“Yes,” Vecellio said. “When.”
IF YOU GO
SCHEDULE: Gates open at 6 a.m. daily, with Thursday’s first round beginning at 6:45 a.m.
TICKETS: Weekly passes are sold out, but daily tickets are available. Ticket prices start at $125 for Thursday’s first round and $145 for Friday-Sunday. Kids 18 and under get in free with a paid adult. Visit www.usopen.com for details.