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Forever Young

Ageless 'Dad' made a hole in one when he was 93, shot an 82 when he was 95 and played regularly on what became Tiger's turf

June 15, 2003|Shav Glick | Times Staff Writer

Tiger Woods has donated $5 million to help create the Tiger Woods Learning Center at the Dad Miller municipal golf course in Anaheim.

Who is Dad Miller?

He may be the most remarkable golfer for his age in history -- Tiger included.

When Miller was 100, in 1977, he played regularly at the Anaheim course that now carries his name. When he was 95, he shot an 82 on the par-70 course, 13 strokes better than his age.

To match that, Woods would have to shoot 14 today. And even Ben Hogan admitted that the only perfect score for 18 holes would be 18.

Tiger Woods was only 4 when Dad Miller died in 1979, so they never met. But the Dad Miller course was home for Woods' high school team, Anaheim Western, for four years.

Miller barely weighed 100 pounds, but all 5 feet 6 inches of it was energy.

He never played golf until he was 55, but once he started he rarely let a day go by without hitting a ball or two, often walking 36 holes until "old age," as he called it when he reached 85, forced him to apologetically ride a golf cart -- a garish orange color with leopard-skin seats and "DAD MILLER" printed across the front.

Those fortunate enough to have played a round at Anaheim with the wiry little man as he approached 100 recall his trademark shot, a 140-yard drive right down the middle of the fairway -- hole after hole.

"You never grow old playing golf, you grow old when you stop playing," he often said.

When he was 93, Miller used a 6-iron to make a hole in one on the 116-yard 11th hole at his Anaheim course. A plaque at the hole memorializes the shot that put him in the Guinness Book of Records at the time as the oldest golfer to score an ace. It was his third one.

Inside the clubhouse at the Dad Miller course is a picture of him on his 100th birthday, signed by competitors and friends who were there that day in 1977 for a tournament in his honor. He died two years later, two weeks after turning 102.

To put the man who became a legend in his hometown in the proper perspective, he was born when Rutherford B. Hayes was president and electric lights, automobiles, airplanes, radio and television had yet to be invented.

"I know what you want to know," he challenged a reporter after making his hole in one. "You want to know my secret for long living, don't you? Well, I'll tell you, I just don't know. Maybe it's because I always kept in the same atmosphere where I was comfortable. I came out here from Kentucky in 1925 and got a job as a dispatcher for the Pacific Lighting Co. until I retired and I was married to the same woman for 68 years. I was never one for change."

His wife died in 1968 and he never remarried. But he was a favorite flirt of women from 18 to 80.

"When they find out I'm 100, they love me," he said with a twinkle in his eyes. "I'm the one fellow they feel safe with. The girls in the Anaheim Women's Golf Club even gave me an honorary membership. Wouldn't I have enjoyed having that 50 years ago?"

While he was chatting, a 60-something woman walked up to Miller and remarked how well he looked. He gave her a hug and a kiss and said to her husband, "You'd be surprised what a young chick she looks like to me."

Although he was formally Henry George Miller, he hastened to say, "Please don't call me Henry, I hate that name. Just call me Dad."

His friends were legion, and they were of all ages and descriptions.

"If there has to be a reason I've lived so long, maybe it's because of all my friends," Miller said. "That's what I live for, making friends. Too many old people grow old and see their old friends die and they're lonely. Not me. I make new friends every day. You'd be surprised how much interest I find in teenagers and young people. I make new friends a lot faster than I lose them. That helps keep me young."

Even though he played to a seven handicap when he was in his 70s and was shooting his age through his 90s, Miller always said he could have been better if not for his gnarled hands, a reminder from his early days playing baseball.

"The equipment wasn't so good back then, we just about played barehanded," he said.

In 1893, before Babe Ruth was born, before there was an American League, Miller played minor league baseball in the Tri-State League, which later became the Three-I League.

"That was a long time ago and I don't remember much about it," he said. "But there is one day I will never forget. I was playing in an exhibition game at the old Brea ballpark and Walter Johnson was pitching for the other team. He struck me out three times in a row. I think it was 1906 and he was just a kid out of Fullerton High School."

Johnson, a Hall of Fame pitcher for the Washington Senators, played his first year in the majors in 1907.

When Miller was 84, he won the 75-and-over class in the U.S. National Senior Open Golf Assn. championship by shooting 84-86-85 at the El Dorado, Bermuda Dunes and Indian Wells courses where the Bob Hope Desert Classic was played. Dutch Harrison was the professional winner.

At the victory banquet, Harrison said, "I hope I'll be alive and able to play golf like that man when I'm 84. I don't know how he does it."

Years later, Harrison met Miller again at the same tournament.

"My God, are you still alive?" Harrison said.

"I'm not only alive, but I shot an 88 today," Miller shot back. He was 93.

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