The Hike, an all-day trek in September to the top of 11,750-foot Mount Timpanogos, which overlooks the Brigham Young campus in Provo, Utah, was supposed to be a fun, get-to-know-you experience for the BYU golf team. But on the way down, a mile and a half from the base of the mountain, Andy Miller, a two-time All-America and the team's unofficial leader, broke into a jog and turned the hike into a race.
The race was won when the southbound Cougars ran into some northbound hikers on a narrow portion of the trail. While most of the Cougars slowed, wily senior Matt Thurmond made a strategic detour through the woods—"Caught 'em with their pants down," he says—and reappeared on the trail in front of his surprised teammates. "When Andy and I saw Thurm jump around us, we looked at each other and started sprinting after him," says Todd Miller, a freshman and Andy's younger brother. It was a twist-and-shout mad dash to the finish.
What kind of golfers race down mountains? Really competitive ones, which is one reason 23rd-ranked BYU is a bona fide NCAA contender. Much of the fire comes from the Cougars' version of My Three Sons. This year Scott Miller, a 22-year-old sophomore, has joined brothers Andy (20) and Todd (18) on the BYU roster. The Millers are the three youngest sons of NBC analyst and Hall of Fame member Johnny Miller, who attended BYU from 1965 to '68. The boys, along with another brother, 28-year-old John Jr., a club pro in Utah—they also have two sisters—have been competing against one another for years. "Whenever I play basketball or soccer or anything with them, we might fool around at first," says Todd, "but at the end we're intense."
The Millers hope to restore BYU as a golf powerhouse. From 1975 to '82 the Cougars finished no worse than fifth in the NCAAs and won the national title in '81. At the very least BYU would like to get back to the big dance next June at Hazeltine National in Minneapolis, something it hasn't done since 1993-The Cougars are off to a good start. In their first big tournament in the fall portion of the season, they finished a strong second to Texas at the Tucker Invitational in Albuquerque despite the absence of junior Jesse Hibler, who played in a Nike tour event that week. In addition to the Millers and Hibler, the Cougars can count on sophomore Billy Harvey, whose father, William Harvey, played at BYU with Johnny Miller. Billy shares the Las Vegas Country Club record (62) with Tour player Jim Gallagher Jr. "Can we win the national championship?" says BYU coach Bruce Brockbank. "If we get going good, I believe so. We've got five or six guys who believe we can, too."
Defending champ UNLV will be tough to beat, as will Georgia Tech, led by Matt Kuchar. Texas's Fab Five freshmen—Culley Barragan, Matt Brost, David Gossett, John Klauk and Russell Surber—make up one of the best recruiting classes ever. Georgia, Clemson and Texas Christian are also highly rated, as are perennial powers Oklahoma State, Arizona State, Arizona and Houston.
Whether BYU belongs with that bunch remains to be seen. The Cougars thought they did last year, when they were ranked 23rd going into the tournament, but they failed to advance past the NCAA regional. Afterward, the normally quiet Andy Miller, taking a page from a certain TV analyst, told it like it was: We didn't make it, he said, because we didn't work as hard as those who did. "I'm sure some of the guys didn't want to hear that," Andy says.
At the first team meeting this year, Andy spoke up again. "He said, 'Guys, you've got to give it your best every day,' " Brockbank remembers." 'If you show up late for practice or jump out of the car and run to the 1st tee, golf doesn't mean enough to you.' Then Todd—a freshman who didn't know anyone—stood up and said, 'You can't quit. You can always turn a poor round into a decent one.' He almost had tears in his eyes."
Andy, a junior who won the Western Athletic Conference title as a freshman, is a dead ringer for his dad. He has the same round shoulders, long arms and lazy gait. Andy is ambidextrous, plays the guitar and is an artist. On the course he's a creative shotmaker, a superb wedge player and a much-improved putter. When he and his dad were paired with Jack Nicklaus and his son, Steve, in the 1997 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, Andy made 16 birdies in three rounds. "He thumped all of us," Johnny Miller says. Later that year Andy bogeyed the last two holes to miss qualifying for the U.S. Open by a shot and reached the final of the Western Amateur. This summer he made it to the Sweet 16 of the U.S. Amateur.
"Andy is a Fonzie or a Clint Eastwood type," says his mother, Linda. "He doesn't say a lot, but everybody gravitates toward him." Between rounds in Albuquerque, Andy was sitting in the shade by the 9th tee, eating a sandwich, when SMU's Hank Kuehne, the Amateur champ, walked by. That morning Kuehne had shot a 71, Miller a 76. "Hey, Andy, let's you and I pick it up a little this afternoon," Kuehne said. Andy, cool as always, barely looked up. "Don't worry about me," he said. Miller shot a 71, Kuehne a 72.
Scott, a sophomore (he left school for two years on a Morman mission after his freshman year), is stronger and huskier than his brothers, and if he has the choice between an easy four-iron and a hard five, he's going to blast the five. No one was sure how much he would contribute following the time off, but after switching irons and getting a putting tip from Dad, Scott was low amateur in this summer's Utah Open and the surprise qualifier for the team BYU fielded in Albuquerque, where he shot three impressive 70s to finish second, a shot behind Texas's Gossett. Scott's sudden improvement has him playing like a man on a mission, not someone just back from one. "Scott's got the heavy hit, like Craig Stadler or Tom Lehman," says his dad, who used binoculars to follow all of his sons at the Tucker. "He doesn't look as if he's swinging hard or generating club-head speed. He's like Jack Nicklaus, who looked as if he was getting ready to hit a 20-pound ball. He hits it long."