Cindy Kessler Miller stood in the shadow of the big scoreboard at Grenelefe Golf and Tennis Resort on a cloudless afternoon in Tampa last December, leaned in close to her husband and said softly, "Know what, honey? We're going to be all right."
Allen Miller smiled, which was a feat in itself. In front of him the board was filling up with long rows of black, handwritten numbers, and for Miller they were quickly adding up to a disappointment.
Four months after his 50th birthday, in his first bid at qualifying for the Senior tour, Miller had come up short, way short. A tidy, one-over-par 73 in the final round had boosted him to 49th place, a laudable finish in, say, the New York City Marathon. But at the grueling 72-hole Q school, in which only the spry survive, Miller had not been a factor, missing the event's coveted prize—the top eight finishers got a year's pass on the Senior tour—by 12 shots.
Yet unlike other contestants who left Florida without their cards, Miller could claim a partial victory—not so much over the course or the field of 160 weather-beaten competitors, but over the inner demons that three years ago nearly brought his life to a violent end. On Feb. 21, 1996, Miller, a 14-year veteran of the PGA Tour, a five-time starter at the Masters, a two-time Walker Cupper and once one of the brightest stars of amateur golf, tried to kill himself.
Ask and he tells you about it—in a chilling narrative that's shockingly graphic, considering that it's coming from a man remembered by his former colleagues on the Tour as being so shy he found it difficult to nod hello as he passed in the locker room.
He explains turning points and setbacks: a Tour career that fizzled rather than sizzled; an unhappy decade spent grinding out lessons at a driving range near Buffalo; a taste for booze that nearly destroyed his marriage; and, finally, a desperate, near fatal plea for help. "I might start crying here in a minute," says Miller, a stocky man at 5'9" and 180 pounds with wisps of thinning yellow hair and a pinkish face. He pulls off his wire-rimmed eyeglasses and mops the tears from his cheek. "So I cry," he says, and then laughs. "So what?"
It's easier to laugh now, but back in '96 the world was a gloomy place for Miller, darkened by 20 years of bad breaks and self-destructive impulses. For someone whose swing had been touted in the '70s as one of the most fluid on the Tour, Miller was nowhere—a hired hand at a golf range closer to Canada than Augusta National. That February he left Cindy, a former LPGA player, and their three children, Kelly, Jamie and Matt, now 16, 13 and 12 respectively, and fled to his mother's home in Tampa. He did not know whether he would be away a month or a year, only that "I had to get out of that scenario," Miller says.
His despair deepened in Florida. "I got more and more depressed, staying in my room most of the time," he says. "Then one day I decided I'd never come out." The tears well up again. "I looked at myself and all I could say was, 'You're worthless.' "
Miller had few assets. One was a $250,000 life insurance policy. "I figured Cindy and the kids could pay the debts and move on—if I committed suicide," he says.
Alone in the small, spare bedroom, Miller placed a plastic bag over his head and waited to lose consciousness. "All that happened was my face got sweaty," he says. Next, he calmly removed a light bulb from a lamp and prepared to stick his finger into the live socket. If that didn't kill him, Miller says, he planned to "throw the radio, plugged in, into the bathtub, jump in and get it over real quick." Before he could get his finger in the socket, though, Miller was interrupted by his sister, Marlou, and hours later he voluntarily entered a Tampa psychiatric hospital, where depression was diagnosed.