Buckley’s Zach Miller has proven himself as one of the top teen golfers in the region – and has started making his mark in a much larger field – but competition is sometimes hard to come by during a worldwide pandemic.
Since COVID-19 dashed many athletic plans, the 15-year-old Miller has spent countless hours honing his short game. Much of the work has come at home, where he maintains an artificial putting green and an 80-yard “wedge hole.” He also can be found sharpening his skills at Enumclaw Golf Course.
Miller has been an up-and-coming presence in youth golf circles and finally was able to compete this summer in an American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) tournament. He traveled to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, for the GreatLife Sanford Health tourney, staged June 28 through July 1 at Willow Run Golf Course.
The event attracted young golfers from throughout the United States, along with competitors from countries around the globe. For the record, Miller had a very consistent 72 holes of play, ending in 17th place with a three-day total of 216 (72-73-71).
Miller admits to some jitters while preparing for his first AJGA tournament.
“It was nerve racking for the first few holes and then I got settled down and started playing my game,” he said.
In the end, the tournament showed Miller where he stands and what it takes to excel.
“I learned that there is not much separation between kids at this level,” he said. “Everyone is really good and it is the little things like mental mistakes, or one bad swing, that is the difference between first and 20th over three days of competing.
“I learned a lot about myself and my game. I know what I need to work on and improve to get better.”
The South Dakota trip also provided the bonus of meeting peers from other countries. “It was cool to get paired with a kid from Mexico and Canada and get to learn what the golfing life is like for them.”
Miller is hoping for several more opportunities to test himself against top-notch youth golfers this summer.
The first of those came July 13-14 in Lacey, Washington, in the form of the Western Open. Staged at Capital City Golf Club, it was the first event of the summer for the Washington Junior Golf Association.
He topped a field of 40 golfers in the 14-15 age bracket, winning by five strokes after starting with a round of 72 and then blazing to a 66 on Day 2. Making things even better, he was named the Western Open’s overall boys champion, carding the best two-day total among the 120 golfers up to age 18.
The accomplishment came in dramatic fashion, as Miller sat three strokes off the lead after nine holes on the second day of play. That’s when the championship kicked into gear: he fired a 31 on the back nine, a stretch that included seven birdies and an eagle.
While the world remains an uncertain place for health reasons, Miller plans on entering other Washington Junior Golf Association events in the coming months and also has his sights set on the Washington Amateur at Chambers Bay at the end of summer.
Miller’s ascension to the world of AJGA tournaments came on the heels of his previous success at the Washington Junior Golf Association level. Most impressive was his third-place finish at the WJGA state championship staged last August at Fircrest Country Club.
“That finish, as well as a few others, earned me AJGA stars that qualified me for my first AJGA event,” Miller said. “I was so excited to get the opportunity to play with some of the best golfers.”
Junior golfers from around the world are evaluated and rated against each other in a Junior Golf Scoreboard. The rankings are based on tournament scores and take into consideration things like overall placings, course ratings and the strength of tournament fields. In the end, players are ranked according to their high school graduation class and also ranked on a worldwide level.
Presently, Miller sits at No. 17 in the world among those in the 2023 graduation class and is No. 222 among the world’s amateurs 18 or younger.
Miller broke onto the high school golf scene in a big way. Last season, competing as a freshman, he was the No. 1 player for the White River High School program and qualified for the Class 2A state tournament.