How did Cole Miller spend his summer away from college? He played golf. Lots and lots of golf.
And it wasn’t on your typical muni courses.
The Penn State senior was strolling the fairways of Riviera and Bel-Air Country Clubs near Los Angeles, not to mention a little patch of grass called Royal St. George’s Golf Club along the English Channel.
Playing those courses — at the U.S. Amateur and British Amateur — did not result in any trophies or high finishes, but it would be hard to find a better way to prepare for another Nittany Lion golf season mentally and physically. And even though he just got back from playing in the U.S. Amateur in Los Angeles a few days ago to conclude his world tour, he is not complaining.
“I love golf so much,” Miller said Wednesday morning at Penn State’s annual fall sports media day at the Bryce Jordan Center, “it’s not really a chore for me.”
The odyssey began back in the spring, helping the Nittany Lion program rise up the national rankings and make the NCAA tournament field. Miller became just the second Nittany Lion to win an NCAA regional title, the Lions took fifth as a team in Seattle’s regional, and Penn State was 24th at the NCAA championships.
The regional win earned him an invitation to the British Amateur, where he shot a 1-over 71 on the Princess Golf Club course the first day of the tournament in June and an even-par 72 at Royal St. George’s the next day, missing the cut for match play. He tied for 90th in the 286-player field, but was fourth among the 13 Americans competing.
Buoyed with confidence, he won the U.S. Amateur qualifier in Harrisburg by eight strokes over the runner-up, earning his second appearance in the U.S. Am.
While it was exciting to play at a PGA Tour stop like Riviera, getting to expand his golf knowledge and talents on an English course was hard to top.
“I got out to the golf course and I’m like, ‘Where are the trees?’” he said. “We were right there on the English Channel and there’s not a tree around. You don’t see anything but wheat fields. It was amazing to just see everything like that and how golf can take you such crazy places.”
He played two practice rounds on his own, two more practice rounds as part of the event, then two rounds of competition. It wasn’t enough.
“I really couldn’t say I was comfortable,” said Miller, who has pro tour aspirations. “I certainly was starting to adjust to a point where I felt some confidence. That’s always golf, though. It’s always kind of how it’s been; it’s always a learning curve.”
He figures he will do better the next time he plays there, but he also noticed the effect it has had on his overall game. Needing to play low shots, using a bump-and-run approach to greens, and trying to handle the firm and fast greens of the course was an education, and he has seen an improvement in his short game because of that.
His first test comes Sept. 10 when Penn State plays its opening tournament at Minnesota’s Gopher Invitational.
Up for the challenge
The women’s soccer team typically plays a tough schedule — an expectation of being among the nation’s best teams. This season, however, might be the most daunting in the program’s history.
The season began with a 3-1 win over then-No. 8 Brigham Young on Friday and a 3-0 victory over unranked Hofstra. The team also has road trips in the coming days to No. 2 West Virginia (Sept. 2) and No. 10 Virginia (Sept. 10), sandwiched around No. 4 North Carolina (Sept. 7) — the first time the perennial power has traveled to State College.
“We love to bring in big names to Jeffrey Field,” coach Erica Dambach said, “and give the community the opportunity to see the highest level of women’s soccer and great opponents.”
Dambach said she has a few matches set on the schedule years ahead, but others are added after she has a better idea what kind of team she would have. Once she saw this season would be good, she wanted her team to be challenged.
“We want to test them in every environment,” she said, “to challenge them in every way possible before we get into Big Ten play.”
Her team, surprisingly, was unranked in the United Soccer Coaches Association preseason poll, but opinions quickly changed. Penn State leaped all the way up to No. 9 this week, even snaring one first-place vote.
Little Lions on the run
The Penn State cross country teams have five State College graduates on the roster. Redshirt juniors Victoria Crawford and Hannah Catalano are veterans, with Crawford running in the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regionals last fall. The team also has sophomore Natasha Fedkina, and freshmen Jordi Rohrbach and Owen Wing.
Coach John Gondak said Crawford and Fedkina are shaking off injuries from the summer.
For Wing and Rohrbach, who was a middle-distance runner and hurdler at State College, they are adjusting to the greater demands of college races.
“(Rohrbach is) coming in and kind of learning how to train at the level that you need to train this year,” he said, “to hopefully continue to grow and develop and be someone to potentially contribute in the future.”
While men’s golfer Cole Miller got to play in the British Isles on his own, the Penn State women’s team went as a group over the summer, playing five courses vastly different than their usual challenges in the U.S.
“I call it a spiritual experience, magical, but also demanding,” coach Denise St. Pierre said. “They all experienced those things.”
The trip was a little different with one Nittany Lion, Ariana Coyle Diaz, meeting up with her teammates in her hometown of Dublin. St. Pierre has taken several teams to Ireland over the years, both for team bonding and to broaden their golfing knowledge.
“Every golf course we played is right along the seacoast,” St. Pierre said. “You’re dealing with high winds, you’re dealing with on-and-off rain, you’re dealing with — I always say it’s three seasons in one round.”
She hopes it also toughens her team, and it can handle the unexpected.
“You’ve got to be ready for anything,” St. Pierre said. “That’s part of this idea of preparation.”