Golf / Sports

Jason Millard's US Open heartbreak is alternate Sam Love's gain

PINEHURST, N.C -- Sam Love received the phone call Saturday and was in disbelief.

He was about to print plane tickets for a flight to Pittsburgh, where he would compete in the Sunnehanna Amateur beginning Wednesday.

Instead, a reversal of fortune landed him at Pinehurst for a Monday practice round before the U.S. Open. More than 10,000 people attempted to qualify. He made it as the last man in the field.

"Sometimes some bad news for people," Love said with a southern drawl, "is good news for other people."

Love made it after Jason Millard notified the USGA on Saturday -- while he was driving to Pinehurst with caddie Ryan Pierson -- that he would disqualify himself. This came five days after Millard qualified by shooting 68-68 at Colonial Country Club in Memphis, Tenn.

"Heartbreaking," Millard said Monday in a telephone interview.

After blasting out of a greenside bunker on the 18th hole, Millard wondered if he had accidentally grounded his club, a two-shot penalty. He noticed a small indentation in the bunker.

Neither his caddie nor his playing partner saw anything.

"There's no way it improved my lie because my ball was buried," Millard said. "But it's a rule -- a rule I've known since I started playing when I was 5 years old."

A two-time All-American at Middle Tennessee State who played in this year's Honda Classic on the PGA Tour, the 24-year-old Millard wrestled with what to do.

"You dream about playing in the U.S. Open and then you finally make it," he said. "But it just didn't feel right in my heart."

Millard will be rooting for Love, saying: "I'm happy for him and I hope he goes and wins the tournament. It would be a great story."

Love said if he got the chance, he would tell Millard: "I'm sorry he had to go through what he did. I'd tell him I respect him a lot, and that's the name of the game. Golf is a game of honor. You have to follow the rules."

Love, a 21-year-old amateur who recently graduated from UAB, will tee off in the final group Thursday at 2:42 p.m. local time. He shot 68-69 in qualifying, losing in a five-man playoff but landing as second alternate.

"He has a lot of firepower, hits it a long way," said Alan Murray, his coach at UAB and caddie for the week. "He deserves this."

Love does not believe in karma, but it's interesting to note what transpired in a junior tournament. After addressing a putt, Love noticed his ball move slightly but went ahead and stroked it. He called a two-shot penalty on himself.

The tournament venue: Pinehurst.

"I wasn't playing all that great anyway," Love said, "so it wasn't a big deal."

What Millard did was a big deal, especially considering what it could have meant to his career.

As chronicled in a GolfChannel.com piece, Millard missed the final stage of PGA Tour qualifying school in 2012 by a single stroke. He's 0-for-7 in Monday qualifiers this season on the Web.com Tour. His father, Eddie, died of leukemia last year, and he cares for his mother, Debbie, who has multiple sclerosis.

Millard said his mother "told me she loved me and is proud of my decision. And I've had friends tell me: 'Keep your head up' and 'I'm proud to even know you.' It's tearing me up not to be there, but hopefully I can make it next year."

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