Article updated: 6/5/2012 5:13 PM
Illinois PGA plays huge role in Ryder Cup
Michael Miller, Illinois PGA executive director
Photo courtesy of Illinois PGA
By Mike Spellman
Miller celebrated his birthday earlier this week and planned to spend the day having some fun with his family in Lake Geneva, Wis.
Hope he enjoyed it, because there aren’t going to be too many days like that on the calendar the rest of the summer for the executive director of the Illinois PGA — or his Glenview-based staff. Going forward, it will be nonstop action with their regular schedule of roughly 50 Illinois PGA events and all the work they’re putting in on behalf of the Ryder Cup, which will be held at Medinah Country Club in September.
Despite the hectic schedule, Miller, who is in his 17th year as executive director, sounded calm, cool and collected as he discussed what lies ahead this summer.
Q. First of all, happy birthday.
A. Thank you. It’s the big 5-0, unfortunately.
Q. With all the tournaments and events you guys run, you are always busy during the golf season. Now with the Ryder Cup in town this year, how much busier are you?
A. It’s hard to put a number on it, but I’d say we’re significantly busier because of a lot of the initiatives we’re involved with surrounding the Ryder Cup.
Q. One of those is a Youth Skills Challenge (think of the punt, pass and kick competition in the NFL), which began a couple of weeks ago. What is that like?
A. One of the reasons we created it was we wanted to get kids and families excited about the Ryder Cup. We did the same competition back in 2006 around the PGA Championship. It’s for kids ages 6 to 17, boys and girls divisions. The kids qualify at the local level and then we do four regional qualifiers the first weekend in August.
The kids who make the finals will compete the Saturday before the Ryder Cup out at Medinah. We’ll give them a backstage tour of the Ryder Cup. They’ll also be invited to be a part of the Opening Ceremony.
Q. Do they realize how lucky they are?
A. I don’t know (laughs). Our staff who worked the event at Marquette Park said the kids are really into it and the parents are, too. Yeah, I think as you go through the summer, you’re going to continue to see excitement about the Ryder Cup ramp up.
Q. What else do you have on your Ryder Cup agenda?
A. We have a fundraiser initiative that we’re involved with called “Magnificent Moments.” It’s benefiting charities in our Illinois PGA Foundation and Ronald McDonald House charities.
The initiative has two components. One is called “Bagpipes and Blues” and basically it’s an international pep rally that we will hold at the Field Museum the night before the matches start. It’s going to be all Chicago-based themed cuisine and entertainment.
The second component is called “Tartan Art on the Avenue.” It’s an outdoor art exhibit — very much like “Cows on Parade” a few years ago. There are these giant, 5-foot golf balls that will be painted by local artists and celebrities. They will be on display along Michigan Avenue two weeks before the Ryder Cup and two weeks after. We’re selling those to benefit certain charities.
Q. What percentage of your time is spent on these projects?
A. I’d say about 50 percent of our time as a staff.
Q. And that’s on top of an already full schedule of events.
A. What we told our members is that despite all the added efforts and programs we have going on, we’ll still have a full slate of our regular tournaments for our members — so nothing has been cut short there.
Q. What will be the Illinois PGA’s role be at Medinah during the Ryder Cup?
A. On-site, our role will be very much what it was like during the 2006 PGA Championship. We’re in charge of coordinating all the volunteer crews around, staffing the driving range and all the practice areas … a little bit of player transportation. Most of our volunteers are made up of our PGA members — we have over 300 who have volunteered.
Q. You must be really proud of all the hard work your folks are putting in?
A. Yeah, it’s a busy summer. I tell everybody it’s going to be a lot of hours and a lot of extra work. Normally our schedule is busy throughout the season just running our events and programs. But it’s fun, it’s exciting. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Q. You’re around golfers all the time, are you noticing the buzz about the Ryder Cup getting bigger and bigger?
A. You can almost see it growing weekly as we get into the summer. It’s continued to build and it will only get bigger as we get into the middle of the summer. In the fall, normally the people in Chicago put their golf clubs away and start thinking about football. I think with the Ryder Cup being in the end of September, I think you’re going to see that excitement for golf continue on.
Q. I bet you’re looking forward to October.
A. I am. October 1st can’t come soon enough (laughs).
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