A Sabbath stand
LDS golfer forfeits shot at title by not playing on Sunday
Scott G. Winterton, Deseret Morning News
Golfer Johnny Miller once said he'd love to be leading the U.S. Open or a similar tournament going into the final day and then tell everyone he wasn't going to play on Sunday because of his beliefs.
Miller never did anything like that during his successful PGA career, during which he played golf hundreds of times on Sunday.
However, Saturday afternoon, his youngest son, Todd, made such a stand forfeiting his chance to play in the Men's State Amateur finals today at the Jeremy Golf & Country Club because he refuses to play golf on the Sabbath.
Miller had defeated Clay Bingham in Saturday's semifinals, but by choosing not to play today, Clark Rustand, a 24-year-old BYU student from Tucson, Ariz., was declared the State Am winner a day earlier than usual.
Miller, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints who served an LDS mission to Chile, isn't the first athlete to refuse to compete for religious reasons.
One of the most famous examples is British runner Eric Liddell, who refused to run on the Sabbath during the 1924 Olympics. That story was featured into the Oscar-winning movie "Chariots of Fire."
In 1965, Los Angeles Dodgers' pitcher Sandy Koufax refused to pitch on the holiest Jewish holiday, Yom Kippur, during the World Series. More recently, former BYU lineman Eli Herring passed up a large signing bonus and a likely NFL career because he didn't want to play on Sundays.
Miller, who will be a senior on the BYU golf team next year, said he made the decision not to play golf on Sundays while he was on his mission.
"What I do on Sunday is way more important than winning a tournament," he said. "I don't look down upon people who play on the Sabbath. I would just feel like a hypocrite in my own heart if I did. I made that decision, and I'm going to stick with that."
Miller's decision was surprising to everyone from tournament officials to his fellow golfers to the media covering the event.
Most said they respect him for sticking up for his beliefs, but many were also critical of him for not making the decision earlier and wiping out the final day of a tournament that has been played for 106 consecutive years, longer than any tournament in the world.
"It's pretty disrespectful to a tournament that's been around 106 years," said defending champion Tommy Sharp, who lost in the semifinals to Rustand. "He knew the tournament ended on a Sunday when he entered. It should not be changed because of one guy."
Miller had hoped the finals could be moved to Monday, and there was talk about making Miller and Rustand co-champions. But after meeting with each player for a few minutes, the Utah Golf Association board of directors declared Rustand the winner by forfeit.
"I'm surprised, I'm shocked and I'm disappointed," said UGA executive director Joe Watts. "Although I fully respect a person and his religious convictions, it's a matter of what process that kind of religious conviction should have shown itself. There's lots of considerations a person has to make besides his own personal religious convictions before he enters into an activity. Volunteers . . . , golf courses . . . , contestants who have put in their time and effort. . . . It should have been handled sooner."
Miller had known all week that he wouldn't play Sunday and defended his decision not to tell anyone beforehand. He said had planned to forfeit his semifinal match and allow that player to go on to the finals, but when he was matched up against his BYU teammate and friend Bingham, he knew that Bingham wouldn't accept that idea.
Like Miller, Rustand is LDS and a returned missionary, and he was understanding of Miller's decision not to play.
"I totally respect his decision of not playing on Sunday," Rustand said. "But I've made the decision to try and compete at the highest level, and that puts me in a position to play on Sundays. I wish it wasn't the case and that I could have Sundays to relax and go to church. But at the same time if I do make it and it becomes my livelihood it will put me in that predicament even though I honor my commitments to my church."
Miller said he wasn't bitter about the UGA's decision and praised Watts and the rest of the UGA board who organized and put on the event.
"I had a great time and made a lot of great friends," Miller said.
"I appreciate all the hard work they've done for Jeremy Ranch, giving up their course, and appreciate the way they handled this. I'm fine with the decision."
He said he isn't planning on being a professional golfer and competing on Sunday like his father and numerous other LDS athletes do.
"I'm going to do something in the golfing profession, but I hope I won't have to work on Sunday," he said.
As for next year, Miller isn't sure whether he will enter the State Amateur and he may not have a chance to anyway, according to Watts.
"We will be considering changes in our entry form for players to declare in advance if they're not going to play until the end of the tournament," said Watts. "We don't want them taking other people's places."We have people working hard to get in this tournament; they deserve a chance if someone isn't really here to win it."
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