I didn’t have any inkling it was going to happen. It was pretty much out of the clear blue. —Joe Watts, the Utah Golf Association executive director at the time
SALT LAKE CITY — Ten years ago a historic Utah State Amateur was played at the Jeremy Country Club near Park City. It was the year the first woman, Annie Thurman, played in the tournament, and she played very well, making it to match play before losing in the round of 16.
But the 2004 State Amateur will forever be known as the first State Am that was decided on Saturday night in the clubhouse rather than Sunday afternoon on the golf course.
The tournament came to a stunning conclusion when one of the two finalists, Todd Miller, announced after his semifinal victory that he wouldn’t play in the finals because of religious reasons — he didn’t want to play on Sunday. So the State Am title — by forfeit — went to Clark Rustand, the winner of the other semifinal match.
It caused plenty of controversy at the time, with golfers and fans choosing sides on whether it was right for Miller to take the stand that he did, when he did. Miller received both praise and criticism for his decision, although the following week he apologized to the Utah Golf Association for not letting the organization know sooner of his intentions.
Also two days after, Todd Miller’s father, Johnny Miller, blasted the UGA’s policy of playing on Sunday at a press conference for his Champions Challenge tournament, saying no major tournament in Utah should be played on Sunday.
"The bottom line is (Todd) addressed an issue, drew blood, and now it's a very obvious change that needs to be made," Johnny said.
Johnny indicated that indeed, it was part of a plan to force the UGA to stop playing on Sunday, telling reporters, "On this particular issue, I'm going to do whatever it takes. I hope you'll never know about (plans) B and C."
However, the UGA didn’t back down and continued to hold its finale on Sunday as it had for the previous century. Johnny Miller, who played hundreds of tournaments on Sunday in his career as well as working as a commentator on NBC on Sundays for two decades, never said much more about the issue publicly.
Ironically, a decade later, the State Amateur is no longer played on Sunday because of a change that had nothing to do with Miller’s Sabbath stand in 2004. Last year, the UGA turned the tournament into a six-day, Monday to Saturday affair to accommodate an extra day with 64 golfers in match play instead of 32.
So now golfers who prefer not to play on Sundays can participate in the State Amateur, although there is always a chance that the tournament finals could be pushed back to Sunday because of weather issues.
'Out of the clear blue'
Clark Rustand and Todd Miller are now both 34 years old and each has young families with three kids apiece. Rustand lives in Tucson, Arizona, where he grew up, and runs an insurance business. Miller lives in Provo, where he is the assistant coach for the BYU golf team, a job he’s held for the past nine years.
Both have fond memories of the 2004 State Am when both were playing some of the best golf of their young lives.
Rustand had been a JC All-American at Utah Valley, before playing briefly at BYU as a teammate of Miller’s.
Miller is the youngest of Johnny and Linda Miller's six children and at one point in his teenage years was thought to have the best potential of four sons to follow in his dad’s footsteps on the PGA Tour. He had a solid career at BYU, where he finished the spring prior to the State Am.
Rustand was making his first appearance in the State Am in ’04 and wasn’t given a second look as one of the players to beat. He was the No. 28 seed going into match play, and defeated medal runner-up Zach Johnson, now a successful pro on the Intermountain circuit, in the first round; former professional John Owen in the second round; and teenager Steele DeWald in the quarterfinals. Then he went up against defending champion Tommy Sharp. In perhaps the best-played match of the tournament, he won 2 and 1 on Saturday afternoon.
Miller had finished just one stroke out of medalist honors and beat Craig Woodward, Pete Stone and Ben Smuin to reach the semifinals against his college teammate, Clay Bingham. He breezed through that match 6 and 5 and was waiting to talk to Rustand when his match against Sharp concluded.
“He walked right up to me and let me know his intentions,’’ Rustand recalls. “I was looking forward to playing him in the finals and it caught me off-guard. I was very surprised. On the range prior to the final match, we had joked about playing in the finals against each other. I was excited. It was going to be a fun battle, but also sort of casual because we knew each other and were friends.’’
Miller said at the time and reiterated last week as he was driving to California with his family that he planned all along not to play on Sunday and would forfeit to his semifinal opponent if he made it that far. It was a decision he had made while on an LDS Church mission to Chile. However, going against his college teammate Bingham threw a wrench in the works.
“I’d always planned on giving the match to whoever I played in the semifinals,’’ Miller said. “But the fact that I was playing Clay, who was one of my teammates, made it an awkward situation. I was planning on giving the semifinal match to whoever I was playing. That he was my teammate changed that, but I still wish I would have given him that match.’’
Joe Watts was the Utah Golf Association executive director at the time and was caught off-guard by the whole thing.
“I didn’t have any inkling it was going to happen,’’ Watts says. “It was pretty much out of the clear blue.’’
Watts, Rustand and Miller retreated to a small room in the Jeremy clubhouse along with UGA president Paul Hatch to discuss the situation. Although Rustand recalls Miller throwing out several options such as playing late Saturday afternoon and evening, or declaring the two co-champions, Watts remembers just one.
“He made the request to play it on Monday,’’ he said. “We decided it was not proper to call all of our volunteers back and reschedule. I said, ‘Clark are you going to be here tomorrow on the tee for the match?’ and he said, ‘Yes, I’ll be here.’ I turned to Todd and said, ‘Are you going to be here tomorrow morning for the match?’ and he said, ‘No I won’t be.’ So I said, ‘There’s no reason for us to play it. Let’s just announce it now.’’’
Watts said the decision was nothing against Miller’s religious beliefs, pointing out that six or seven of the nine UGA board members were active members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as was Rustand.
A few minutes after Watts announced the decision on that Saturday afternoon, Rustand was awarded the large State Amateur trophy and for the first time in decades, no State Amateur final was played on Sunday.
“It was hard, but Todd was fine about it,’’ says Watts now. “I respect Todd. He’s really a wonderful young man.’’
All these years later, Miller can look back and acknowledge that he didn’t handle the situation in 2004 as well as he could have.
He still doesn’t play golf on Sundays, even though he’s a professional and most professional events have Sunday play. He says he only plays in a tournament every November with friends and at his U.S. Open qualifying event in the spring.
“It was a fun tournament for me to have my dad caddy for me,’’ Miller says. “But as I look back at it, I could have handled it differently than I did. In hindsight I definitely would have approached the Utah Golf Association and said, ‘Hey, I want to play in this event, but I don’t plan on playing Sunday.’ I definitely would have done things differently.’’
Rustand says questions about Miller’s forfeit only come up when he returns to Utah and everywhere else he's known as the 2004 Utah Amateur champion. Last year when he came up from Arizona to play in the State Am, a fellow golfer teased him, saying that last year would be the second time ever that the State Am was decided on a Saturday, following Rustand’s Saturday evening victory in 2004.
“It was unfortunate how it transpired and got dragged through the media the following weeks after the State Am,’’ Rustand says. “It was unfortunate for Todd. His intentions were good and he was trying to do the right thing, but it didn’t turn out that way. He took the brunt of that, which was unfortunate.’’
Rustand and Miller remain friends and will text or talk to each other every month or so. But they’ve still never played a round of golf together since 2004.
“It’s always been an ongoing joke between us that someday we’re going to have a match at an undisclosed location and settle it once and for all,’’ Rustand said.
Miller added: “We’ve never done anything with it. Maybe in another few years we’ll bring it up and go out and play.’’