Indiana Daily Student

Local to be 2015 Walker Cup captain


John “Spider” Miller’s office reflects his three biggest loves: family, golf and beer.

Everywhere he looks around his workspace at Best Beers, Inc. in Bloomington, he is surrounded by pictures and trophies that showcase a career full of memories that keep him smiling and chuckling.

His business cards lie cradled between two golden golf balls. Three golf clubs lean against his desk, ready for action.

The plaque from his induction to the Indiana Golf Association Hall of Fame occupies the wall space to his right.

But it’s the large photograph on the opposite wall that Spider really cherishes from his career.

It’s a picture of him with Arnold Palmer standing side-by-side at hole No. 12, part of the historic “Amen Corner,” at the 1999 Masters in Augusta, Ga. The two were paired together for one round.

“It was great,” Spider said. “Arnold’s the best. It was great. You couldn’t pick a better person to play with than him.”

Golf has given Spider the chance to play what he considers the top courses in the country, but soon he will expand beyond American borders. He recently found out he’ll be the captain for Team USA at the Royal Lytham & St. Annes Golf Club in England, site of the 2015 Walker Cup.

On July 6, the United States Golf Association announced Spider as the captain of the U.S. team for the 2015 match, featuring the top amateur golfers from the U.S., Great Britain and Ireland.

For a man that has played in two Masters tournaments, one Walker Cup and won multiple state and national amateur tournaments, it’s just one more memory awaiting his office walls.

“I was excited and happy and honored and humbled,” the 63-year-old said. “It was great. I was very excited.”

Spider, one of 11 children, earned his nickname from climbing around the shelves at his dad’s hardware store. He was always active.

He started playing golf when he was five- or six-years-old, learning how to play at the then-nine-hole Muscatatuck Golf Course, but didn’t play competitively until he was in his 20s.

Before golf, he raced motorcycles in his hometown of North Vernon, Ind., and only stopped when he ran out of money in college.

When he turned 21, he could pursue another passion: drinking beer.

It went hand-in-hand with golf from the beginning for Spider.

“When I quit racing motorcycles, I started playing golf. And I started drinking then too,” he said. “I started drinking beer. When you play golf, you drink beer.”

Spider owns Best Beers, Inc., which distributes Budweiser, Upland, Corona, Heineken and almost any other beer one could imagine except for Miller and Coors, to the four-county area around Bloomington. He said he sells to all sorts of places in the area, from large grocery stores to local bars.

When giving directions to his 54,000-square-foot warehouse, he tells people to look for the big building with “Budweiser” across the top.

Spider’s life has always been about working. Although some players who compete in the Walker Cup eventually turn professional, as he points out by listing all the pros he knows who are currently on tour, he never considered making the jump. That wasn’t for him. He’s a businessman.

“I have to work,” he said. “It never entered my mind. I’m better off working than trying to play golf for a living.”

He put himself through college at IU, working at the IU golf course.

He said he didn’t really have a title there. He just did everything, ranging from picking up balls, to fixing golf cars, to working at the pro shop and driving range.

“Whatever it took,” he said.

He started at IU in 1968 but left after two years to work and earn money. He came back in 1974, working full-time and going to school part-time.

After years of hard work, he finally thought he had graduated and earned his degree from SPEA, only to find out he still needed one more three-credit course “in the humanities, of all things.”

Golf would save him again.

“I was fortunate enough that the professor played a lot of golf,” he said, starting to laugh before he could put the kicker on another one of his many stories. “You can figure it out from there.”

He capped the story with a wink and a point while laughing.

“He took care of me though,” Spider said. “I graduated and got my degree.”
Degree in hand, he started his beer business.

In 1978, he started his business back in North Vernon, about an hour away
from Bloomington.

A few years later, he would start playing competitively in tournaments, slowly earning invites to amateur events in the ’80s.

In 1991, he worked up enough capital to buy Best Beers and moved his family back to Bloomington, where he still had several golf friends from his days at the IU golf course.

Five years later, he won his first big golf tournament, capturing the U.S. Mid Amateur title in Hartford, Conn., and earning a spot in the 1997 Masters.

To win, he had to finish in the top 3 of about 150 Indiana entrants to advance to the tournament, then advance through two medal rounds in the top 64, then win out in head-to-head tournament style match play.

“I had to change my airline (ticket) everyday because I kept thinking I was going to get beat,” Spider said, chuckling. “The odds are that you won’t even make the match play. Once you do, you keep having to edge it out. The first time I won, I was gone for so long, I knew the maids at the hotel by heart. I knew them personally I was there for so damn long.”

He met Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus there in 1997.

When he remembers playing there, he talks about the people, not the
actual competition.

“There’s a number (of holes) I didn’t do very damn well on, I can tell you that,” Spider said, laughing his way through his sentences. “I can’t pick one out. It’s easier to pick the ones out I didn’t do very well on than the ones I did do well on.”

After winning the Mid-Am again in 1998, he got the chance to go back to the Masters and make more memories.

When he won the Mid-Am in ’98, he became the oldest player at the time to ever achieve the feat, conquering the NCR Country Club’s South Course in Kettering, Ohio.

It gave him the chance to play practice rounds at Augusta with his good friend Fuzzy Zoeller, who also grew up in Indiana.

And he got to make that special memory with Arnold Palmer.

Did the two talk during their round?

“Arnold? Of course,” Spider said, letting out a deep belly laugh. “Yeah, Arnold is great. He’ll talk about anything you want to talk about, business — in fact, he’s a great business man. He’s very much a business man. Very good, too.”

Asked if he was nervous when he stepped to the first tee with Palmer, Spider paused briefly.

“Of course!”

He paused again.

“Would you? Would you be nervous?” he said, once again laughing and smiling while finishing his joke.

On his back wall, Spider has a couple of clubs he bought from Palmer, and a signed copy of one of Palmer’s books mounted on the wall.

“I was very lucky,” he said. “I had a lot of fun playing.”

Through all of his golf endeavors, Spider said he’s always had the support of his wife, Kathy.

He couldn’t resist but to make another joke about how she has dealt with some of his longer absences while away at golf tournaments during the years.

“She’s probably happy to get rid of me, truth be known,” he said sarcastically, as pictures of his family account for the other half of the pictures around his office. “I’m sure I just get in the way most of the time.”

Looking at the picture of him and Palmer that he sees whenever he looks to his left in his office, he made a point to also explain the pictures of his four grandkids, which sit directly beneath that picture.

While he had fun playing on that large stage, alongside Palmer, he knew he had another life here in Bloomington.

“I had a good time,” Spider said. “I knew at the end of the day, though, I would be coming back and going to work and all the rest of them would go on to the tour. It was fun.”

Spider still golfs frequently. He said anytime you get to golf, “even if it’s only 18 holes,” it’s a good day. When walking around the warehouse, he asked some of the employees if they are playing yet. He’s always ready to take new players out on the course.

As for what beer he takes when he’s at the Bloomington Country Club, he said as long as its one of his beers, it doesn’t matter.

“I’m not afraid to buy, I’ll tell you that.”

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