David Miller overcame a 3am baby feed and an obstinate opponent on the greens to become the ninth Duddingston player to be crowned as Lothians champion.
This is the biggest win of my career, without a shadow of doubt,” beamed the 36-year-old after beating Musselburgh Old’s Nathan Free in the Longniddry final with a birdie at the 19th.
Miller had made the semi-finals on three previous occasions in the LGA’s flagship event, including the last time it had been played at the East Lothian course in 2008.
Since then he’s become the dad of two young daughters – three-year-old Nina and 12-week-old Clara – and feeding duties for the latter had left him short on sleep during this title bid.
“I was up at 3am on Saturday morning so feel shattered now,” admitted Miller after following in the footsteps of some highly-decorated clubmates.
Previous Duddingston winners of the event included the legendary Ronnie Shade and Stuart Smith, who lifted the title four times in ten years.
“To follow guys like them on to the trophy is fantastic and it’s great to know my three bronze medals in this event have now been eclipsed,” added the new champion.
Miller, who’d only got in front at the 15th in his morning semi-final against Turnhouse teenager Jack McVey, got off to a flyer in the title showdown. He won the first with a birdie-3 after hitting a wedge to no more than four feet and then went two up with another birdie at the seventh.
Free, who’d ended the brave run of Steven Armstrong, the 2004 winner from Turnhouse, in the other last-four clash, looked nervous. But he won the eighth with a par following a poor approach from his opponent then got back to all square with a birdie from ten feet at the 11th.
After both players had hit their second shots into the par-4 14th, Free could have been forgiven for thinking he was about to get his nose in front for the first time, but Miller had different ideas.
He’s renowned for having a hot short game and that was evident as he chipped in from 40 yards for a birdie, which Free, safely on in two, was unable to match.
Rattled by that setback, Free then dumped his tee shot at the next into bushes close to the road to go two down with three to play. He’s not a young man who throws in the towel, though, and showed that by getting up and down from a greenside bunker at the par-3 16th to keep the match alive.
Miller, whose dad Derek, a well-kent face around the Capital, was on caddying duties, missed from around ten feet there for the title and did so again at the next, this time for a par, to see the match head up the last.
There, the Duddingston man had a third chance to wrap things up, albeit from a long way away, but probably felt a two-putt would be enough.
It was the first time all week that Free had played the closing hole but he made a good fist of it, finding the heart of the green then rolling in a 20-foot birdie putt to take the match into extra-time.
Free didn’t know it but the odds were stacked against him due to Miller having an excellent record in that situation.
For the second time in the match, he birdied the first, hitting almost two identical shots from earlier in the afternoon, to secure his title triumph in style. “At the start of this week I had a different mental attitude from previous years,” he revealed after receiving a winner’s kiss from little Nina – baby Clara was blissfully unaware of what had just happened to daddy – and wife Kirsty.
“I was more relaxed and went out thinking that if I did well it was going to be a bonus.” Reaching the final was exactly that for Free, who works in the Longniddry pro shop and is set to start his PGA training there in September.
“I’ve definitely overachieved this week and have taken loads of positives from it,” he said.
“Two years ago I missed out on qualifying by one shot so this shows how much I’ve improved since then. I started off a bit shaky in the final because I was nervous but I’d managed to settle down around the turn.
“David chipping in at the 14th was a key moment but it was my mistake that I took that on to the 15th tee and then hit a bad drive there.”
But, having toppled defending champion Alan Anderson en route to his title triumph, Miller was a worthy winner over a Longniddry course that earned widespread praise throughout the week.
Semi-finals: Nathan Free (Musselburgh Old) bt Steven Armstrong (Turnhouse) 2 and 1; D Miller (Duddingston) bt J McVey (Turnhouse) one hole.
Final: Miller bt Free at 19th.