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Team success sweetens Miller miracle

Cindy Miller's on the phone and she's sobbing up a joyful storm, because who would have thought this is the way the story would go? Who could have imagined almost a decade ago, when the walls were crumbling all around their marriage, that Cindy and Allen Miller would find utter fulfillment in their work and in each other?

"It's a miracle," Cindy says in a broken voice. "It's a miracle, isn't it? What else could it be?"

They married 24 years ago, she the nascent LPGA pro, he the PGA Tour player everyone had pegged as a star waiting to shine. He'd already won the Tallahassee Open. He would play in five Masters, his best finish a solid 15th. How the man can, even now, hit a golf ball. Dave Pelz, the short game guru linked to Phil Mickelson's success, once said he'd only seen one pure ball-striker better than Allen Miller. Cindy figured she'd be living an easy life as the wife of a touring pro.

Thing was, Allen had no lust for golf, despised the expectations. He could whack balls on the range from sunrise until sundown. But the game itself become a chore, a nuisance, and remains so. Up until Monday he hadn't played a full round in more than three years even though he could fall out of bed and paint pins all day.

Allen picked up his mismatched set of sticks Monday because Cindy needed a partner to compete in the LPGA Northeast Section Mixed Team championship. These days, it's her playing career that matters. It's Cindy who's living in the spotlight. It's Cindy who's chasing LPGA Player of the Year honors in the teaching pro division. It's Cindy who finished second on the money list on the LPGA Senior Tour. It's Cindy strangers recognize after her long run on The Golf Channel's reality series, The Big Break III.

Allen? He's become her enabler, her sidekick, her caddy, and he's never been happier. There's purpose to his life, a boundless satisfaction that comes with feeding Cindy's dreams outside their work as nationally recognized instructors at the Wehrle Golf Dome.

"I don't enjoy playing golf," he says. "I wasn't playing Monday for the fun of it. It was the fact we were together."

And to think how close they were to divorcing, the papers having been drawn. To remember the cyclone their lives had become after Allen's 15-year playing career ended and he was ravaged by the enduring sense he'd disappointed those who'd mapped his destiny.

That's where the bottle came in handy, the alcohol dulling the pain, soothing the inner conflict. And when the booze ran its course, when it no longer feigned healing, he fled to his mother's house in Florida, put a plastic bag over his head and taped it shut with the idea he'd spare Cindy and the three kids the baggage.

Allen hasn't had a drink since July 1996, since five months after his failed suicide attempt. Cindy's earned more than $40,000 on the LPGA Senior Tour this season, a nice supplement to their teaching income. Wasn't it just nine years ago she was dipping into a puddle of inheritance money to clothe and feed the kids?

Cindy's sobbing over the phone again, overwhelmed, as she and Allen sit in a hotel room in Barrie, Ont., waiting to make an appearance on behalf of The Golf Channel. It's Wednesday, and they are two days removed from their victory at the LPGA Mixed Team event, two days removed from a win rife with symbolism. You see, they're perfect for each other, albeit in a way neither could have envisioned. They've come to share a deep and abiding religious belief, a faith born of their rebirth, their miracle.

"You know when everything's going wrong and there's a light and you're sure it's a freight train?" Cindy asks. "It's not a freight train. I'm telling you, it's not a freight train."

e-mail: bdicesare@buffnews.com

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