Johnny Miller Sets The Pace
We all remember Tom Watson and Lee Trevino as being the guys who challenged Jack Nicklaus, but there was another in the early to mid-1970s who gave the Golden Bear a serious challenge for the top spot — Johnny Miller.
An entire generation has grown up since Miller stopped playing competitive golf and took to the tower behind the 18th green to offer is “expert” analysis and often to criticize the best players in the world.
Unlike most announcers who don’t wish to offend, Miller speaks his mind, often drawing the ire of those he covers.
It’s not a coincidence that you never see Johnny Miller interviewing players. One, they don’t necessarily like him and secondly they fear that he might actually ask questions more probing than “what club did you hit into 18 Tiger?”
Yet it is just because of that fact that Johnny Miller is the best golf announcer/analyst in the business.
Anyone who follows golf vividly recalls Justin Leonard’s heroic 45-putt birdie on the 18th hole of the 1999 Ryder Cup at The Country Club, thrusting a dagger into the heart of Europe’s Jose Maria Olazabal and completing the most historic comeback in Ryder Cup history.
That scene, of Leonard running around with his arms stretched to the sky and his teammates mobbing him, has been replayed thousands of times.
What most forget is that until the Sunday singles matches Leonard had played horribly and Miller had not sugar coated it.
“He is playing so poorly he should go home and watch Sunday’s matches on television,” Miller suggested during Saturday’s play.
Leonard was incensed as was U.S. captain Ben Crenshaw, but Leonard later admitted that Miller’s stinging critique also inspired his Sunday play.
During last year’s incredible U.S. Open, where Tiger Woods defeated Rocco Mediate in a playoff Miller said of Mediate, “He looks like the guy who cleans Tiger Woods’s pool.”
That also drew wide criticism, especially from those of Italian extraction, but it pretty much hit the nail on the head and it was funny as well (maybe not to Mediate).
Miller has been outragious and at times insulting but he has never been dull, which is not something you can say of many color analysts in any sport and certainly no others in golf.
He also knows the game as few others and his knowledge and background gives the viewer a true feel for what is going on. Since he was in so many of the situations that players find themselves he can relay to the rest of us just what is going through the competitor’s minds and what they are likely feeling at the moment.
This year Miller even argued with NBC metorologist Al Roker about when it was most likely to begin pouring at Bethpage during the third round of the U.S. Open.
Roker, with all of his equipment predicted one time and Miller said that just by looking at the sky he figured the rain was at least a couple of hours behind Roker’s prediction. Miller ended up being right.
I loved long-time CBS analyst Ken Venturi. He did a wonderful job of explaining things and he was critical at times, but he never was that entertaining.
Let’s face it, golf is often boring. Miller fills in the void beautifully.
And let’s not forget that outside of Trevino, who served as NBC’s colorman before Johnny took over in 1990, there are few former touring pros who can match Miller’s resume as a player.
He won 25 times on the PGA Tour and was ranked second in the world for two straight years (1974-75) behind Nicklaus.
He captured two majors; the 1973 U.S. Open, with that amazing final day round of 63 (still a record for a winning fourth round score at the Open) at Oakmont, and the 1976 British Open.
Miller also finished second at the Masters on three separate occasions (’71, ’75 and ’81).
Putting yips ended his career, but his legacy (Miller is enshrined in the Golf World Hall of Fame) is enduring and his straight forward, take no prisoners style of broadcasting is a breath of fresh air in a sport that is often too mundane.
Miller is also respected by golf’s hierachy.
Several years ago at the Open he confronted officials of the USGA and told them that they had to water the greens or they weren’t going to have a U.S. Open. The USGA, which sheds criticsm about as well as any organization in history took Miller’s advice and watered the greens.
He returned to the booth but never mentioned it to the viewers.
“It’s the only punch I ever pulled in 15 years of announcing,” said Miller at the time.
Tim Geary is a freelance writer based in Rhode Island. He has been a sportswriter for over 33 years and is a former member of both the Golf Writers of America and the International Network of Golf.
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