In golf’s modern era, it’s commonly understood that no player has ever achieved the brief but memorable brilliance of Johnny Miller.
In 1974 and 1975, Miller won 12 tournaments. More important than the number of the victories was the manner in which they were achieved, for during this streak Miller hit the ball consistently closer to the flag than any player in history. At his best, Miller’s game was marked by incredibly aggressive and equally accurate iron play.
Miller won five of the first 11 events of 1974 and later three more. The next year, he won four. At Phoenix he shot 260 to win by 14. The next week at Tucson, he closed with a 61 to win by nine.
“It was sort of golfing nirvana,” Miller said later. “I’d say my average iron shot for three months in 1975 was within five feet of my line, and I had the means for controlling distance. I could feel the shot so well.”
"I'd say my average iron shot for three months in 1975 was within five feet of my line, and I had the means for controlling distance. I could feel the shot so well."
This brilliant stretch was framed by Miller’s most important victories. At the 1973 U.S. Open at Oakmont, he was six behind after a third-round 76 when he suddenly caught fire. He birdied the first four holes of the final round and continued to shoot at the flag. He made four more birdies against one bogey for a 63 to win by one. In the 1976 British Open at Royal Birkdale, Miller trailed 19-year-old Seve Ballesteros by two going into the final round but put together a 66 to win by six.
That victory marked the end of Miller’s reign at the top of the game as he didn’t win another tournament until 1980. Several factors contributed. Miller lacked the insatiable appetite for success that drives the very greatest. Bored with golf, Miller spent a summer working on his ranch and found that his stronger body could not repeat his old swing. Never a brilliant putter, Miller began to suffer from the yips. Finally, Miller’s priorities changed the moment he had the first of his six children in 1977.
In all, Miller won 25 times on the PGA TOUR. His final and probably most remarkable victory occurred at Pebble Beach in 1994. Playing on one of his favorite courses, Miller somehow kept making putts-at times closing his eyes during the stroke-and won by a stroke.
Johnny Miller’s career low round was a 61.
Born in San Francisco April 29, 1947, Miller took up golf as a boy under the watchful eye of his father, Larry. “I was very lucky because my father was always positive and never pushed,” said Miller. “He always called me Champ.”
Later, Miller was guided by teacher John Geertson, who shaped Miller’s distinctive early wrist-cock takeaway. Miller received playing privileges at the Olympic Club and in 1964 won the U.S. Junior Amateur. As a 19-year-old amateur, he qualified for the 1966 U.S. Open at Olympic and finished eighth. He attended Brigham Young University and turned professional in 1969, nearly winning the 1971 Masters. After his victory at Oakmont, Miller got his biggest confidence boost by partnering with Jack Nicklaus in the World Cup.
“I played every day with Jack for a week, and I started to believe that at the time, I was actually better than him,” Miller said.
Nicklaus eventually answered Miller’s challenge to his station as the game’s best by outdueling Tom Weiskopf and Miller down the stretch at the 1975 Masters.
“When I got to the mountaintop, I kind of looked at the scenery and wondered, ‘Now what?’ ” Miller once summarized. “When Jack got there, he said, ‘Where’s the next mountain?’ ” Since retiring from regular competition, Miller has become a popular television golf commentator.