Happy 70th Birthday Johnny Miller!
By: Claudia Mazzucco
John Laurence Miller celebrates his 70th birthday today. Born April 29, 1947, in San Francisco, California, he was directed into golf by his father Larry at an early age. Larry always called him “Champ.” He developed his swing technique under the tutelage of teaching professional John Geertson, who shaped his distinctive early wrist-cock takeaway. At age 19, he was a taller, slender, and blond young golfer, when he first came to national attention in the 1966 U.S. Open, at the Olympic Club in San Francisco. He finished as low amateur and in a four-way tie for eighth place.
In 1974-75, 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. (World Golf Hall of Fame Profile)
He mastered the game in the early seventies. At the 1973 United States Open in Oakmont, Miller was six strokes behind after a 76 in the third round. On Sunday, he birdied the first four holes and made four more birdies against one bogey for a 63 to win by one. Though rains had softened the layout, making the greens more receptive than usual, his 63 was the greatest round of golf ever played at the Open, and arguably the finest athletic performance of all time.
In 1974, Miller won his first three events and eight out of the twenty he entered. A year later, he won six times around the world, including back-to-back victories at Phoenix and Tucson, where he shot 61 in each event, winning Phoenix (with 260) by 14 strokes, Tucson by nine. In 1976 he added three more titles, including the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale, where he trailed Severiano Ballesteros by two going into the final round but shot a 66 to win by six. In all, Miller won 25 times on the PGA Tour. if everyone mentioned that he had become the best player in the world – Jack Nicklaus included –he would say, “right now I don’t think there is anyone who can touch me.”
Miller thinks there is a lot to be learned by studying choking. He began choking with his putting at age nineteen. “I had a fairly short, pop-like stroke to start with,” he said, “and one day that stroke started to get a little yippy.” He dealt with it successfully for many years and became a very good putter during his brilliant career in the seventies. When he turned thirty, his nerves began getting worse. Over time, he admitted, “I choked in many different areas of my game, on so many occasions, in all sort of scenarios. If they gave out PhDs for knowledge about choking, the wall of my study would be full of degrees.”
Miller is the only golfer to have won at Pebble Beach in four different decades. He captured the California State Amateur Championship and the Morse Cup for the Northern California Golf Association in 1968. Then, in the prime of his professional career, he captured the Bing Crosby Pro-Am in 1974. He won again at Pebble Beach in the 1983 Pebble Beach Invitational (then Spalding) and in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in 1987. When he won a third Pro-Am in 1994, at age 46, he became the only golfer ever to win the even in three different decades. He is a very articulate and insightful commentator, albeit sometimes controversial, for NBC where he began doing color commentaries in the late 1980s.
Claudia M. Mazzucco is a researcher at Golf Channel and teacher of History of Golf at the PGA of Argentina, in Buenos Aires. She is the author of Legendary Lessons (2016), El Golf de los Tiempos, A Novel (2002) and The Guide of Golf Courses in Argentina (2003). She received the PGA Award from the PGA of Argentina in 2005