For all of Johnny Miller’s accomplishments on the golf course – you may have heard he shot 63 in the final round to win the 1973 U.S. Open at Oakmont – his impact on golf broadcasting may be as profound as that of his playing career.
Miller won 25 times on the PGA Tour including two majors (he also finished second three times in the Masters) but he changed golf on television with his unfiltered commentary.
Until Miller, golf on television had been largely deferential toward the players. Analysts talked about the action and about their own careers but there was little in the way of critical commentary.
Then Miller came along. He talked about players choking. And he was right.
Players didn’t like it. They bristled at Miller sitting high in a television tower talking about them with a frankness previously lacking in golf broadcasts. Now others – Brandel Chamblee is an excellent example – have created their own style based on what Miller began.
Some never got comfortable with Miller. If you’re from an older generation, you will remember how Howard Cosell and his pomposity turned off many viewers. It was the same with Miller, particularly when he talked about how good he had been – and there may never have been a better iron player.
But Miller talked about his own failures, too. He understood the game from inside the ropes and did a brilliant job of taking viewers there.
When Fox Sports took over the U.S. Open and Miller was no longer the voice on the American national championship, viewers realized how much they missed him. Not every viewer, but many of them because Miller always added something.
Miller has announced his retirement and the similarly outspoken and insightful Paul Azinger will take his place in the NBC Sports booth. Miller’s final event for NBC will be the Waste Management Phoenix Open on Super Bowl weekend in February.