Broadcaster Johnny Miller Bids Farewell In Phoenix
Were it up to Johnny Miller, he might leave quietly.
And wouldn’t that be ironic?
The most influential voice in golf broadcasting slipping into the shadows to be with his 24 grandchildren and to perhaps play a little golf himself now that he’s 71 years old.
The quiet time is coming but not quite yet.
This will be Miller’s final weekend in the television tower and it will be an abbreviated visit. He will sit with his longtime NBC Sports broadcast partner Dan Hicks on Saturday at the Waste Management Phoenix Open and say his public farewells then, ceding the Sunday seat to Paul Azinger, who will succeed him.
Miller didn’t change the game but he changed the way we watched it and thought about it.
Sooner or later, someone was going to slide into the analyst’s chair and offer more than platitudes. That’s what Miller did when his television career began nearly 30 years ago.
“He’s faced pushback including from me 20 years ago. It’s not easy to do what he’s done and be that honest.” — Justin Leonard on Johnny Miller
He arrived like an unexpected clap of thunder, then became as familiar as the wind rustling the trees.
Initially, Miller irritated players and unsettled viewers, both groups having been accustomed to more happy-talk analysis. Time didn’t soften Miller but it heightened people’s appreciation of his work.
Miller made the difficult seem simple. He talked about what he saw and what he sensed the players were feeling, coming at it from the perspective of a player who won 25 PGA Tour titles, including two major championships.
He did it without hesitancy and, while there were moments when Miller went too far, it’s what made him both illuminating and transformative.
“He’s unfiltered. That’s the beauty of it. It’s not easy,” said Justin Leonard, the subject of one of Miller’s most famous rip jobs who has himself made the transition from player to analyst.
“He’s faced pushback including from me 20 years ago. It’s not easy to do what he’s done and be that honest. Especially in his early years, he was talking about his friends and his peers.”
If Miller didn’t break the mold as a broadcaster, he certainly reshaped it.
“I’m just being myself. I’m not trying to do anything. It’s just the way I view golf,” Miller said.
“I always say the pressure and the choke factor in golf are by far the most interesting part of golf. …That is the most interesting thing. Greatest game in the world to basically choke on.”
That’s Miller right there.
The man who said choke on television.
“He was opinionated. He said things that may have been out of left field but the majority of times they were right on the money,” said Billy Horschel, who didn’t initially appreciate Miller’s approach.
“He had validity: ‘Hey, I’ve won majors. I’ve done this.’ Some of these people that say certain things, they don’t have that validity. They are speaking about something they don’t know fully about.”
In many minds, Miller’s legacy is tied more to his television work than his golf, which undervalues the spectacular way he could play. The argument can be made that, at his best, Miller was the most accurate iron player ever, taking dead aim at flagsticks and asking his caddie for yardages down to the half yard.
“There have been quite a few (critical remarks) that I probably should not have said.” — Johnny Miller
“Look at his record. I was of the opinion he had a far better record than I have so I need to listen to him. Maybe I could learn something,” said Charles Howell III.
Howell has been the subject of Miller’s blunt commentary.
“I remember at TPC Sawgrass, playing late on a Friday and there was a front flag (on No. 17) and I spun a ball back in the water to miss the cut. He grilled me on TV,” Howell said.
“I remember I called him later to ask for help. ‘I know you said some things but what would you have done?’ He’s always been one of those guys who’s been very open to help me.”
There’s a list of Miller moments that have become part of golf’s television legacy. He said Craig Parry had a swing that would cause Ben Hogan to puke. He said Leonard Thompson looked like he had a stick up his rear and he had no rhythm.
“There have been quite a few that I probably should not have said,” Miller acknowledged.
Perhaps none more than his Saturday afternoon remark at the 1999 Ryder Cup. Watching Leonard and Hal Sutton halve a four-ball match against José María Olazábal and Miguel Ángel Jiménez after seeing Leonard lose with Payne Stewart in the morning, Miller said Leonard “needs to go home and watch it on television.”
A day later, Leonard sealed the Americans’ comeback victory by holing a long putt that ultimately guaranteed at least a half-point in his singles match against Olazábal.
“That wasn’t too good,” Miller said.
A few weeks later, Leonard and Miller found themselves waiting to board the same overseas flight.
“Johnny saw me from maybe 40 yards away in the waiting area and he was literally stepping over chairs to come talk to me and to basically apologize for what he said. I said there was no reason to apologize. That was his opinion and it may have lit a little fuse in us,” Leonard said.
It’s what made Miller different. It didn’t necessarily make him beloved but it made him difficult to turn off.
“Unfortunately, people love it. I don’t say it to make people love it,” Miller said.
“Just at that time, at the Ryder Cup I would get so darn mad because the U.S. just couldn’t win a Ryder Cup. ‘Come on guys.’ You know? Sometimes like that my heart is in the right spot but the filter is not real – it’s pretty poor is what I’m trying to say. Things come out that maybe I shouldn’t say.”
The microphone will be Miller’s one last time Saturday in Phoenix. There will be video tributes and reflections about Miller and his impact. It’s a going-away party on television.
“I know it’s time,” he said.
Johnny Miller’s final PGA Tour broadcast will come on Saturday in Phoenix. Photo: Chris Condon/PGA Tour
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