Checking in with Johnny Miller: On playing in SoCal, the Anchored putting ban & more
PQ: “I basically won everything in the West. Bottom line is this: If the majors were in January and February I probably would have won eight of them.”
He’s a native of Northern California but Johnny Miller has fond memories of SoCal. He won numerous tournaments there, loves Riviera and started his course design career in the region. The 68-year-old talks about why the upcoming anchored putting ban isn’t a big deal, which tournament may be his last as a broadcaster and who he thinks could be the best player in the world a year from now.
Of the 34 courses you have designed, a handful are in Southern California, most notably Maderas in Poway.
Maderas (co-designed with Robert Muir Graves) has a great setting in its own little valley. It’s just stunning. It has quite a bit of elevation change, and is a good full championship course that has been rated off and on as number one in San Diego County for many years. I also did another course called Cota de Caza with Robert Trent Jones Jr., and my first design experience was working with Jack at his Bear Creek Club in Murietta. I never did course designs for money. For me it was fun. I never looked at it as work.
You won a number of times in Southern California during your career.
I basically won everything in the West. Bottom line is this: If the majors were in January and February I probably would have won eight of them. By the time the majors rolled around, especially the PGA Championship, I had no interest in golf. There was nothing going in October, November and December; so when January rolled around I was sort of interested in golf again. For about two months I had about the same interest as Tom Kite did for 12 months. I won the Bob Hope twice (1975, 1976), the LA Open once (1981) and the Tournament of Champions at La Costa (1974). I had good success in Southern California and loved playing there. There certainly was better winter weather than what we had in Northern California.
Did you feel there was a real rivalry between Southern California and Northern California?
It was a huge rivalry. There was no love lost between those parts of the state, whether it was football with the 49ers and Rams, or the Giants and the Dodgers, or the Lakers versus the Warriors. Those were the most interesting games of the year. Same with the golfers. It was almost like two states; we had our players and they had theirs. We butted heads at the California Amateur every year, but there weren’t really that many inner-state matches.
The anchored putting ban goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2016. What impact will that have?
To be honest, you can hold that thing right in front of your chest and psychologically pretend that it’s anchored. I don’t think it will make a difference; just a slight one maybe. Guys who putted that way, all they have to do is hold it out an inch and hold it firmly, lead with the left hand and stroke with the right and I think it won’t be an issue. I always say those long putters, you have to hit 500 putts before you open up your mouth about it. Most people hit five or 10 and don’t like it. But if they push it away from their chest and hit 500 putts, they probably won’t even remember what it was like against the chest.
This was the first year for FOX broadcasting the U.S. Open after NBC did so for the past 20 years with you as lead analyst. Did you watch and what did you think of their effort?
I did watch it. When I heard they (FOX) got the U.S. Open I wished them the best, but I said it’s not like falling out of a tree and covering the U.S. Open. Then that’s what (Joe) Buck said when the broadcast started, ‘Well, here we are at the U.S. Open falling out of a tree.’ That wasn’t supposed to be a negative comment. It was just supposed to be that it’s not that easy covering a U.S. Open. We saw how difficult it was for them in the truck and in their camera work, on a new golf course where it was sort of hard to see the edges of greens. It was a difficult course, but the bottom line is they were blessed with a fantastic finish. The golf superseded everything else, so in reality it was a very successful U.S. Open. They did their thing and I’m not going to comment on it. They are going to get better every year, there’s no doubt about that. Greg Norman called me a couple of times before the U.S. Open and I wished him well. He wanted to know if I would do anything during the broadcast. I said I wouldn’t. That’s as far as it went.
NBC will broadcast the 2017 British Open at Royal Birkdale, where you won in 1976. What will that be like for you?
It’s weird because that could be my last year announcing. To get the British Open and have it be at Birkdale, it’s almost like too much of a coincidence. That’s pretty amazing if that is my last year. I almost won the British Open four years in a row. In 1973 (Tom) Weiskopf and I had run away from the field and he beat me (by 3 strokes). In 1974 I was right there (finishing 10th). In 1975 I was right there at Carnoustie until the ‘Johnny Miller’ bunker cost me the Open (finished 3rd). And I won in 1976. I was a good British Open player during my prime. I really look forward to doing it.
Out of this year’s major winners, who do you think has the best chance of future success?
Obviously Jordan Spieth. But I think Jason Day could be the best player in the world within a year. That wouldn’t surprise me at all. But what happened with Jason Day and Adam Scott is they just copied Tiger’s swing from 2000. Everything is identical to that swing, which is one of the greatest swings that ever was. But with Day, it looks like wining the PGA Championship might open him up to great things. But I don’t know. Some guys win one major and they drop anchor. Dustin Johnson is a guy who either has so many hauntings in his head and will never get over it, or he’ll break free and win one or two quickly. I think Rory with that injury (before this year’s British Open) sort of lost that mantle a little bit, but he will be back. I think Spieth is the best player at this moment. There isn’t any doubt about it.
What Southern California course did you enjoy playing the most?
Riviera was always my favorite. Every year I would play well at the LA Open. It was a ball-striker’s course. I should have won it twice. I won it in 1981, but lost the following year in a playoff to (Tom) Watson. Even though I struggled with my putting I always finished in or near the Top 10 because I was a good ball-striker, and the holes there force you to hit good shots. It reminded me of the shots I hit at the Olympic Club where I grew up playing. That was the most comfortable course, maybe on the whole PGA TOUR for me. I loved going to Riviera. It was just great.