Johnny Miller is Just as Arrogant and Annoying in Print

Harry Longshanks

Oct 9, 2008
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How many times in "Ten Minutes" can he tell us how great he is?

Ten Minutes With Johnny Miller -

Ten Minutes With Johnny Miller
Monte Burke, 09.22.09, 04:00 PM EDT
The TV analyst on his lengthy career and today's pro tour.

On air, Johnny Miller, NBC's lead analyst for the PGA Tour Championship (Sept. 24 to Sept. 27), is known for both his keen insight and his frank--and sometimes harsh-sounding--assessments of the play of professional golfers. To some, his comments welcome in what is a fairly stodgy sport. To others, he crosses the line. The 1999 US Ryder Cup team used his criticism of team member Justin Leonard (Miller said Leonard was playing so badly he should go home and watch it on TV) as a rallying cry. Golfer Peter Jacobsen once refused to talk to him for eight months after Miller suggested on air that Jacobsen faced a shot that was easy to choke on (they've since made up).

His 20-year TV career parallels his pro career, where he was known as a "go-for-broke" player that never held back. The highlight of his playing days came in the 1973 US Open at Oakmont Country Club, where his aggressive style paid off when he shot a final round 8-under, 63, coming from a six-shot deficit to overtake golf greats Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Lee Trevino and win the tournament.

We recently caught up with Miller, 62, as he prepares for the Tour Championship, the final event of the FedEx Cup, the official championship of the PGA Tour. Miller talked about how he prepares for his job, Tiger Woods' play and the current state of professional golf. He spoke about his announcing style, which he says is as candid as ever, but is a bit less caustic as he settles into what he calls his "sweet spot."

Forbes: Give us an idea of the preparation you go through before covering an event.

Johnny Miller:
I don't want to brag, but I do more homework on the course than any other announcer. I chart the greens to get all the breaks. I walk down into the greenside bunkers. I walk into the fairway bunkers to see whether a player can reach the green from them. My goal is to get to know the course as [well] or better than the players.

I used to actually putt the greens. But now that I've covered most of these courses a number of times I have an extensive library of the breaks. The hardest weeks for me are when I get to a course that I've never been to before, or one that has been through a redesign. I go out here by myself after the players get off the course and go to town. I have an App on my IPhone called BreakMeter, and it will tell you exactly where the green's fall line is. It will tell you every little thing about the green.

But Tommy Roy [NBC's golf producer] has told me to be less crazy when I describe putts. I used to get so detailed and accurate, about whether it's left center or inside left. But I've changed a bit. I try not to be so specific. I do like to point out the trick putts, the ones that look like they go one way but actually go another. I think the audience likes to know when a putt looks like it's two inches outside left but its actually two inches outside right. I like to point out other things, too, like the fact that people always pull it on the seventh hole at Pebble Beach or that uphill drives make golfers push the ball. I try to bring up a lot of things other announcers don't even think about.

Over the years, you've been criticized--by players and the media--for being too harsh on players, for daring to mention the word "choke." What do you make of the criticism?

My announcing doesn't thrill a lot of the players. Most announcers play pattycake, pattycake with the players they're covering. I was the first announcer to look at the job as something I should be doing for the good of the game, in the interest of the viewing audience, and not do just the usual [soft] version of announcing.

But I'm not as brash and rough as I used to be. I've been doing this for 20 years now. The bottom line is that I feel like I'm in a good sweet spot now. I still say stuff other people won't and I'm not giving in, but I don't go looking for a fight anymore. I've polished my act.

I have good relationships with the top players now, with Tiger, Phil [Mickelson] and Ernie [Els]. The older players know where I'm coming from now. And the younger players like my announcing because they grew up with it.

Where do you think your outspokenness and candidness came from?

People need to know that when I was interviewed when I played, I would really pat myself on the back when I did well and tell you how good I was playing, but I'd also tell you when I choked or I was playing terrible. I told it like it was. It was just the way I talked about myself. My announcing is just an extension of that. It wasn't like I made it up. I am just being me. If you don't like my announcing, you don't like me. I think my style has a place. You wouldn't want every guy on your announcing team to be like Johnny Miller, but one Johnny Miller per team is not a bad thing.

What's the best part of your job?

That I don't have to do it every week. I only do 14 events [laughs]. No, really the best part about it is seeing how guys play under pressure. I'm sort of a nut about seeing how well a guy performs under pressure. At the Deutsche Bank [Championship] on 71st hole, when Steve Stricker lined up his putt, I said "there are a lot of contenders out there but not a lot of finishers. We're going to see now if Stricker can finish." And he did, which was great. A lot of people think I'm hoping the guy chokes, but it's the opposite. I'm hoping the guy can play well under pressure because that to me is what golf is all about.

I watch the Super Bowl and some quarterback is just choking his guts out and the announcers never say 'this is a big stage here and this guy is choking.' It's like 'get with it guys, that's what its all about.' It's how you handle pressure. Golf is the greatest sport of all to see if you can handle pressure. Maybe field goal kickers or a free throw shooter with the game on the line come close to the choke factor in golf. But golf is that way every week, every shot. Can you handle the pressure or will you gag?

What's the worst part of your job?

There really aren't any bad parts anymore. The travel, maybe. But it used to be that the way I announced took a piece out of me every week. I'd have players mad at me and press would pick up on every little thing I'd say. Or maybe I was trying to be funny, and there's always somebody who's the brunt of the joke. I've learned to eliminate a lot of that stuff now. I have a heck of a good job.

When I was younger, even though I was doing well, about every other week I wanted to quit. For the first 15 years, it was like that. I was like "I don't really need this to survive financially, why am I doing this?" even though it was a great job. It sort of took something out of me, the way I announced. It would have been easier to gild the rose. I was not a gilder. Now I think I've got a nice balance. I am enjoying my job a lot more than I used to. The team around in is fantastic. I'm the oldest running guy at 20 years, but with [Roger] Maltbie, [Mark] Rolfing, Gary [Koch], [Bob] Murphy, we're a good team. That's the good news. The bad news is that we're getting gray and losing our hair.

Forbes: What's your take on the overall state of the game?

Johnny Miller: They've got it really good. The Tour is a fantastic place to be right now. I don't look back and say I got hosed. I think our era, if you don't count money, was maybe the most exciting era. You had Palmer, Nicklaus, Player, Trevino, [Raymond] Floyd, [Hale] Irwin, [Tom] Weiskopf, myself and Hubert Green. It was a golden age of golf from 1970 to 1980. I don't know if there will ever be one quite like it. Every era has two or three great golfers. Our era had six to 10. I probably shouldn't say this, but if I had played in the [Greg] Norman-[Nick] Faldo era, instead of winning 25 times with two majors, I probably would have won 40 times and had six majors. That era had [Fred] Couples, Norman, Faldo and [Curtis] Strange, but it didn't really have guys who could play on Sunday. We had the great era of Sunday players. There's a lot to be said for that.

I played the game super aggressively, more aggressively than Tiger does now, very similar to the way Phil Mickelson and Arnold Palmer play. Most guys now have a 5-iron, and their aiming 15-20 feet on the safe side. I almost never played to the safe side. If I had to do it over again, I probably would have played safer at the majors because I was always playing Tucson at Oakmont. It didn't work too well, you know. I was seduced by wanting to hit my driver hard and knock the pins down with my irons, and I just didn't have the wisdom to resist that temptation. In my career my average win was probably by three or four strokes. I hardly ever won by one stroke. I separated myself. But when things weren't going well, I'd be blown out.

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