Johnny Miller Q&A (part 1), on his career: ‘The start of 1975, I was out-of-control good’

When Johnny Miller first stepped foot on property at Silverado Resort to compete in the PGA Tour’s 1968 Kaiser International Open as an amateur, he could sense there was something special about the place.

“I liked the country, the courses, the open fields, the smells,” Miller said. “It felt like home.”

So much so that after turning pro and marrying wife Linda, they honeymooned at Silverado in one of the condos.

“One thing led to another and we bought a condo the next year on the sixth fairway of the North Course, then built a house in ’74 on the lake (at No. 11),” said Miller, who won the tournament there in 1974 and ’75, and has five of his kids born in Napa. “We thought we had the greatest spot in the whole world.”

In 2010, Silverado went on the market and Miller partnered to buy the California landmark, and then set about transforming it. “I saw what Silverado could become,” Miller said.

The World Golf Hall of Famer and former lead analyst at NBC Sports took a break from watching the Safeway Open to sit down with Golfweek and discuss a variety of topics. The conversation went so long that Miller finally asked, “What are we doing here, writing a book?” No, but we’ve decided to break the conversation into two parts. So, check back tomorrow for Part II of this Q&A when Miller talks about retirement, Tiger Woods and predicts the winner of the U.S. Open.

GOLFWEEK: Have you become softer and less critical when you watch the PGA Tour now that you’re no longer in the broadcast booth?

JM: I don’t know if the word is critical. I see things that the other guys don’t see. When I see those things, I want to share them with the public. If it’s a crappy shot, it’s a crappy shot, it’s nothing personal. If I say it is a great shot, I want people to think, dang, Johnny, thought that was a great shot.

Like in the 2006 U.S. Open, we saw Phil (Mickelson) make two mental errors. You don’t have to play it like you’re on a white horse prancing up to the green. Pop it up there with a 3-iron, hit a 4-iron somewhere around the green, up and in or worst-case scenario you’re in a playoff. That was the biggest fall apart in that U.S. Open on the last hole in history. Harrington bogeyed the last three holes to lose by two. Furyk bogeyed the last hole. Mickelson made double bogey. Montgomerie got hosed, I thought. He had to wait for like 5 minutes. I thought he got such a bad break there. Then he chili-dipped it short of the green and didn’t get it up and in. Never has the last hole had so many scenarios. It was just incredible. That course is tough. Oakmont and Winged Foot must be the two toughest courses in tournament golf.

GW: What did you think of NBC reacquiring the U.S. Open broadcast rights?

JM: If I had known that, I might have gone another year. It wasn’t like I had to retire. I’m happy for them. I don’t know how committed Fox was, but NBC is turning out the guns to make it a fantastic Open. Tommy Roy and Tom Randolph are like savants when it comes to TV golf and they’ll make it back to where it should be.

GW: What did you think of Phil Mickelson’s guest appearance in the booth with CBS at the PGA Championship?

JM: They asked me who do you think could do a good job the way you like to see it done, and I said Tiger and Phil and I think Phil is even more outspoken. Both of those guys with their intellect and pedigree, Phil, I thought, was fabulous on TV. He’d probably like everyone to go home and he’d do all the jobs. Phil’s an amazing guy. He can talk. He doesn’t say, ‘In my opinion,’ but he can talk. All the great players are a little that way in they think they know it all and they make good decisions, which is a mark of a champion.

GW: What did partnering with Jack in the 1973 World Cup in Marbella, Spain do for your game?

JM: That was huge. Winning the U.S. Open in 1973 was fun and it was nice, but to play with Jack all week, and at that point I knew Jack was the best player and I held him on a bit of a pedestal and I thought he was way up here and I was down here. Whether it was youthful thinking, I started comparing every part of his game to mine. He hit it like 5 yards longer than me off the tee and he was maybe a little better than me with his long irons but I was definitely better from the 5-iron through wedge in my mind. It wasn’t even that close. I broke the course record on Friday and won the individual. To play with him that many days and beat him, it felt like my time had come. I opened the season and won the first three tournaments after that. The World Cup was the point where I thought my time has come.

CARNOUSTIE, SCOTLAND - JULY 20: NBC commenators Johnny Miller and Dan Hicks appear on set during the second round of the 147th Open Championship at Carnoustie Golf Club on July 20, 2018 in Carnoustie, Scotland. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

NBC commentators Johnny Miller and Dan Hicks appear on set during the second round of the 147th Open Championship at Carnoustie Golf Club on July 20, 2018. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

GW: Which year do you consider your best golf 1974 or 1975?

JM: 1974 was awfully good but the start of 1975, I was out-of-control good. I shot 49 under the first two weeks (Phoenix Open and Tucson Open), which is still a record. I won by 14 and by 9. I went to the practice tee at Phoenix and every shot was almost perfect. It was like what the heck is going on? It’s too bad the majors weren’t in January, February, March. My problem was I’d get bored easily. By the time the U.S. Open was over, I wanted to go fly fishing and go out on the ranch. If I had a weakness, it was that golf had a place in my life, but it wasn’t my whole life. I always liked fishing more than golf. But it was a good career.

GW: What clicked?

JM: You mean when I was winning a lot? I was just hitting the ball closer to the hole than everyone else. My iron game was really good. Every day I knew I was going to have at least two iron shots that were going to be gimmes. It’s nice to know you’re 2 under when you tee off. I was in my prime. Everyone has their prime. Nowadays, guys seem to have a three-year run and that’s pretty much it. Jordan Spieth and Jason Day, guys have these little runs – it’s still good but they lose the magic somehow. I don’t know if it is all the responsibility of being the best and the press, but part of you wants to go back to when people didn’t bother you too much. Some guys love it. Phil loves it. Arnold loved it. Billy Casper never really loved it.

GW: What golfer’s putting stroke do you wish you had?

JM: Tom Watson was the best I’d ever seen. He was uncanny. I would hit it inside of him 15 of 18 holes and he’d still beat me. He was like crazy good.

Part II of this Q&A with Johnny Miller will come to Golfweek on Tuesday.

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