Golfing Great Johnny Miller Q & A with SGMA's Mike May
On the morning of Wednesday, March 7, 2012 -- while attending SGMA’s 13th Annual National Health Through Fitness Day in Washington, DC -- SGMA’s Director of Communications Mike May had a chance to ask golfing great/NBC golf commentator Johnny Miller a few questions about his philosophies on physical fitness and some of his memorable moments as a golfer on the PGA Tour.
Mike May: Why is this cause of physical fitness so important to you?
Johnny Miller: I think it’s awfully important that our kids get lots of exercise, especially in elementary school, junior high and through high school. In my case, I used to run two to two and a half miles every day to and from school. I simply wanted to be the first one at school. I used to organize all the sports programs at my elementary school in San Francisco. I also used to organize a ‘pinky’ baseball game before school and I was there every day before everybody else. At a very young age, I was playing every sport. My dad once said that I “could play any sport that I wanted to while at school. But once the bell rings (at the end of school), you’re going to be a golfer.” So I was always outside. I think the big key for kids is to be outside because if you are outside, the chances are pretty good that you will be active. Once they get inside the doors of their homes, they tend to get sedentary and they play with their video games and their phones. It’s important to get people, especially kids, outside and have them fall in love with that experience. I was lucky in that I had an innate desire to run and play almost every sport. Everything was outdoors for me!
Mike May: What are some of the underappreciated physical fitness values of golf, in your perspective?
Johnny Miller: There is a lot of walking involved in golf. Even if you take a cart, there’s more than a mile of walking which takes place. Getting up to the tees requires some exertion because they are often elevated. There’s also the walk to and from the greens and in and out of bunkers. And then there’s the actual movement of the body in the swing. It’s the perfect amount of movement to keep an older player alive for a long time – especially guys over 60. And then there’s overall peacefulness of golf and the beauty of the game is good for your health, too.
Mike May: As a man in your 60s, what are you doing to keep yourself fit and trim?
Johnny Miller: The big thing for me is to keep walking and to keep moving. I think I fit the category of quite a few people who don’t feel like moving, but you have to push through that and get in a certain amount of walking (every day). I feel that if you stop walking then you start dying! I think it’s real important that you keep moving. I do a lot of outdoor activities like fly fishing, which if you are having a good time, you don’t realize that you walked six miles working up and down the stream. You have to do what you can do and push through the tendency to retreat in your activities. Life is like going up and down an escalator. If you do nothing, you are actually going backwards in life.
Mike May: Let’s go down ‘memory lane’ and revisit the 1973 U.S. Open at Oakmont where you shot 63 in the final round to win, after starting the day six shots off the pace. When did you realize that something magical might happen that day?
Johnny Miller: Oakmont’s first hole is probably the hardest first hole in the world. Personally, I don’t think there’s anything close. In the final round, I knocked it in about five feet away from the hole and made birdie there which was serendipitous obviously. Then, I knocked it to within six inches on two with an eight iron. Then, I made a 15-footer (for birdie) on three after hitting to the green with a four iron. And, then I almost eagled the fourth. So, I knew after starting six (shots) back that it wasn’t too hard to figure that out, “Dang, I got a shot at this thing!” Immediately, the hair on my neck and my arms stood up and I got nervous. I actually started choking a little with my putter. I didn’t choke from tee to green in my career. And, then I left putts short on five and seven. And, then I three-putted eight from 20 feet straight uphill. Then, I went from being nervous to being a little teed off! I then settled down and shot the 63. It was a pretty flawless round. I hit every green in regulation and my average birdie putt was eight or nine feet. I still think it’s the best ball-striking in a major championship final round ever and it’s still the lowest final round to win a major championship. It’s a round that has sort of defined myself and my career. It’s not too often that you shoot 63 at Oakmont to beat Arnie (Palmer), Jack (Nicklaus), (Tom) Weiskopf, and (Lee) Trevino.
Mike May: Two years later (in 1975), you, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf were in a tussle down the back nine on Sunday during the final round of the Masters. Tell us about the memories of that experience.
Johnny Miller: I started the tournament with rounds of 75 and 71 and barely made the cut. On the first day, I was too darn nervous, I couldn’t putt, and there was too much pressure. I basically blew myself out of the tournament even though I was favored to win that year. I would have probably been ranked number one in the world had there been a ranking system after winning nine times in 1974. And, I had already won three or four times that year (1975) by Augusta. Of course, I was challenging Jack (Nicklaus) for that position (of the number one ranked golfer in the world). It was too hyped for me. Again, my putting really suffered the first day. On Saturday (during the third round), I played with Gary Player and I birdied two, three, four, five, six and seven. And, then I hit it in a divot (in the fairway) on eight, otherwise I probably would have birdied the par five eighth. I shot 30 on the front nine (and 35 on the back nine). I shot 65-66 on the weekend. I couldn’t quite catch those guys. I finally caught Weiskopf on the 17th hole on Sunday with a birdie. I was 13 under par for the weekend which is still a record. But, the putt that Jack made at 16 – that big, long, curly putt up the hill – was the one that did it. If he had not made that putt, (pause)………….. He could have three-putted it more than one-putted it! After I made the birdie at the 71st hole, the adrenaline ran through my veins. On 18 (the 72nd hole of the tournament), one part of my voice said, “Hit it right at the flag.” And another part of my voice said, “Geez, you better not aim at the flag because it’s too dangerous going left.” So, I aimed about 15 feet right and hit it within an inch of where I was looking. So, if I had any regrets in my career, it would have been, “What! Are you kidding! Hit it dead hole-high!” If I had aimed at the pin, it would have been a ‘leaner.’ But for some reason, I went with the ‘smart shot’ and just barely missed the putt. And, then Weisklopf missed (his birdie putt) and Jack won. That was the top three players in the world going head to head (on the last day of the Masters) and that doesn’t happen very often.