NBC Sports will televise this weekend’s coverage of the FBR Open for the first time ever, and when NBC is involved with golf that means two words: “HE-R-R-RE’S Johnny!” A combination of the late Howard Cosell and “American Idol” judge Simon Cowell, Johnny Miller is known for telling it like it is.
A combination of the late Howard Cosell and “American Idol” judge Simon Cowell, Johnny Miller is known for telling it like it is, regardless of whose feelings he hurts.
Most often, it’s the players he is analyzing. Not surprisingly, many have struck back.
The lightning rod at last summer’s Ryder Cup debacle was Chris DiMarco, the former FBR Open champ who said what more than a few players feel about Miller.
“I never agree with anything Johnny writes or says,’’ DiMarco noted flatly before his U.S. team went belly up.
One thing about Miller, every player who is not on his “A’’ game has to pay the price. There are no favorites.
For instance, Miller recently had this to say about Tiger Woods: “Every time I’ve asked him a question, I can honestly say he has never given me a real answer. Never once, and I’ve been pretty nice to him.’’
Phil Mickelson, the twotime FBR Open champ, also got between Miller’s crosshairs at last summer’s U.S. Open. After Lefty picked off a garbage can at the 17th hole at Winged Foot and a corporate tent at the 18th, ultimately losing to Geoff Ogilvy by a single shot after leading the tournament most of the day, Miller had this jab: “I always thought the U.S. Open was about precision, but I guess I’m getting old.’’
Miller’s chief criticism was Mickelson’s stubbornness in sticking to the driver on the final hole of the national championship instead of opting for a more high-percentage shot with a fairway wood.
“I don’t think Phil is talking to me right now,’’ Miller said. “But I think if he went back and listened to the (audio)tape, I don’t think he’d be mad in retrospect. I think he’d probably even admit he should have hit 4-wood there.’’
Not all of Miller’s critiques have gone smoothly. There was the swipe at Justin Leonard at the 1999 Ryder Cup, when Miller suggested that U.S. captain Ben Crenshaw should have left Leonard “at home.’’ Then Leonard struck back by holing what proved to be the winning putt.
At the 2004 Ford Championship at Doral, Miller said Craig Parry’s swing would make Ben Hogan “puke.’’ Shortly after, Parry turned the tables by holing out from the fairway to win that tournament.
Oh, well. Miller apologized to Parry, and claims the Leonard quote was “slightly out of context,’’ but overall he’s not backing off his guns.
“Not at all,’’ said the 59-year-old commentator. “To me, the beauty of golf is it’s designed to have the biggest choke factor of any game ever designed in the world. In fact, the most compelling part is how you handle your choke factor.
“For some, it’s just about winning the tournament, whereas for others like Jack Nicklaus or Tiger Woods, it might be about winning two or three majors in a row.’’
So what makes Miller an expert? With a laugh he said, “I did my thesis on the choke factor.’’ And a lot of that doctoral came from his own experiences, he said.
“I was always hard on my own game,’’ said Miller, who won 25 times in 22 years on tour, including the Phoenix Open twice (1974, ’75). “But just like I would tell you how bad I was, I’d always tell you how good I was, too.
“So I hope that people when they listen to me (on air) know I’m sincere.’’
According to Bob Murphy, who also will be here this week reporting for NBC, Miller’s honesty is one of his greatest attributes. That, and knowing when something goes wrong.
“He has this ability to see the shot, know what the idiosyncrasies are and tell you right away where the ball will end up,’’ Murphy said. “He can hear if it’s two grooves low on the bat. It’s uncanny.
“After that, Johnny just tells the truth. I think it’s why people like him, and why they don’t like him.’’
But like him or not, Johnny Miller always keeps his audience — and especially the players — on the edge. Not necessarily a bad thing in the staid world of professional golf.
“My job is to keep (viewers) from taking an afternoon nap,’’ he said. “In that regard, the hardest part is not saying something that’s obvious. So I zig and zag from left to right in an attempt to make it interesting, because it’s all about entertaining people and trying to grow the game.’’
The FBR Open will be NBC Sports’ first golf coverage of the PGA Tour for 2007. The Golf Channel will handle the coverage on Thursday and Friday.