PINEHURST — Late Sunday, barring the bothersome possibility of an 18-hole Monday playoff, Johnny Miller will sign off on his final men’s U.S. Open telecast.
He’ll be missed.
Maybe not by everyone, but by a lot of us.
Miller will still be on television, talking golf at the Ryder Cup, the Players Championship and other events where he can tell us about fall lines and choking and all those other things that made him the most important voice in golf broadcasting over the past two decades. But the U.S. Open, the tournament Miller loves the most, is moving from the major championship-proven NBC Sports to Fox Sports next year and Miller will be moving, presumably, to a comfortable chair to watch and listen to Greg Norman take over his role.
Norman is a very smart man and has more opinions than business ventures, but he has a tough act to follow. The same goes for Fox Sports, which is new to golf and hopefully won’t create a bouncing transformer like that thing in the corner of my television screen during NFL telecasts.
Change is a reality of modern sports, which are driven by television. Professional golf knows all about it and the rumored $93 million a year Fox Sports is paying the USGA was more than enough to secure the transfer of television rights to the American national championship for the next 12 years. With TV veteran Mark Loomis in charge of the Fox Sports U.S. Open telecasts, bet on the new production being very well done.
Miller has said he understands the financial realities of what has happened, and he and the NBC Sports crew have not let the ticking of the clock alter their commitment to excellence.
Still, it’s worth taking a moment to lament what will be lost – and we’re not talking about Chris Berman’s final U.S. Open telecast Friday afternoon.
For most of the golfing public, Miller is part of the U.S. Open. If the Masters has a tradition unlike any other, the U.S. Open has a voice unlike any other.
“Obviously I love the U.S. Open, totally love it,” Miller said recently on a conference call.
Odds are Miller will choke up before the champion does. But when you’ve achieved what you call the epitome of what you wanted to do as an announcer and then it’s taken away from you, it’s OK to be emotional. Miller cares, not so much what the players think about what he says, but about the U.S. Open.
You may have heard that Miller shot 63 in the final round to win the 1973 U.S. Open at Oakmont. He’s mentioned it a few times. It annoys some people, but if you played arguably the best final round in major championship history, you’re allowed to wear a shirt that screams it out if you want.
Miller changed golf broadcasting when he arrived two decades ago. He talked about choking. He irritated the players. He sounded like a man who thought he knew everything and that’s a good thing if you’re being asked to offer your opinion to a world seeking interpretation.
Many times, Miller will describe a shot just by the sound, not waiting to see where it landed to know the result. That’s confidence or, if you troll Internet message boards, something else.
Miller has a way with words, not necessarily like an essayist but like someone who knows what it’s like to be in the arena, as Teddy Roosevelt said. If he veers toward the negative, it’s because he’s been there and knows what’s happening inside.
Nerves, Miller likes to remind us, are at the root of almost everything that happens on Sunday afternoon at the U.S. Open. He’s right, of course, even if he sometimes prefers to call it “gagging.”
At some point near the end Sunday, it would be nice to hear a benediction from Johnny Miller. The U.S. Open isn’t about him, but he’s all about the U.S. Open.
It won’t seem the same without him.