I have Johnny Miller to blame.
As a young kid, I watched Miller do the impossible in 1973. He shot a 63 during the final round on Oakmont, perhaps the hardest course in the world, to win the U.S. Open.
In my mind and others, it is the greatest round in golf history. And in the process, it got a 13-year-old kid hooked on golf, leading me to a lifetime of torture on the golf course.
It is hard to believe that 40 years have passed. The anniversary of Miller’s great feat surely will be mentioned several times during ESPN and NBC’s coverage of the U.S. Open next week.
Adam Lazarus, a friend of this site, passed along a 40th anniversary post based on his 2010 book, Chasing Greatness: Johnny Miller, Arnold Palmer, and the Miracle at Oakmont, co-authored with Steve Schlossman.
Lazarus and Schlossman write:
A number of mythologies — some generated by Miller himself — persist about the 1973 U.S. Open, all of which should be re-examined and, wherever possible, clarified. There are also several features of Miller’s extraordinary athletic achievement that haven’t been sufficiently appreciated.
Refuting the notion that Oakmont played soft that day:
Johnny Miller shot 63 and Lanny Wadkins shot 65 in the final round at Oakmont in 1973, but very few others shot low scores that day. In fact, Nicklaus and Ralph Johnston (both shot 68) were the only other two players to break 70 on Sunday.
Beyond that, scoring in Sunday’s final round was not statistically different from the scores that these same players (i.e., the qualifiers) had posted on Thursday. Therefore, contrary to what is often claimed, Oakmont did not play unusually easy on Sunday, when Miller shot 63 and Wadkins shot 65. Two players renowned throughout their careers for the ability to “go low” truly played lights out on Sunday. (And until Wadkins’s right foot slipped on his tee shot at # 18, leading to a bogey, he too believed that he had a realistic chance to win the championship by shooting 63 on Sunday.)
Refuting notion that Miller didn’t feel any pressure:
Some commentators continue to believe that Miller felt no pressure in shooting his final round 63 because he finished several hours before the leaders. This is just not true. He was in the seventh-to-last twosome, teeing off at 1:47 p.m., so he was not a morning starter, an also-ran. And at six shots behind (3-under) and in a tie for 13th place, Miller wasn’t so far back that it would be unprecedented for him to win; recall that Palmer won the U.S. Open at Cherry Hills from seven shots behind in 1960.
Furthermore, after his four consecutive birdies to start the round, Miller immediately jumped into the mix well before the four leaders (Palmer, John Schlee, Julius Boros and Jerry Heard) teed off. He knew precisely where he stood on the leaderboard as he walked to the fifth tee: -1 for the championship, only two shots behind the leaders as they prepared to play the toughest opening hole in all of American championship golf. Miller (quite reasonably) assumed that that it was the leaders who might begin to tremble on the first tee when they learned what he had already done.
Arnold Palmer’s disappointment. At age 43, it was his last run at winning a second U.S. Open:
Palmer was in genuine disbelief. Miller had played poorly from tee to green when they were paired together in the first two rounds. Only stellar putting had kept Miller in contention. It simply never occurred to Palmer that Miller could become a factor in the final round at Oakmont. (Tom Weiskopf — who finished third, two shots back — facetiously remarked Sunday evening that “I didn’t even know Miller had made the cut”)
Palmer did his best to fight through the shock, but he couldn’t. Even 36 years later, when we interviewed him in Latrobe, Pa., the defeat and bewilderment that he felt at the time projected through his words and pained facial expressions. Only his collapse on the back nine at The Olympic Club in 1966, he told us, haunted him more deeply than his collapse at Oakmont in 1973.
There’s much more. Definitely worth checking out Lazarus’ post.