Johnny Miller cites Mike Taylor as influence

Johnny Miller and Mike Taylor with BYU's national championship tropy.
Johnny Miller and Mike Taylor with BYU’s national championship tropy.

Johnny Miller, who at the peak of his golf game, was among the greatest players ever, credits Mississippi Sports Hall of Famer Mike Taylor for much of his success.

Cleveland
Cleveland

The two were teammates at BYU, Miller from San Francisco and Taylor, who eventually won the Mississippi State Amateur championship 10 times, from Meridian. They were practically from two different cultures, but they bonded.

For a time — “a very short time,” Taylor says — Mike Taylor played ahead of Johnny Miller.

“When I got to BYU, Mike was just better than I was,” Miller told a ballroom full of listeners Thursday night at Country Club of Jackson. “He was bigger, stronger and hit if further. I might have been a better iron player, but Mike was the better golfer. He was No. 1. He had a huge influence on me as a golfer.”

Miller said he had been taught — by champion golfer Tony Lema among others — to keep his right elbow tucked in close to his body on his backswing.

“And then I would see Mike really flying his elbow high, really extending his swing arc. His drives were just flying past mine. I thought to myself that I had to try that. And I did. My swing got longer and so did my drives. I became a better player. It was because of Mike. I’ve always considered it a gift from God that I had Mike Taylor to push me.”

Seems a clear case of the old adage: Competition always makes us better.

And, for a time, Miller became just about as great a player as there ever was. His final round of 63 at Oakmont to win the 1973 U.S. Open is generally considered among the greatest rounds of golf ever, if not the single best. He began the day six shots behind the leaders, names such as Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino and Gary Player. He hit all 18 greens in regulation on one of the world’s toughest golf courses. He shot a 63 that might have been a 59.

“My putting was OK, not great,” he said.

“It was the greatest ball-striking round I’ve seen and I’ve been around,” Miller said.

Miller had a Century Club Charities crowd laughing at times and applauding at others. His frankness —which comes across in his TV commentary — was refreshing.

Said Miller, who at times has been criticized by tour players for his TV criticism of them, “I’ve just always believe in telling the truth, being honest.”

Here are some of Miller’s thoughts on this and that…

• World’s most promising golfer? Miller laughed. “Pretty obvious, isn’t it?” he said. “Jordan Spieth. He’s already the best putter on tour. There’s nothing he can’t do well. I’ve followed him for years in junior golf.”

• On his on putting woes that plagued his career. “For much of my career, I had the yips,” Miller said. “I tried everything. I was probably the first golfer to win on tour putting with my eyes closed. I was the first to win looking at the hole instead of my ball when I putted. I tried it all.”

• On the difference between the really good players and the truly great. “There are participants, pretenders, contenders and then there are finishers. Most guys can’t get to that last level. Tiger Woods was maybe the greatest finisher ever. But during my playing career, we had the greatest finishers ever: Nicklaus, Palmer, Trevino, Player, so many of them. They played to win, not to finish high.”

• On his best shot ever. “Well, I made 29 hole in ones. Those were good. My best shot had to be the 1973 British Open at Muirfield,” Miller said. “Long par 5, the longest on the course. After my drive I had 296 tyards o a back pin placement. I had a 3-wood, that I had tinkered with and made into really a one and a half wood. I wanted to hit a low runner. I stung it. It landed about 80 yards from the green and kept bouncing and running. There was no reaction from the green except for about a half dozen Americans who were jumping up and down yelling. I walked up there and said, ‘Where’s my ball?’ They said it went in. And there it was in the hole. That was a good shot.”

It was, a double eagle, an albatross.

• On Tiger Woods’ chances to break Nicklaus’s record of 18 major championships. “It’s not going to happen. There’s maybe a one in a hundred chance. He may win another major or two, but he’s not going to break Jack’s record. I thought Tiger made a mistake when he changed his swing after he won the Masters by 12 shots. I mean, he had a great swing. He had what came naturally to him. But he wasn’t satisfied…. Now, he’s made several more swing changes. My opinion is that he would have been better if he had stuck with what came naturally. … He’s been awfully fun to watch. … If he has a 10-footer to win a tournament, that thing’s going in. But no, no way, he’s going to beat Jack’s record.”

• About his penchant for playing with old golf clubs. “When I was at the top of my game, I played with really old clubs that I continually tinkered with. My average club was from the late 1950s. They were relics really. But I liked them and I figured why change. I think today, players change too much. Chi Chi (Rodriguez) used to say my clubs were magical. He thought there was magic in them. There’s a lesson in there for any golfers. Don’t give up on what works. Don’t go to new clubs just because they are bright and shiny.”

• On the best streak of his career. “In 1974 I won at Phoenix by 14 shots. I shot 24 under for the tournament. The next week I won again at 25 under. I was 49 under par for two tournaments. Everything I hit was right at the pin. But I was like that. Streaky. I wasn’t like Jack, who was so steady.”

• On his disdain for practice. “I never understood players who practice a long time before their round, then play 18 holes, get all tired and then go out and hit hundreds of balls again. That’s where bad habits come from. I’d hit some balls, warm up, putt a few and then go play. Practice was boring. …I liked golf but I liked fishing better. I liked my family better. I never was that much into just hitting balls.”

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