In the mid-1970s, Johnny Miller was the best player in the world. Blond mane flapping, the man from San Francisco, with an elegant, flowing swing, had a knack for shooting extremely low scores. The closer he hit his approach shots, the more aggressive he got.
He embraced the thought of trying to birdie every hole. At Oakmont in 1973 he won the US Open with a final round of 63, which had never before been scored in a major championship. In 1974 he won the Phoenix Open by 14 strokes.
In 1976 at Royal Birkdale, with the course scorched by the summer heatwave, Miller closed with a 66 to win by six strokes from Jack Nicklaus and a 19-year-old Seve Ballesteros. The youngster had been leading for three days but was too wayward compared to the precision of Miller, though Seve stole the show with his chip at the last hole.
Although there were more tour wins to come for Miller, and he played in two Ryder Cups, his spell as one of the very best golfers was short-lived. He was something of a prodigy, finishing as the leading amateur as a 19-year-old in the 1966 US Open on his home course of Olympic Club.
But once he was married with a family, his priorities changed and he spent weeks on end at home on his ranch. Comparing his ambition with that of Jack Nicklaus, Miller once said: “When I got to the mountaintop, I kind of looked at the scenery and wondered, ‘Now what?’ When Jack got there, he said, ‘Where’s the next mountain?’”
Miller became a television commentator but played in, and won, the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in 1994 at the age of 46. “This isn’t right, this is a fluke,” he said. “I’m a grandfather for crying out loud.”