Johnny Miller isn’t for everyone. He’s the definition of acerbic, and for decades his style stood in sharp contrast to the world of golf broadcasting.
Miller is retiring after nearly thirty years with NBC; he’ll do one final Waste Management Phoenix Open next February for his last event. This move had been rumored for a while, and while it looks like current Fox and former ESPN/ABC analyst Paul Azinger will be the likely replacement for Miller, it’s still going to be an odd transition for viewers conditioned to associate Miller with NBC’s golf coverage.
For many, this will actually be a good thing. Miller’s style grated to those unwilling or unable to decode what he was actually saying. That’s a legitimate complaint; viewers tuning in shouldn’t need to mentally adjust their filters to account for an analyst’s style. There were also plenty of moments where Miller did step over the line, including his trashing of Rocco Mediate during the 2008 U.S. Open. If you couldn’t stand him, you certainly weren’t alone.
What made Miller hated by some viewers (and plenty of players) and what occasionally got him into trouble is also what made him so great: a willingness to say anything, at any time. That lack of filter, abundant confidence in his opinions, and Miller’s veteran status meant that as the NBC booth and presentation evolved around Johnny, he remained essentially unchanged. It led to the occasional (and delightful) moment of tonal discord, as it did when NBC attempted to set longtime Phil Mickelson caddy Bones McKay tell a harmless Phil anecdote, only to have Johnny come off the top rope to mock Mickelson missing the cut.
Again, this might be a turn off for some, but if you watch golf even semi-regularly, you come to long for moments like that.
Something that’s too often overlooked, though, is that none of this would have worked if Miller wasn’t always so prepared. He never phoned things in, or spent time spouting the usual inanities and cliches. (Though he did invent some of his own; we’ll no longer have Sunday rounds where every putt should be made, and if they’re missed it was due to nerves.) And, as we were so often reminded by Johnny himself (even in his own statement in the retirement press release), Miller had done what he was commenting on, winning two majors.
That’s not a guarantee of insight, of course, as Nick Faldo demonstrates on a regular basis. And Miller may have been more beloved if he’d found a way to package his insights into a slightly more positive format. Tinkering with something that works, though, is something Johnny has always been against, in a golf swing or otherwise. The combination of his playing career, his longevity, his willingness to speak his mind, and actually doing the homework required made him what he was: the best golf analyst ever.
Not a perfect one, but the best one.