Johnny Miller has been the voice of the U.S. Open for 20 years, but he won't be on your televsion screen this week when the tournament begins at Chambers Bay. This is the first major Fox Sports will broadcast after entering a 12-year agreement with the USGA. We sat down with Johnny to discuss what he'll be doing this week, how difficult Chambers Bay is for announcers and how excited he is to broadcast the British Open at NBC.
How will you spend your first free U.S. Open week in decades?
I’m going to go to the U.S. Open on Friday around 2:30 in the afternoon. I will be on the grounds on Saturday and Sunday doing some tent appearances and autograph sessions for Lexus, probably with Natalie Gulbis or Ray Floyd. I will be hanging around. People will probably find me and want to talk about the Open, about how it’s at Chambers Bay, the fact that Fox will be watched heavily and how well they do the coverage. I love the U.S. Open, so I’m going to miss the fact that I’m not doing it, but 20 years was a nice run.
You had an emotional send-off last year with Dan Hicks at Pinehurst. Did it fully hit you then that you wouldn't be in the booth for this year's Open?
Last year, it hit me pretty good on Sunday because I knew there wasn’t going to be any more. I thought we had done a good job with the Open, but money talks. Fox made an amazing bid, and the USGA can do a lot of good things with the money they got from Fox. I hope they do well, but it’s not going to be that easy. I love the USGA, but they think covering a tournament like the U.S. Open is easy, but really there’s so much to it. Even if NBC were doing it at Chambers, it would still be tough. A key thing you want to do as an announcer is to let people know which holes are hard and ridiculously difficult, all the nuances and what to avoid. At Augusta, the viewing audience is already in love with it, but when you get to Chambers Bay, you better be darn good or the public won’t get it.
For the viewers watching at home, your job might come across as easy. What's the biggest misconception about your gig?
I need to get to know every little nook on the greens and be able to have passion about the course and sound like I know what I’m talking about. It’s not something you can show up a day before the telecast and be able to fake it. I’m sure Joe Buck and Greg Norman and their group are going to do quite a bit of homework to get up to speed – at least I hope they are – the best thing they’ll have going for them is a lot of good, young, name players. As long as they get a good leaderboard, they’re going to be fine.
Even for an experienced crew, the unknown of Chambers Bay would provide challenges for NBC Sports, much less Fox Sports in the first major. How will they fare in their debut?
There’s a lot of pressure on them, no doubt. The world of golf is very educated. You gotta to say the right thing or they just dismiss you. You’ve got to let them know what they’re doing, or they will dismiss you and badmouth you. They have a lot of pressure on them. I was the first guy with an open mic, and I have conversations with people all over the course. That’s not easy to do. It’s not easy unless you really know the guys, like Roger Maltbie and Mark Rolfing, it all works really nice when you’ve been doing it for a long time. I hope they have done their homework. And I think they have. At Pinehurst, Fox was doing the Open even though they weren’t doing the Open, if that makes sense. They have done some other practice rounds, but last year at Pinehurst, supposedly it was pretty rough. But Joe Buck is a pro and Greg Norman is a quick learner. At Olympic Club, we put him in the tower for two or three days, and he said, "Holy Mackerel, this is impossible and really hard. I can’t do this." Hopefully, Greg will be a quick study. We’ll see won’t we?
News came out before the U.S. Open that NBC Sports acquired the British Open rights. Not a bad replacement, right?
There’s been a bit of a wound, and this puts some sap on that wound. It’s one thing to get the British, but to get it in 2017 is where I won, so it’s like, “Are you kidding me?” It might be my last year of announcing, I might be retiring after that year because it was scheduled I would go off in the sunset in 2017, but with the British Open, NBC might want me to do a couple of more events. But it would be a heck of a good way to send off at Birkdale with memories of beating Seve Ballesteros. It would be kind of “meant to be” for me.