When I got to the [par-4] 18th, I hit the longest drive of the day by anyone. Then I hit a 5-iron to the back-right hole that wasn’t more than an inch off line, but my ball got held up on a tier on the green, or else it would have been a tap-in for 62. Instead, my putt for 62 lipped out. I was the first player ever to shoot 63 in the final round of a major.
I finished up, and Arnie had a four-footer for birdie on No. 11—a tough, curling putt. He missed. There’s a huge groan from the gallery. I lead him by one. I later hear that he walks to the 12th tee and on the leaderboard he sees “J. Miller” and says, “Where the blankety-blank did he come from?”
When Arnie missed that birdie putt on No. 11, it was clear: He couldn’t catch me. He couldn’t shoot 1-under to tie me or 2-under to beat me—not at Oakmont under U.S. Open pressure. Nobody could. I knew I was going to win. When I was a little boy, my dad would say, “You’re gonna win the Open someday, champ.” And I’d done it.
I was on Cloud 9, but there was no private jet waiting for me. I flew commercial the next day, and on the plane people were going nuts. Sports Illustrated called it “The Miracle at Oakmont.” Some people said it was lucky. They didn’t want to accept me as the player I had become. But I had gone from being one of the game’s young lions to something more.
I’ve seen a lot of good rounds. But from tee to green that was the best round I’ve ever seen, and it was mine. The next week, [seven-time Tour winner] Bert Yancey said to me, “Son, you’re now the U.S. Open champion. Act like one.” I wasn’t sure what he meant. But I took his admonition to heart. Act like a champion. Don’t be flippant. Don’t complain about conditions. Give 100 percent on every shot. Play to win. The next year, I won eight times.
Shooting 63 in a major has been done. To do it in the last round of the U.S. Open and win by one, at Oakmont—the hardest course in America—was something special.
At the 1974 U.S. Open at Winged Foot, the USGA said that the tough setup wasn’t because of my 63 the year before, but obviously that wasn’t true. The rough was nine inches tall. On average at a U.S. Open, you can hit a shot from the rough about 140 yards. At Winged Foot that year, you could hit it about 90 yards. It’s the toughest rough I’ve ever seen, then or now. Hale Irwin won at 7-over and in perfect weather. I took abuse from players for years. They blamed me for the conditions. Guys would say, “Thanks a lot for that stinkin’ 63, Miller!” Geez, sorry, guys!
[Journalist] Dan Jenkins said that my 63 wasn’t any better than those turned in by Weiskopf or Nicklaus, who both shot 63 at Baltusrol in 1980. But they did it in the first round at a course where a lot of records have been set, and I did mine in the last round at Oakmont to overtake all these Hall of Fame players. So I don’t know what Dan was smoking.
In 2000, Golf Magazine had a special issue that looked back at the 20th century in golf. It featured Snead, Hogan, Palmer, Nicklaus, and all the greats. And I won for the greatest round of the century. Maybe it was the best round ever. I’m 65. I’ve done some cool things in golf. And this was my signature moment.