Johnny Miller: My No. 1s

September 25, 2012

When Golf Magazine asked me to be the guest editor of its third-annual No. 1 Issue, I was honored but also curious. I asked, “What does a guest editor do?” They said I would take over the magazine to share my unvarnished thoughts on the very best, and a few of the worst, things in the game. “Oh, so you want me to talk golf and pull no punches?” I asked. “Yeah, I can handle that.”

My surefire slice fix. My favorite — and least favorite — swings on Tour. And why I said "thanks but no thanks" to coaching Tiger Woods. If you watch me on NBC, you know I have plenty of opinions. As Golf Magazine's guest editor this month, here are my No. 1s of just about everything.

No. 1 Greatest Ballstriker
I've studied the swings of pretty much every great player, and Sam Snead was a genius. He was hometaught, not professionally taught, and he had a great physique and a swing as smooth as melted butter. He could hit literally any shot — high, low, draw, cut — and he used them all the time.

No. 1 Greatest Putter
For a whole career: Ben Crenshaw, who won two Masters with that stroke. When you think "putting genius," you think of Ben. A close second: Tiger Woods, who had the most efficient stroke ever.

Jack NicklausNo. 1 Greatest Pressure Player
To be able to play well under pressure is a gift. Hitting pressure shots precise distances on Sunday afternoon is what golf is all about. It's close between Tiger and Jack Nicklaus, but I lean toward Jack. He has 18 majors against Tiger's 14. Jack played against more great players than Tiger had to. Jack had to beat Lee Trevino, Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson, Tom Weiskopf and myself. Those guys were closers, not chokers. That's the defining difference between the two: Jack beat tougher guys.

No. 1 Overachiever
Some guys aren't big and super-coordinated. Tom Kite was a golfaholic. Still is. His idea of a good time is hitting 600 balls — on his day off. He never had great talent or a gorgeous swing, but all that hard work paid off when he won the U.S. Open at Pebble [in 1992]. You gotta give it to Tom, who can't love golf enough. He shows what sheer will can do.

No. 1 Underachiever
Tom Weiskopf was a Dustin Johnson type — big and athletic, with a great, rhythmic swing. He hit the ball a mile and could pull off any shot. Just one problem: He was in awe of Jack Nicklaus. Tom idolized him so much that he couldn't see himself beating Jack. He had too much respect. Tom had a good career, but if he had been cockier and more motivated, he could have had a Hall of Fame career.

No. 1 Favorite Swing on Tour
What's a great swing? One that's repeatable and combines power and balance. He has a small frame, but 2010 British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen hits the ball a long way with little effort. His swing is efficient, effortless and without power leakage. If you could steal any player's swing, his is the one you'd want.

No. 1 Least Favorite Swing on Tour
Kevin Na's driver waggle.

No. 1 Weirdest Swing That Works
Jim Furyk does some great things through the hitting zone, which is the only part of the swing that the ball knows about. Sure, he takes the club above the plane, and his right elbow flies, but then he drops the elbow back in coming down. And he keeps the club square through impact longer than anybody I've ever seen, besides Nicklaus. His club stays dead straight down the line, and that's why he's had a great career.

No. 1 Best Swing of My Career
The drive I hit on the last hole at Oakmont in 1973 at the U.S. Open was special. I'd hit every green that day, and my average birdie putt was about 10 to 12 feet. To this day, I've never seen a major championship round of that precision, with tee shots and iron shots, by anyone. That sounds like bragging, but I've seen a lot of rounds. The drive on 18 is difficult. I knew that if I made par [to shoot 63], I had a great chance of winning. Instead of babying it, I took my driver way back, paused, and hit it as hard as I could, dead center. It was the longest drive of the day by anybody.

No. 1 Worst Swing of My Career
In 1975 Tom Watson and I were tied coming to the 72nd hole of the British Open at Carnoustie. Bobby Cole and Jack Newton were playing behind us. I thought they were a shot or two in front, but the leaderboards were wrong. I thought I had to rip my drive, so with a crosswind I aimed at the right edge of the fairway bunker—but the wind never touched my ball, and it fell into the bunker. Bogey. [Watson defeated Jack Newton in a playoff.] I was probably the best player in the world at the time, right there with Nicklaus. I’m pretty sure I would have won if I’d played a safer drive. That shot cost me the British Open.

No. 1 Anti-Slice Tip
To fix your slice instantly, try two things. First, strengthen your grip, so that looking down you see two or three knuckles on your left hand [for righties]. Then, during your downswing, rotate your right palm toward the ground through the impact zone, to square the face. It's a counterclockwise rotation of your right hand. If you practice turning your palm through impact, not only will you lose your slice — you'll be able to hit a draw, cut, or straight ball, at will. You'll be dangerous!

No. 1 Hole I'd Like to Bulldoze
I like a memorable finishing hole, but the 18th at Olympic Club — a hole I grew up playing — is memorable for the wrong reasons. It's not on par with the rest of the course. From the tee you hit down to a blind area to the bottom of a swale, where you can't see if you've found rough or fairway. Then you have a blind shot up the hill. I don't like blind shots and uphill shots for finishing holes. No. 18 doesn't match the quality of the rest of the course.

No. 1 Course-Design Pet Peeve
I'm not a fan of flat-as-a-pancake bunkers. Whether they're seaside, desert, parkland or mountain courses, all great courses have one common denominator: championship bunkers. Bunkers with no lip that are poorly placed is my big pet peeve. You can make a so-so course darned good with quality bunkers. Bunkers aren't supposed to be better than the rough. They should be things you fear, penalties that make your heart race.

No. 1 Hole In One
I've had 29 holes-in-one, in and out of competition. Not too bad. My favorite was at Firestone Country Club (South) in 1973, a week after I won my U.S. Open. It was on the 5th hole, a par 3, 235 yards. I had a big gallery; everybody wanted to know about this young gun who'd shot 63 to win the Open. I hit a 4-wood right at the pin. It rolled up to the hole. The gallery made this "ooooooh" noise and went crazy when it went in. Pretty cool!

No. 1 Tip I'd Give You As Your Caddie
I love cars. When deciding how aggressive to be with a given shot, think of a stoplight flashing red, yellow or green. It's a great image. A lot of weekend players play a red-light shot — meaning there's danger — as if the light were green. You're up against a tree? That's a red light — just chip out of trouble. You have a perfect fairway lie, with a center-cut pin? Green light! The secret is to not turn a red light into a yellow or a yellow into a green. Golf is about sucking in your ego and changing your expectations with each shot. Be aggressive when you can, but don't run red lights.

No. 1 Player I'd Like to Coach
I have this recurring dream: Tiger calls and wants a lesson. Not many people know this, but when Tiger had been on Tour for two or three years, his people called and asked if I would give him lessons on short irons. Jack Nicklaus told him I was the best shortiron player ever — a pretty great compliment. I wanted to help Tiger, but I knew he would require a lot of time. I had kids, grandkids, outings and NBC. I was tired. I didn't think I could give him the time he'd need, so I turned him down, which I don't think too many people have done. He's the guy I'd like to help most. I've been watching him since he was in junior golf. I know all the swings he's had. I think I could help him get back to his natural swing, not the swing someone else wants him to make. I'm open to helping him.

No. 1 Tournament I'd Like to Call
Augusta is ever-changing. It's incredibly great that they've made the back nine more birdieable, so that guys can once again make a Sunday charge. The front nine isn't very memorable, but suddenly you have the unusual downhill tee shot at No. 10, the pond on No. 11, the swirly winds on No. 12, the eagle chances on Nos. 13 (above) and 15. What a back nine. I love covering the U.S. Open, but before my career is over I wish I could do one hole at Augusta.

No. 1 Way to Hit "Extra Crisp" Irons
I was the best iron player in the world in my prime, and guys like Fred Couples and Tom Watson told me that they literally went years without mis-hitting a single iron shot. The key to crisp irons is to get your hands well ahead of the ball at impact. That's a must if you want that compression. Most everyday players release their hands too early. Get the handle to the ball first, then let the clubhead release and do its job.

No. 1 Sports Announcer Who Reminds Me of Me
I like guys in the booth who say unexpected things in a relaxed but informed way. My favorite of all time is a different "J.M.": John Madden. He had that folksy touch that made you want to spend time with him, whether he was talking NFL football or the best barbecue. And he knew his sport inside and out. Madden was the man!

No. 1 Greatest [And Cruelest] Shot I've Ever Seen
The downhill putt Tiger made to force a playoff with Rocco Mediate at the 2008 U.S. Open. It bounced along, looking like a right edge lip-out, but somehow he willed it in. To this day, when I see Rocco, instead of "Hi, John," the first thing he says is, "Can you believe that putt?! That shouldn't-a gone in!" Poor guy's still reliving it. He stole it from Rocco. That was almost mean, Tiger.

No. 1 Rule I'd Enforce If I Was Commissioner
Slow play is a problem on Tour. If you tell a player he has a bad time, guess what: Next time it's a penalty. The time after that? It's two shots. After that, "You're outta here." Those rules are already in place, but nobody has the guts to enforce them, so slow players have no reason to move along.

No. 1 Buddy Trip With My Sons
I'm lucky. I have four boys, all scratch players or better. We're gonna have a good time no matter where we play, but if I could pick a dream buddy trip, I'd do Pebble Beach and Cypress Point, then head east to Oakmont and Shinnecock. If you can't enjoy those courses, take up Ping-Pong.

No. 1 Secret to Breaking 80
Get good from inside 50 yards — practice a lot of chips, putts and pitches. A good short game? Man, it makes up for a lot of errors. It takes work. It's not sexy chipping from 6-inch rough, burying balls under the lip of a bunker, practicing 70-foot putts. It takes a special kind of person to want to hit 200 to 300 shortgame shots a day. But it's the easiest way to save strokes. A good short game takes pressure off your irons, because you say, "I don't care where I hit it. I'll still make par." Look at Tiger and Phil. They don't hit irons nearly as well I did, but their short games make mine look like…well, I don't want to use the word — but not good.

Special Section: No. 1 Issue

This article first appeared in the October 2012 issue of Golf Magazine, which is on newsstands now. Subscribers can download the issue on their tablets at