With the 40th anniversary of his epic round approaching, Johnny Miller expressed surprise about how the subject keeps resurfacing.
But he knows why his 63 in ’73 remains so prominent in golf history, and the way his NBC Sports colleagues discuss it every June during the U.S. Open telecast is only part of the reason.
Factoring in all of the circumstances, Miller’s winning performance at Oakmont Country Club may be the greatest round ever played — and that’s not just according to Miller, a former BYU golfer and part-time Heber Valley resident.
In 2000, Golf Magazine ranked his performance as the round of the century. Here’s why: Miller shot the first 63 in any major championship, he came from behind in the final round to win the U.S. Open by one stroke and his ball-striking was so phenomenal that he could have shot even lower.
Oh, yeah, and he overtook Arnold Palmer, Tom Weiskopf, Lee Trevino and Jack Nicklaus, among others.
Coincidentally, Weiskopf and Nicklaus each shot 63 in the first round of the 1980 U.S. Open. Vijay Singh matched them in the second round in 2003. But while a couple of dozen 63s have been shot in other major tournaments, nobody has topped Miller — and nobody else has produced a 63 on Sunday in a winning effort.
“It’s one thing to do it on Thursday, like Weiskopf and Nicklaus did at Baltusrol, it’s another thing to do it on last round and to win,” Miller said during a recent media teleconference. “That’s why the round keeps popping up, I guess, as a standard.”
Miller’s round “sent quite a shock wave through the golf world,” said Champions Tour player Mike Reid, who followed Miller at BYU.
Like every historic performance, there’s considerable lore associated with Miller’s 63, which came when he was 26. The long irons are missing from his set of McGregor clubs, formerly displayed in the Utah Golf Hall of Fame at Thanksgiving Point and now housed at the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine, Fla. That’s because Miller lent some clubs to Chi Chi Rodriguez, who lost them.
Those irons were 30-year-old models, which Miller used to near perfection. Playing a 6,921-yard, par-71 course, Miller hit all 18 greens in regulation. His iron shots on the par-4s never stopped more than 25 feet from the hole.
That’s the kind of player Miller was in his prime. “He might be one of the few people that could do something like that, with the skill to make a golf ball behave like that,” Reid said.
After opening with 71-69, while playing the first two rounds with Palmer, a hometown hero in western Pennsylvania, Miller had posted a 76 on Saturday. He was thrown off by having left his yardage book at the hotel — and in those days, golfers were not allowed to use their regular caddies in the U.S. Open. Miller stood 12th, six strokes off the lead, entering the final round.
While warming up Sunday, Miller heard a voice telling him to open his stance. Todd Miller loves that story. As a BYU assistant coach, Miller’s youngest son uses that example with his players. “You can try different things out,” he said, “and they can work.”
Miller earned the $35,000 first prize by one stroke over John Schlee, who closed with a 70. Weiskopf finished third and Palmer, Trevino and Nicklaus tied for fourth.
The U.S. Open is being staged this week at Merion Golf Club near Philadelphia, similar in length to Oakmont in ’73 — even with modern advances in equipment. With the course softened by rain, there are suggestions that the record of 63 is in jeopardy.
“Yeah, it could get broken,” Miller said, “but until somebody breaks on it the last day to win, [his 63] will still keep popping up, I guess.”
Johnny Miller’s hole-by-hole report:
No. 1, 469 yards, par-4: driver/3-iron, birdie.
No. 2, 343 yards, par-4: driver/9-iron, birdie.
No. 3, 425 yards, par-4: driver/5-iron, birdie.
No. 4, 549 yards, par-5: driver/3-wood/bunker shot, birdie.
No. 5, 379 yards, par-4: driver/6-iron, par.
No. 6, 195 yards, par-3: 3-iron, par.
No. 7, 395 yards, par-4: driver/9-iron, par.
No. 8, 244 yards, par-3: 4-wood, three-putt bogey.
No. 9, 480 yards, par-5: driver/2-iron, two-putt birdie.
No. 10, 462 yards, par-4: driver/5-iron, par.
No. 11, 371 yards, par-4: driver/wedge, birdie.
No. 12, 603 yards, par-5: driver/7-iron/4-iron, birdie.
No. 13, 185 yards, par-3: 4-iron, birdie.
No. 14, 360 yards, par-4: driver/wedge, par.
No. 15, 453 yards, par-4: driver/4-iron, birdie.
No. 16, 230 yards, par-3: 2-iron, par.
No. 17, 322 yards, par-4: 1-iron/wedge, par.
No. 18, 456 yards, par-4: driver/5-iron, par.
U.S. Open 63s
Golfer Year Round Course
Johnny Miller 1973 4th Oakmont CC
Jack Nicklaus 1980 1st Baltusrol CC
Tom Weiskopf 1980 1st Baltusrol CC
Vijay Singh 2003 2nd Olympia Fields CC