Sports

US Open countdown: Johnny Miller’s final round 63 caps amazing comeback for Open crown

73rd U.S. Open | June 14-17, 1973

Oakmont Country Club, Oakmont, Pa.

Leaderboard

Johnny Miller, United States 71 - 69 - 76 - 63 279
John Schlee, United States 73 - 70 - 67 - 70 280
Tom Weiskopf, United States 73 - 69 - 69 - 70 281
Jack Nicklaus, United States 71 - 69 - 74 - 68 282
Arnold Palmer, United States 71 - 71 - 68 - 72 282
Lee Trevino, United States 70 - 72 - 70 - 70 282

Johnny Miller was brash, cocky and good at golf. The shaggy blond from Napa, California, would tell anybody who would listen he was guilty on all three counts.

And in the final round of this national open, he was the best to ever walk 18 holes.

Long considered to be an afterthought after a third-round 76, Miller completed the first 63 ever shot at a major championship in the final round. He made nine birdies to chase down some of golf’s royalty — notably Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Lee Trevino.

“I’m Joe Feast or Famine,” Miller said after his round. “I get everything or nothing.”

Miller, an All-American from Brigham Young University, started the day six shots behind four co-leaders, including Palmer and 1963 U.S. Open winner Julius Boros.

Overnight rains had softened the course — most notably the treacherous Oakmont greens, regarded as the smoothest and fastest in the world.

Miller birdied the first four holes — with three of them on putts shorter than 5 feet.

He wasn’t perfect that day. At the 222-yard straightaway par-3 eighth hole, he landed his 4-wood tee shot on the green. But he three-putted from 40 feet for his only bogey of the round.

Miller birdied the ninth hole. At the turn, he asked caddie Lou Beaudine to break out a new sleeve of golf balls for the back nine holes.

Beaudine paused, and asked the golfer if he really wanted to do that.

Claiming he was not superstitious, Miller hesitated for a second — then took back the request. He had just made five birdies with a used golf ball, and he was going to play it the rest of the way.

After a par at the 10th hole, Miller birdied four of the next five holes — including one at No. 12, where he received a favorable ruling for a “free lift and drop” by a USGA official after his ball was stepped on in deep rough.

His last birdie was at No. 15 where he hit a 4-iron tee shot at the par 3, sinking a 10-footer.

In all, Miller hit every green in regulation and needed just 29 putts. Ten of his approach shots were within 15 feet of the cup — with half of them within 6 feet.

More remarkable is the fact that only three other golfers broke 70 in the final round.

What made the final result odd was the fact that the leaders paid little attention to scoreboards and didn’t see the drastic move Miller was putting on them. By the time Palmer, Trevino, Nicklaus, and even Tom Weiskopf noticed, it was too late — Miller sat in the clubhouse with the tournament lead.

John Schlee, a one-time winner on the PGA Tour, had a late chance to tie Miller, but his 40-footer at the finishing hole fell short, giving the 26-year-old Miller his first major title.

Miller’s 63 broke the tournament single-round scoring record of 64, set by Lee Mackey Jr. in 1950 at Merion Golf Club East Course in Pennsylvania.

Miller ended up winning another major — the 1976 British Open — and won 25 times on the PGA Tour. He’s now the leading color commentator in golf for NBC Sports.

todd.milles@thenewstribune.com

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