Is Johnny Miller the meanest man in sports broadcasting? He's the heavyweight champion in Usual Suspects' book of cut men. No one in the history of golf broadcasting has so eagerly carved up the sensitive egos and tetchy personalities of the PGA Tour as has Miller, who ranked just behind Jack Nicklaus during his own playing prime in the 1970s. Miller, on the mike at the U.S. Open this week, has made candour an art form in his 19-year NBC career. Or is that a blood sport?
Miller's fellow TV analyst, Gary Koch, succinctly summed up the 1973 U.S. Open champion to Newsday in New York. "He has a wonderful way to go ahead and say things without necessarily filtering them through the brain first."
The 62-year-old has single-handedly changed the tone of all golf TV coverage with his pithy assessments of everyone from Tiger Woods to Michelle Wie. Miller referred to Rocco Mediate, during the final round of the 2008 U.S. Open, as "looking like the guy who cleans Tiger's pool."
He once asked the U.S. team members in the locker room at the 2004 Ryder Cup if they were having a good time yet. The Americans were floundering and Miller's comment was not said in a sympathetic tone. Stories swirled that the U.S. team might boycott talking to NBC. Officials on both sides moved to quash any revolt.
At the same event, the NBC TV analyst suggested: "Maybe the Americans should get Canada to join the American team. They could use Mike Weir to help them out."
As eventual winner Angel Cabrera waited patiently on the 18th hole at the 2007 U.S. Open, Miller said waiting was tough on Cabrera, because Stuart Appleby "is making a mess out of the hole" up ahead. He uses the "choke" word, too.
Miller also has a sense of humour bordering on the bizarre. When NBC colleague Dan Hicks revealed that Vijay Singh was using cryogenic therapy on his sore left ankle, Miller said jokingly, "Right there with Ted Williams." And occasionally he's an unadulterated sentimentalist, as when he grew moist-eyed watching Woods's miracle chip-in on the 17th hole of the 2008 U.S. Open's third round.
As a result of Miller, CBS hired the candid Nick Faldo as its lead analyst to replace the blandishments of Lanny Wadkins. The acerbic Curtis Strange became ESPN's analyst. ("He bails on himself," Strange said Friday of slumping Adam Scott.)
David Feherty, with his trenchant Irish wit, has eclipsed the overbearing Gary McCord as the humorous voice of the fan. And everyone from the networks to Golf Channel has had to raise its game - and its bile - to match Miller.
Most players hate Miller's harpoons from the booth. But his reputation as one of the game's most accomplished ball-strikers largely insulates him from their wrath. Fans, meanwhile, love his fearless honesty in a culture that worships the easy fairways of mediocrity over the harsh reality of the rough. Even when he's a tad cruel - as when he dissed Mediate's everyman look - people put it off to Johnny being Johnny. The man's different.
No doubt he'll ramp up his pitiless pursuit of truth as the contenders fall by the wayside tomorrow. Or Monday. Or whenever the 109th U.S. Open comes to a soggy conclusion.
Weir left Miller no opening for criticism with his superlative first round Friday. Miller noted that the Canadian left-hander was hitting "once-in-a-lifetime" hybrid-club darts like a wedge into the rain-soaked greens. There were the requisite hockey and Great White North references from the announcers. Strange pointed out that while the 2003 Masters winner is no Adonis, he still averages more than 280 yards on his drives. Except Weir ranks No.142 in PGA Tour driving distance. A Canadian has never won the U.S. Open and the odds against leading wire to wire are daunting.
(By the way, was it Usual Suspects' TV or is NBC having big audio problems?)
ESPN opened its U.S. Open coverage Friday with the witty graphic: "Day 2 … ish." … Reporter Bill Kratzert tried to describe the soggy, knee-high rough at Bethpage State Park's Black course: "If you threw a towel into the bathtub, took it out and tried to hit it with your iron, that's the same resistance you'd get. It's anybody's guess."
ESPN's bumptious Chris Berman described being rained out on Thursday, Day 1: "Like pulling out of the garage with the parking brake on." On Day 2 as he watched the Camilo Villegas-Sergio Garcia-Adam Scott trio: "This is what we call the heartthrob group: Villegas, Sergio Garcia and Camilo Villegas." Sounds like the ladies aren't the only ones flustered, Boom. … When Soren Hansen hacked out of the rough on the 15th hole, Berman channelled his inner Reggie Dunlop: "If it's a Hansen with a shot like that, it was a slap shot. You have to say it." … And diminutive Bob Costas, signing off from an enormous oak chair on the NBC set: "We'll be back tomorrow, when I hope to have an even larger chair, and all the storylines will begin to play out."
Stop The Music
The NHL Awards Show from Las Vegas opened Thursday with a front-row shot of Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke chomping gum, and it went downhill from there. A challenge at the best of times with humble Canadians and monosyllabic Russians, the 2009 show was like some SCTV spoof on the Vibe Awards. Chaka Khan? Was she just hanging around McCarron International Airport in Vegas or did someone actually think she had been relevant since 1995? Host Michael Bublé looked as if he'd accidentally stumbled into a Star Trek convention and had left the car running. They say Vegas is the city that never sleeps, but people tuned to the NHL Awards were pushing Zzzzs before Lady Byng left the building.