It’s probably a good thing golf broadcasters don’t elicit emotions from viewers in the same way as football, baseball or basketball announcers. Sure you might complain about Tim McCarver’s ramblings but the longest you’ll have to listen to him is during a four-hour Red Sox-Yankees game. Imagine sharing eight hours with him. That’s how long we listen to golf announcers on Sundays at the U.S. Open and other majors that don’t take place in Augusta, Georgia. But people don’t really get worked up about golf broadcasters, either because they’re enjoying the weather porn too much or maybe there’s just not very much objectionable about whispered voices on a warm summer day.
Johnny Miller might be the one exception. Plenty of people dislike the outspoken NBC analyst. They might think he’s too arrogant or too mean or are simply tired of him talking about the time he shot 63 on Sunday at Oakmont and won the U.S. Open. At one point I might have shared similar feelings, but those days are gone. These days I love Miller’s commentary and he’s not just my favorite golf analyst — he’s my favorite analyst in any sport.
Golf broadcasts and the terminology you hear tossed around are even stranger than what you hear on most sports. At least when football announcers talk about a player’s courage, you know they’re talking about an athlete who’s putting his limbs and brain on the line each play, even if the broadcaster at the time is only talking about the guts it takes to throw into tight coverage. It’s especially ludicrous to hear golf guys talk about courage and bravery when it’s referring to a guy deciding to go for the green because he’s stuck in some rough or a bunker. Broadcasters tend to play up how tough a shot will be before the guy hits it, seemingly just so after the guy pulls it off they can tell us, “You don’t know how good that was.” Broadcasters aren’t always the most self-aware folks, as evidenced by how many times you heard the phrase “the white faces of Merion” this past week, spoken without any sense of irony at a private golf club (it was actually referring to the bunkers).
I like Nick Faldo and David Feherty is one-of-a-kind and great fun to listen to but overall I usually prefer NBC, perhaps because while Dan Hicks isn’t Marv-Albert-in-his-prime when it comes to being a play-by-play guy, he’s solid. I don’t dislike Jim Nantz but on Sunday at the Masters he has the tone of a man broadcasting from the beaches of Normandy, although that might be a requirement the club has in its contract with CBS.
But Miller’s the guy I can listen to for eight hours on a Sunday in June or during four days of Ryder Cup action. I’m sure Miller looks forward to the final round of the U.S. Open for 364 days, when the course and the pressure always team up to destroy a player’s confidence, followed by his score. I don’t think he enjoys watching players struggle, but at least he’s not afraid to admit when that’s what is happening. He’s famous for saying a player has choked, but sometimes his undermining is more subtle. Miller will say a putt should be made and then can chuckle when the player inevitably misses it.
I even like his sort of weird habit of insisting on putting percentages on the chances a guy has of making a shot. Forty percent chance, he’ll throw out about some chip. One in 10, he’ll say about a long putt with a big break, even though he surely has no statistical studies backing up any of the numbers.
Yes, there’s arrogance there, and the constant reminder of what he did at the 1973 U.S. Open. He’s like the guy at the bar bragging about the time he got three hits in a minor league baseball game, back before he tore his knee and got his girlfriend pregnant and had to leave the sport and move back to his hometown, only Miller’s tale is actually true. A few years ago Jaime Diaz wrote a great story about Miller — the announcer but also the player. It’s filled with Miller’s ego as he talks up his swing and his accomplishments but it’s entertaining because he analyzes his own game — and its defects — with the same critical eye he uses on Tiger, Phil, Mahan and Westwood.
But when Miller offers a compliment or points out a good shot you can believe it because he’ll offer criticism and point out the bad shots. He’s willing to question when a player pulls a club he doesn’t agree with — whether it’s Mickelson on the 72nd hole at Winged Foot in 2006 or on the 13th hole yesterday — even before he takes the swing and tells us why it was wrong when the shot goes astray. He enjoys pointing out when a flubbed shot or bad putt is caused by “Open pressure.”
Not everyone’s a fan of Miller, on the course or in living rooms. But he’s a unique voice on golf broadcasts, a better voice. Don’t believe me? Just ask him.