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JOHNNY MILLERJohnny Miller was once a whale of a golfer. A U.S. Open champion at age 26 who ranked No. 2 in the world behind Jack Nicklaus in 1974 and ‘75, Miller was so good that Fred Couples calls him “probably the best ball-striker ever.”

Miller also is one hellacious broadcaster. The long-time NBC analyst, 67, tells it like it is, and in a wide-reaching interview with the Portland Tribune, the World Golf Hall of Famer admits his candor has gotten him into a teensy bit of trouble on occasion with the network.

A winner of 25 PGA Tour events during his career, including a pair of majors (1973 U.S. Open, 1976 British Open), and a three-time runner-up at the Masters, Miller will be in Portland on Monday to take part in a kickoff event at Nike’s Stanford Auditorium for the inaugural WinCo Foods Portland Open, which runs Aug. 21-24 at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club.

Miller spoke via telephone from his home in Park City, Utah — one of four residences in which he and wife Linda spend the year. They have six children and 22 grandchildren.

Tribune: You’re going to be part of a question-and-answer session with sponsors and tournament officials along with promoter Jeff Sanders prior to the WinCo Foods Portland Open. How do you feel about that?

Miller: It’s sort of like knocking in a two-inch putt. It’s what I do for a living. I do this sort of thing all the time. I enjoy it. The people seem to like it. They like that I say unexpected things. It’s not just what you think I’m going to say. I make it a little more interesting for the audience. It’s what I try to do on the air, too — not just state the obvious.

Tribune: What’s your relationship been with Jeff?

Miller: It goes back pretty far. A lot of it is through another Portland guy, Peter Jacobsen, who was my partner in the National Team Championship. They grew up playing amateur golf together. Jeff and I sort of hit it off. He’s a very dynamic guy and very good at what he does. If he runs your tournament, you don’t have to worry too much.

Tribune: You worked the 1996 U.S. Amateur and 1997 U.S. Women’s Open at Pumpkin Ridge for NBC. Have you been there since?

Miller: I haven’t. I’ve been through Portland and Seattle a lot, though. A daughter lives in Seattle. I fish on the Columbia. Last year I caught a big old sturgeon up river at The Dalles, almost 13 feet long, and it weighed almost 1,000 pounds. It took us 2 1/2 hours to get it in. This guy we go with has this fishing hole. You always catch a 400-, 500-pounder. We go up there most years. We fish for steelhead. I’m a steelhead addict. I should be living in Oregon, to be honest with you.

Tribune: What are your thoughts about Witch Hollow, where the WinCo Foods Open will be staged?

Miller: It has a wonderful mixture of holes. Some long holes, a lot of doglegs, well-bunkered, tough greens and some traditional type greens, and a lot of room for galleries. I like the way Pumpkin Ridge plays. The whole facility is pretty amazing.

Tribune: How familiar are you with the Tour, home of the PGA’s second-tier pros?

Miller: I watch it. It’s not my main concern, but I sort of watch the futures. I pay attention if there is somebody dominant coming up I should be aware of, because he’s probably going to be on (PGA) Tour at the end of the year. I can’t say I’m studying it every week, because I have a lot of things going on. I know an awful lot of great players have come through the Tour. It’s good to have it in cities that don’t have PGA Tour events. Portland is a heck of a city. Same with Seattle and some of the Canadian cities. A lot of those places are pretty big cities and love golf.

Tribune: You do about a dozen events for NBC a year. Is that enough?

Miller: It’s just enough. They’re all pretty big events. We have a good team together. Peter is the newest guy. The guys all know each other so well. I can have a conversation with a guy two miles away, and as far as viewing audience is concerned, they think he’s in the same room with me. I’m the quarterback and most everything goes through me and (play-by-play voice) Dan Hicks. I think I was the first (golf broadcaster) with an open mike. We started doing it 15 years ago, where my mike is open and I’m having a conversation with guys like Mark Rolfing and Gary Koch. It’s a nice little conversation.

Tribune: NBC has televised plenty of major events, such as the U.S. Open, the World Golf Championships, the Tour Championship, the Players and the Ryder Cup. Do you have an exclusive contract with NBC, or can you work events for other networks?

Miller: The way it’s written now, I can’t. That’s not to say at some point it won’t change. I’ve always wanted to do the Masters or the British (Open). But I don’t know if I’ll do this more than another four or five years. Then, possibly if they want me, maybe three or four events a year after that.

Tribune: You’ve had an incredible 24-year run with one network. What’s your secret?

Miller: The secret is doing my homework and then letting it go. I’m a modified Charles Barkley. A little tamer than he is, but the same idea — say what you think, don’t be bashful and be pretty much 95 percent open. I just say what I think. There’s a line you can’t cross, but I sort of started a semi X-game type of commentary. I talk about (a golfer) wilting under pressure, and I maybe say ‘choke’ once in a while. I do a little teaching on the air. I don’t throw out the word ‘great’ unless it’s truly a great shot. People always say, “I like your honesty, Johnny. Tell it like it is.”

Tribune: You’ve been rather controversial with some of your comments over the years. Do you feel you’ve toned down your act some? Have NBC officials censored you at all?

Miller: I’ve made probably six real mistakes where I’ve crossed the line where (NBC officials) have suggested, “You might want to apologize for that one.” If I say something (off-base), within 24 hours I find that guy and tell him, “Hey, I’m sorry.” The public would probably like me to do it more.

Golf is a gentlemanly game. I’m probably as much on the edge of “gentlemanly” as I can get — more so than any other announcer has done in golf. It’s just the way I view golf, and viewed my own game. I was the first one to say, “I had the yips,” or “I’m playing terrible, my swing’s no good.” Most people who just shanked one, they don’t want to go there.

Tribune: How much golf do you play now?

Miller: Not too much, though there are two “Greats of Golf “events I played this year, in Houston and Minneapolis. After putting so badly for so many years, I putted fantastically well in both of them. I changed my style. Right at impact, I use a little bit of hips, and it carries my left hand through the ball. I don’t stop the handle and “yip” it. It’s sort of the way I chip. I was making everything in the Houston tournament. I wish I’d thought of this way of putting 30 years ago. It’s fun to be able to putt well again. I’m having fun playing a little bit.

Tribune: Do you miss competitive golf?

Miller: I walked away from golf gently enough and as smoothly as anybody has ever done it, except maybe Byron Nelson. I was the first Hall-of-Famer to quit at such a young age (41) since Nelson. Since then, Nick Faldo and Greg Norman also quit at a young age. For me, it was mostly because of the putting, but also, I was tired of leaving my family. Plus, I had some knee and back problems. I’m feeling a little better now.

Tribune: Does your analyst work fill a competitive need in your life?

Miller: Announcing is like playing. There’s a lot of pressure in announcing. I’ve got a lot in my life right now. I’ve built up 34 golf courses. I’ve done a thousand corporate outings, maybe more than anybody but Chi Chi Rodriguez. I get about half the year off, but when I’m busy, I’m real busy. I try to save time for the family, and I’m a fly-fishing nut. I’d have probably won a lot more tournaments if it wasn’t for fishing.

Tribune: You spend part of the year at your home in Napa, Calif., and are part owner of Silverado Resort and Spa, which will play host to the $5 million Open on the PGA Tour in October.

Miller: I’m going to be really busy that week. That’s going to be a highlight of the fall. It’ll be nice to have the Tour come to Silverado. There’s a rich history there. It’s well known by the older players. It’s a really cool spot. The Napa Valley is now the No. 1 tourist attraction in California, ahead of even Disneyland. It’s a fantastic location. I (redesigned) the north course, which is where the tournament is going to be played. I’ll get to the south course next.

Tribune: Besides Napa and Park City, where are your homes?

Miller: We have a home on the ocean at Pebble Beach (Calif.) by Spanish Bay, and a fishing ranch in Idaho. I pop around like a gypsy.

Tribune: Pumpkin Ridge officials are interested in hosting the PGA Championships. Is Witch Hollow worthy?

Miller: Ideally, (PGA officials) would like it at least be 7,300 yards (It’s about 7,000). I’m not sure what they can stretch it to. Silverado is about 7,250. They might have to find some new tees. Or maybe it’s fine, I don’t know. It’s a little short by these guys’ standards nowadays. They hit it so darn far. They need to have some 500- to 520-yard par-4s. But no doubt about it, it’s worthy. The galleries were fantastic in the two events I was at in the ‘90s. Portland is a great city with a good airport. It has everything you need, and as far I’m concerned, the course doesn’t need to be longer. But I know they don’t want guys shooting 20-under in a major.

Tribune: How do you feel about the state of men’s pro golf today?

MIller: It’s pretty darn healthy. It’s intriguing to watch Tiger (Woods) and his travails. People still flock out to see him. I hope he can get it turned around. (Phil) Mickelson is doing his last gasp. You have the new guys like (Jordan) Spieth and (Rory) McIlroy, who are very solid. McIlroy’s driver is an incredible weapon like (Greg)Norman and (Jack) Nicklaus had — straight and 320 ever time. He’s going to be tough to knock off his perch. Bubba Watson is totally interesting. The women love Adam Scott. He’s a great-looking guy. Rickie Fowler is a big draw. (Hideki) Matsuyama might end up being a No. 1 player.

The tour is in good shape. They have to be careful to not push the purses too darn far up. The sponsors are getting good value for their money right now. Don’t force them to raise the purses so high that that’s not the case. That’s the only concern I have. The players are making more money than anyone has a right to.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Twitter: @kerryeggers

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