During Saturday's second round Miller had 16 Guns n' Roses (greens in regulation) but spent 33 putts. Desperate, he considered the unheard-of on Sunday: stuffing two putters into his bag. Instead he stuck with the one he had used for the first two rounds (an ugly, jerry-built contraption that is eight inches longer than normal and swollen with adhesive tape).
"I've tried everything," he says. "Keeping my eyes closed, looking at the hole, opening the toe, closing the toe, calling out a cadence, you name it. I putted crappy, and it will probably continue that way."
It is this discouraging fact that clouds Miller's future on the Senior tour. On July 29 he was to play Nicklaus at the Olympic Club in San Francisco for a Shell's Wonderful World of Golf segment, but alter that he's not planning to compete again until October. The next two months will be consumed by his NBC duties, notably the Ryder Cup and all the attendant hype. Come the fall, he's planning to play three tournaments in four weeks, beginning Oct. 10 at the Transamerica on the course where he makes his home, Silverado Country Club in Napa, Calif. "If I don't show some improvement in my putting, I don't know how much I'll play in the future," he says. "Who knows? I might become a ceremonial golfer, playing only twice a year—here in Utah and at the Transamerica."
This was not a popular sentiment. "I want to see more of him," says Stockton. "It's the Senior tour's loss if he doesn't play more. You're talking about a multiple major championship winner, a personality, someone who knows how to handle people. He's a big boost for the tour."
And how, judging by the Millermania that broke out at Park Meadows. Tournament organizers couldn't provide an exact head count but did declare the crowds the largest in the event's 11-year history, and Miller charmed his fans with an easy rapport and a ham's delight at being back on center stage. Miller's TV work may have extended his fame to a younger generation, but this crowd clearly came to celebrate who he was, not who he is. The most raucous cheers were heard when Miller covered the flagsticks as he did in the old days—remember the 1975 Phoenix Open, when he won by 14 strokes? Miller set the sizable contingent of ladies in the gallery aflutter with his rakishly upturned collar and ever-present smile, a phenomenon that was first chronicled in a breathless PEOPLE magazine piece from 1974 that began, "To the thousands of women who trail him around the golf courses of America, Johnny Miller is their Robert Redford in Sears, Roebuck double-knits."
Such an overheated welcome was no surprise, considering that Miller has been a local hero since his days starring at BYU. In fact, Miller's ties to Utah golf explain why he chose the Franklin Quest for his debut. A cofounder of the Utah Junior Golf Association and still its honorary chairman, Miller gave his $3,700 in prize money to the organization, just as he has pledged to donate all future Senior tour earnings to other junior programs.
Miller curried more favor by proving he reserves his most lacerating analysis for his own game, and he offered his galleries a steady and often amusing commentary on his play. This began on the 3rd hole of his first round, when, after holing a six-footer for par necessitated by a sickly first putt, he said to no one in particular, "I'm gagging, but I'm gagging O.K." After leaving his tee shot 25 yards short on the par-3 4th, Miller groaned, "I tried to swing so easy I whiffed it." Two holes later, after an unsightly lag putt, he bellowed, "Nice jab, Johnny. Way to shank it."
Miller's competitors weren't openly reveling in his struggles, but there was a sense that he was due for some comeuppance. Even Miller acknowledged it. "They [the other players] want to see me come out because they want to see me screw up," he said. "They all wish they could have a mike and say, 'Hey, Johnny, nice putt. Little yipper there, huh?' "
What really interests Miller are the golf careers of two of his sons, Todd, 17, a top amateur, and Andy, 19, a freshman at BYU who won the Western Athletic Conference title in April. Miller rarely misses one of his sons' tournaments, and he spent much of last week on the phone back to the Philadelphia area, where Todd was competing in his first U.S. Junior, a tournament that had a particular emotional resonance for the old man because it was the first significant national event he won. Todd finished second in the stroke-play qualifying at Aronimink, with a 69-73, and played his first match on Friday morning. Before teeing off, Johnny called the family hotel room in Philadelphia hoping for no answer, which would mean that Todd had won and was still playing. This led to the following conversation with his wife.
Linda Miller: "Hello?"