What was supposed to happen last week when the world of professional golf reached the Monterey Peninsula celebrity ghetto is that a couple of blond millionaires named Jack Nicklaus and Johnny Miller, upon meeting for the first time in 1975, would slap each other rudely across the cheek with abalone steaks, draw out flashing sand wedges, and stage a duel through the tweed forest bordering the 17 Mile Drive. It would be bloody and for keeps, and the victor would get to dine that night in quaint Carmel on blue-chip portfolio en aspic and Rolls-Royce du jour.
Instead, what actually happened was that old pro Gene Littler, who joined the millionaire club only last season after 21 years on the circuit, led the last two rounds of the 34th annual Bing Crosby National Pro-Am to finish four strokes ahead of Hubert Green. As Littler shot a final-round 73 both Miller and Nicklaus had to struggle—Miller from eighth, Nicklaus from 16th—to finish tied for sixth at 289.
It was a rather inconclusive finish to Episode One in the Great Confrontation. For two weeks Johnny Miller had been the only golfer on the PGA tour. At Phoenix, Miller had shot a second-round 61 on the way to grabbing the year's first event by 14 strokes. In Tucson, Miller had recorded another 61, and taken the year's second event by nine strokes. Miller had banked $70,000. Nobody had ever before fired 61s on consecutive weeks in the long history of the tour. And Miller's combined winning margin of 23 strokes must rank as some sort of record without a category.
That Miller had started off like this after having been the dominant player of last year with his eight tour victories and a staggering $353,000 in prize money was almost too much to accept. Golf had a new king, Johnny Miller. Had pallbearers been selected for Jack Nicklaus' funeral in Lost Tree Village? No, wait. Perhaps that would be a bit hasty. There was this slim chance that if Nicklaus would come out here on the tour he could challenge Miller, and even though Jack was a complacent, decrepit 35 and Miller a virile, spunky 27, Nicklaus might be able to hold on awhile longer.
In any case, the Crosby would be their first clash, the beginning of a year-long rivalry in which it would be decided whether Johnny Miller was going to do to Jack Nicklaus what Jack Nicklaus had once done to Arnold Palmer. Thus, as people began gathering for the Crosby—that odd assortment of touring pros, plus Jack Lemmons and Minnesota Minings who are known simply as "friends of Bing"—there was little talk of anything else. And rather wonderfully, Miller and Nicklaus helped it along, as if each inwardly realized that this was a marvelous publicity gimmick for the sport.
The fact that neither one of them came any closer to winning the Crosby than Franco Harris was purely beside the point. So preoccupied was everyone with the "feud," there weren't even the standard weather jokes, or any pros vowing never to play Spyglass Hill again even if Bing gave them $5,000 in unmarked low-denomination bills, along with a year's supply of Minute Maid.
Nicklaus and Miller spent the first several days of the week never laying eyes on each other. Nicklaus, accompanied by his customary entourage of Pontiac dealers, shopping center developers and family chums from Columbus, was staying in the Del Monte Lodge on the premises of Pebble Beach, while Miller was not drinking, smoking or cursing in a private home located up the road. They seemed never to be in the same place at the same time, but they were both plenty visible and almost eager to discuss their so-called rivalry.
Separately, they agreed on several things. Nicklaus was still the greatest, but Jack was going to have to work now at staying the greatest. Miller had certainly arrived. He was no longer one of those other guys out there. He had the ability to dethrone Jack. And Miller had evidently decided that this was something he wanted to do. A year ago this would not have occurred to him, but repetitious success had convinced him that he was for real.
One afternoon Miller stood out on the terrace of the lodge, with Carmel Bay gleaming in the background and the sun's rays bounding off his golden good looks. Miller goes through life looking like a four-color Sears ad. He doesn't become human until he begins to talk. Then, he becomes a determined young guy who knows himself very well.
This day he was trying to explain the streak he was on, the 11 tournaments and almost half a million dollars he had won in the past 13 months. So let us now listen to Johnny Miller, freshly ordained superstar, and discover if we might not learn the secrets to wealth and happiness in his monologue: