When Johnny Miller walked off the 4th green during the first day of the Masters last year, he was already three over par. He had bogeyed the 1st, 2nd and 4th holes, all of them on putts of five feet or less.
"My word," he thought on his way to the 5th tee, "I've sort of blown myself out of this thing."
Happily for golf and young men who will one day be old men with grandchildren to tell the story to, Johnny Miller had not blown himself out. He floundered through the rest of that day to a 75, sank enough putts on Friday to make the cut and then, on Saturday, on the front nine, launched the comeback that turned the 1975 Masters into a tournament that will always be remembered. Scattering scoring records in his wake like dogwood petals, by Sunday Miller had pulled himself from 11 strokes off the lead into a tie with Tom Weiskopf for second at 277, a total that would have won all but three previous Masters, and forced Jack Nicklaus to perform miracles of his own, such as holing a 40-foot putt at 16 on Sunday (right), to win by a single stroke.
Miller had arrived in Augusta the previous Sunday night feeling good. He, his wife Linda, and Weiskopf, who had just won the Greater Greensboro Open, were flown in from Greensboro in a private plane provided by GGO sponsors. The Millers were met at the Augusta airport by friends, and they moved into a comfortable rented house only four blocks from the gate to Augusta National. Miller knew it was going to be a good week as soon as he discovered he had also rented a swimming pool, a pool table, a Ping-Pong table and a basketball hoop in the driveway.
Furthermore, early Monday evening, while he was fishing alone on the pond that forms the centerpiece of the picturesque par-3 course just west of the clubhouse, he caught a nine-pound large-mouth bass, the biggest ever taken from that pond. "It was getting dark, and I saw this big fish come out of the shadow near the bank, grab the bait and turn around and go back."
Miller, who is actually a Mormon fisherman who happens to play golf, bounded up the hill to the clubhouse and burst in—wet tennis shoes, wriggling bass and all—on the sedate dinner held each year in honor of the foreign players.
"You'd think he'd won the U.S. Open," said Jerome Franklin the next morning. Franklin is one of two surviving original members of Augusta National, the other being Clifford Roberts. Until that night he had been the holder of the Augusta National largemouth bass record at 8� pounds.
Miller was determined to enjoy the Masters as he had not the year before. He played leisurely practice rounds on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, but he hit no practice balls. "When you get in a major tournament, especially the first major tournament of the year, a bell goes off the first day, and you tend to revert to what is natural to you," he said recently. "If you've been hitting a lot of balls, working on something new, you revert to somewhere between what you've been working on and your old swing, and you end up being very confused."
The year before, Miller came to the Masters with four tournament wins and great expectations. He had worked hard, played poorly and tied for 15th. Last year he hit no more than 20 balls on the practice tee to warm up and none at all after his rounds. "It only happens to me maybe three or four times a year," he said. "My swing felt so good and I felt so relaxed and loose that I remember on the fourth day going to the practice tee thinking, 'Shoot, I'm not even going to hit any balls." I didn't need to warm up."
Feeling as good as he did, Miller's 75 the first day was a shocker. In the press room after the round he sounded slightly querulous. "If I'd been putting, I might have had 68 or 69...15 greens in regulation...hitting it longer than I ever did here.... Some days I hit lousy putts, and they go in. Today I was hitting good putts, and they wouldn't go in the hole."