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His putter has the sputters
Dan Jenkins
January 24, 1977
And this is why Johnny Miller's game was not hitting on all cylinders in Tucson
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January 24, 1977

His Putter Has The Sputters

And this is why Johnny Miller's game was not hitting on all cylinders in Tucson

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"You can't explain why people putt badly at times," Miller said. "It might be mechanical, or it might be mental. I thought at Phoenix I might be taking the club back too square. All I know is, George Archer felt sorry for me, looking at my stroke."

Although he did not intend it as any sort of alibi, Miller said the Tucson course was not the same one on which he had shot those surreal scores, like the 62 in the opening round of the 1974 tournament and the 61 in the final round of the 1975 event. Grass matures, he said. There was more grass on the fairways now, making the layout play about 200 yards longer than it still measures. And the club had also toughened up a couple of holes by adding water hazards where, in the past, there had only been clusters of University of Arizona coeds.

None of the changes had anything to do with Miller's lousy putting, however. There was no water on the 12th green where Johnny had blown his first putt for a par on Thursday—and where he removed all doubt about threatening the leaders when he four-putted in Saturday's third round.

"I'm not spaz," Miller said that evening, meaning spastic, even though he had turned a 14-foot birdie putt at the 12th hole into a double bogey. "I'm happy with my game, and the putting will come back. I think the muscles in my back are a little tight. I've been chopping down trees on my ranch. I don't think I'm getting the kind of body turn I'd like. I'm heavier, about 190. I seem to gain about seven more pounds every year. My scores so far don't look like it, but I came out really excited about this year. And I still am."

Miller said he was already excited about the Masters, but he was trying to prepare for it differently, although he couldn't say exactly how. "Maybe I won't go to Augusta a week early," he said. "When I get somewhere a week early, I feel as if the tournament's over before it starts." Rattling on, Johnny said he was going to play through the California part of the circuit and even go to Hawaii for the first time in a spell, then travel to Australia for the first time ever. "They want to see me," he said with a grin. "To make sure of some contracts, I guess."

Anyone wanting to see him Sunday morning in Tucson had to be quick about it. Because he was buried in the pack after rounds of 74-70-71, Miller was obliged to tee off again at the 10th hole. He made a bogey. He did manage to birdie the pushover 11th, but then he was back at the good old 12th, with that wonderful green on which he had missed the shortie on Thursday and four-putted on Saturday. This time he three-putted from 15 feet. Then he three-putted for another bogey at the 13th and called it a day.

Whether it was here that he truly began to feel the effects of too many antibiotics, only Miller knew. Medical minds have never determined if three-putts make your wrists swell and give you a clogged throat, which were what Miller complained of.

"I hated to pass up the $700 or $800 I could have won," he said, "but I got out there today and I couldn't hit the ball over 220 yards. Just no strength at all. I took too much medicine, I think. I've got some kind of cold that must have settled in my left wrist. Don't stand too close to me. You'll catch the mange."

Fair or not, it has become rather standard on the tour for golfers to "plead a Miller" when they begin to score badly. Johnny does have a tendency to blame his health for his poor showings. His withdrawal brought to mind the memorable words of Fred Marti in last year's Tournament Players Championship. Marti led after 18 holes, but then he had a bad round. When Miller asked Marti what he had shot that day, Fred said, "I shot 74, John. But I was sick."

If anyone paused to think about what happened to Miller in the late stages of 1976, his Arizona performance was perhaps predictable. While it looked as if it might be his year after he won the British Open, he followed it up by falling off a motorcycle and cutting his hand and having to skip the PGA. And after that he turned up at the World Series of Golf with one of his son's toy putters in his bag, which, because it cost him a four-stroke penalty, ruined his chances of winning the year's richest tournament before it had barely begun.

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