U.S. Open 2023: Johnny Miller reveals his three best 'iron game secrets'
LOS ANGELES — In the pantheon of great iron players, Johnny Miller would be up there. Way up there. Maybe at the very top.
Miller was rock solid from tee-to-green throughout his career, and his legendary 63 at Oakmont to win the 1973 U.S. Open was statistically one of the greatest major rounds (if not the greatest) ever recorded.
"My iron game was really good ever since I was a little kid. That was my forte; my iron game," he said. "In my career I didn't let pressure affect me tee-to-green. Tee-to-green was sort of bulletproof."
Johnny Miller spoke with the media ahead of the 2023 U.S. Open after being honored with the USGA's Bob Jones Award. With a legend like Miller answering questions about his career, how could I not go searching for a golf swing tip? My question to him was pretty straightforward:
"What do you think it was about your golf swing, or the way you practiced, that made you so good from tee to green and with your irons?"
Miller, ever the golf nerd, didn't miss a beat.
"There were three things that were sort of the secret for me in my iron game," he said. "I came up with them on my own. Nobody taught me those three things. Just something told me those were pretty important things."
Without further adieu…
(And before we go any further, if you’re interested in historical golf nerd stuff, you should check out our Golf Digest archive right here).
Secret No. 1: Train your impact position
Some golfers will say that you can't practice your impact position. That it's a reaction to everything that came before. A moment that happens so quickly, you can't do anything to change it.
Johnny Miller disagrees.
Miller said he would spend hours and hours swinging to the top of his backswing, then swinging down and stopping at impact. He wanted to land the clubface in a spot that was perfectly square. It's a simple drill the rest of us can do, and one that Miller said gave him total awareness of where the clubface was at impact.
"I was really good at knowing where impact was. I would practice stopping the blade, [perfectly square], not open or closed. I would practice right there over and over. I was talking about impact long before teachers even talked about impact. Jack Nicklaus asked me one time in '75 after my big year in '74, he said, 'you're playing pretty good now. What are you working on?'... I said, I'm working on impact. There was this long pause and he said, 'no, you're not. Nobody can think about impact.' But I had worked on it so long that I could feel where my club face was at impact."
Secret No. 2: Find the low point
The bottom of golf swings work like an arc. The club goes from high, to low, to high again. The low point of your swing is the point at which your club stops moving down, and starts moving back up again. Most players went the low point of their swings a little behind the ball on their driver, and slightly in front of the ball on the downswing.
If your ball position is messed up, or you slide your hips too much, it can screw up your low point. That's where chunks and thinned shots come from. Miller would practice keeping his low point consistent by picking a tiny spot in the grass to brush, and he would do it over and over again.
"I worked on this little brush drill. I tried to make sure I could brush the grass in the same spot every time."
Secret No. 3: Swing down the target line
Finally, Miller said he wanted to feel like the clubhead was swinging directly down the target line through impact; like it was driving directly through the back of the golf ball, and out the other side.
"Swing at the target ... not to the left. Not out to the right. I tried to blast the club right through the ball down the target. I figured if I could get the face square to the target I've got a pretty good chance of hitting a good shot."
Needless to say, it all worked. He didn't use the modern term for any of these things—clubface angle, club path, and angle of attack—but like all great players, he had an intuitive knack for figuring it out anyway.