Johnny Miller was not afraid to take a flamethrower to a field. And though his commentary could be brutal, it was often true. But—despite what his reputation conveyed—Miller was admittedly not infallible. With one error sticking out above the rest.
In a retrospective interview with the Golf Channel on Tuesday night coinciding with his retirement notice, Miller recalled that miss, which came at the 1999 Ryder Cup. During the Saturday fourball session, Justin Leonard and Hal Sutton were losing their match to Miguel Angel Jimenez and Jose Maria Olazábal. Leonard had lost his morning battle, promoting Miller to exclaim, “My hunch is that Justin needs to go home and watch it on television."
Unnecessarily harsh in the moment, yes, especially when Sutton and Leonard were able to halve the match.
"I think that I didn't say the right words about Leonard at Miracle at Brookline about he should be home watching it on TV," Miller said. "I meant really—I did say he should be home, but I meant the motel room. Even then I probably shouldn't have said that.
"I want so much for the outcome that I'm hoping for that I actually get overwhelmed with what I want to see. Almost the kind of things you would say to your buddies if you were watching it on TV, you know? He just couldn't win a match."
But the remark became infamous after Leonard drained the cup-winning putt on Brookline's 17th green. For the record, Leonard lost just one of his four matches that week.
"Of course he ended up, after the crappy comment I made that motivated maybe the team supposedly in the locker room, and he ends up making that 45, 50-foot putt to seal the deal," Miller said. "Almost like a Hollywood movie or something.
"I apologized to him literally the next day; I happened to see him. I tried to make a policy when I go over the line that I get ahold of the guy within 24 hours and tell him I made a double bogey, you know. That's just the way I have done it through the years."
It's worth noting Leonard's version is a bit different, with the '97 Open champ claiming Miller's apology came weeks later. Still, that Miller was not afraid to back up his bark was an indelible, and unique, characteristic, and one the game will miss.