Miller: Not all 63's are created equal

By Ryan LavnerJune 17, 2017, 11:48 pm

ERIN, Wis. – In a cruel twist, Johnny Miller was on-site at Erin Hills on Saturday afternoon as one of the most talked-about rounds in golf history was replaced in the record books.

Forty-four years to the day after Miller’s famed round at Oakmont, Justin Thomas sank an 8-foot eagle on the final hole to fire a 9-under 63 and post the lowest score in relation to par in U.S. Open history.

Miller’s 8-under 63 in the 1973 Open endures as one of the greatest feats in the sport, in large part because of the difficulty of the course (Oakmont), the magnitude of the moment (final round), the field average (only three other players broke 70) and the stars he overcame to win by one (Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino, Tom Weiskopf).

And so forgive Johnny for not being ready to cede the spotlight just yet.

“Taking nothing away from 9 under par – 9 under is incredible with U.S. Open pressure,” Miller told GolfChannel.com by phone. “But it isn’t a U.S. Open course that I’m familiar with the way it was set up.”


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The U.S. Open has long been defined by its length and narrow fairways, by hack-out rough and concrete, lightning-fast greens. At more than 7,800 yards, first-time host Erin Hills might be the longest course in tournament history, but it also features 50-yard-wide fairways that have played even wider after two rainstorms earlier this week.

Watching the action Saturday – he was on hand for a sponsor outing – Miller said the U.S. Open, with the leader at 12 under and a record 42 players under par, was unrecognizable.

“It looks like a PGA Tour event course setup,” he said. “I’m not sure where the days of the 24- to 29-yard-wide fairways that we played every time went. It’s interesting to see where the USGA has gone with the U.S. Open, being a little more friendly than in years’ past.”

Whenever he’s been asked about Tiger Woods’ quest for 19 majors, Jack Nicklaus always said that no one wants to see their records broken. That’s human nature.

But Miller seemed unconcerned about his place in golf history, confident that his famed round at Oakmont would stand the test of time, even if his mark was eventually toppled.

“For one, the greatness of my round is the 63 in the last round of the U.S. Open to win by one,” he said. “Everything else is way secondary. If somebody does it tomorrow to win the U.S. Open by one, that’s the specialness of my round. And secondly, Erin Hills isn’t exactly Oakmont.”

Miller called the conditions here the “perfect storm for a good score.” The sprawling, linksy design was the first par-72 Open course since 1992. The widest fairways in tournament history gave big hitters the freedom to bash away with driver. And the rain-softened greens allowed players to go pin-seeking with their iron shots and, in Thomas’ case, even with 3-woods.

“The course wasn’t designed to be soft, and if it was going to be soft, it should have been 26- or 27-yard-wide fairways,” Miller said. “That’s what made it easy. The guys weren’t afraid to bomb it.

“It was never that way in the U.S. Open. It was always about really tight fairways and having to be a great driver. This went totally against the tradition of the U.S. Open.”

Even Thomas, who is at 11-under 205, one shot back, conceded that the usual uncomfortableness of the U.S. Open has been lacking this week.

“It’s what the USGA and U.S. Open is known for is making you hate yourself and hate golf and just really struggle out there,” he said. “But it’s different being like this. Just being in a U.S. Open and seeing and hearing so many birdies. Usually those roars are for pars, but it’s fun.”

Thomas, of course, was focused less on Miller and more on trying to shoot 62, the barrier that still has never been broken in major championship golf. After going out in 31 – highlighted by his mini-golf, 90-degree birdie on No. 5 – Thomas set his sights on history when he blasted a 3-wood to 6 feet on the drivable 15th. He missed the short eagle putt, but he tacked on a 25-footer for birdie on 17.

Needing an eagle on the last to knock Miller off his perch, Thomas had 299 yards to the flag. He smoked a high cut that landed on the front edge and rolled out to 8 feet.

“I knew he could get it there,” said Jonathan Randolph, who was paired with Thomas on Saturday. “But I didn’t know he could hit it that high and that soft.”

Thomas raised his putter and walked in the eagle putt to break the record.

“A 63 for a par 72 is a heck of a score,” Miller said, “even if it was the Milwaukee Open.”

In the media tent afterward, Thomas was asked what he would say to Miller the next time he saw him.

“I don’t know, but I’ll be pretty happy,” Thomas said. “I wish he was calling it just to hear what he would have said.”

Considering Johnny’s candor, perhaps it was best he was not.

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Furyk: Not worried about ' overconfidence, complacency'

By Rex HoggardSeptember 26, 2018, 12:44 pm

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – After seeing the course for the first time this week on Tuesday, the U.S. Ryder Cup team convened for a dinner.

Although the team wasn’t giving away any secrets, according to captain Jim Furyk the goal was to allow players to share ideas on the course, potential pairings and to further solidify this week’s game plan.

“We sat down and had a great conversation with the players last night. The players spoke a lot,” Furyk said following his team’s morning practice. “There's not a worry on my end of any overconfidence, complacency. No one is putting the cart before the horse here.”


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Specifically, vice captain Davis Love III said he reminded the team of a speech Michael Jordan gave at the 2012 matches.

“We started a little bit last night talking about the ultimate goal. Michael Jordan said if you think about the goal of winning the championship you’re not going to be able to play. You’re going to be too nervous,” Love said. “You break it down goal by goal.

The U.S. team only played nine holes on Wednesday at Le Golf National, the back nine, and will likely play the front nine during Thursday’s practice before the matches begin. Although Furyk has said the key to this week is getting the U.S. team to understand the course, he’s also aware of the need for rest following a grueling stretch of playoff golf for most of his squad.

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Underdogs? Label doesn't concern Bjorn

By Will GraySeptember 26, 2018, 12:37 pm

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – As the opening-day sessions draw near, European captain Thomas Bjorn is keeping his plans close to the vest. But he’s not getting bogged down in the notion that his squad might be the underdog this week at Le Golf National.

Jim Furyk’s American squad is one of the strongest on paper in Ryder Cup history, with only Phil Mickelson lower than 17th in the latest world rankings. It’s led Las Vegas oddsmakers to install the Americans as slight favorites in the biennial matches despite the fact that the Europeans haven’t lost at home since 1993.

Bjorn didn’t make any changes to his three practice foursomes one day to the next, lending some potential clarity to who will be paired with whom once the competition begins in earnest. And while he’s not shying away from the notion that his team might lack the firepower of the Americans, he’s not going to make it a significant focus in the team room, either.


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“My job is to create a process for those 12 players to go out and perform their best. Are we underdogs? Probably on paper we are,” Bjorn said. “But we still believe that we can win. We still believe that we can go out and do a job on the golf course, and we concentrate on us.”

Bjorn remained coy when asked if he plans to ensure all 12 players see the course for at least one match Friday, although he reiterated that a plan is in place and “everyone knows where they are going.”

But with strength on both sides, Bjorn did open up about his expectation that this week’s matches could take an already historic competition to another level.

“These teams are the two best teams, world ranking-wise, that have been across from each other in this event,” Bjorn said. “It’s all lined up to be something special, so it’s for those 24 players to go out and show that.”

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It's been a while: Happy 25th anniversary, America!

By Rex HoggardSeptember 26, 2018, 12:20 pm

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – The last time the U.S. team won a Ryder Cup in Europe, Bryson DeChambeau was a week old, Jordan Spieth 2 months old, and Justin Thomas 5 months old.

Nearly a third of this week’s U.S. team was diapers when the Tom Watson-led Americans pulled off a 15-13 victory in 1993 at The Belfry.

Davis Love III, a two-time captain who is serving as an assistant this week, was playing in his first Ryder Cup in ’93 and secured the winning point, beating Costantino Rocca, 1 up, in his Sunday singles match.

Now 25 years removed from that victory, Love concedes it would have been unthinkable that 25 years later, the ’93 match would be the U.S. side’s last road victory.

“It’s surprising, 25 years,” Love sighed on Wednesday as the U.S. team went through its paces at Le Golf National.

It hasn’t been a complete bust for Team USA on the road since ’93; there have been close calls. The Americans dropped a one-point decision in 1997 in Spain and lost by the same margin in 2010 at Celtic Manor. But everything in between has been utterly forgettable. There was a three-point decision in 2002 at The Belfry and that nine-point boat race in 2006 in Ireland. Most recently, the Continent rolled 16 ½-11 ½ in 2014 in Scotland.

“It's not anything I need to mention in the team room. There's not like a big ‘25’ sitting in there anywhere. They are well aware of it, and they are well aware of how difficult it is to win in Europe. That's the battle we fight this week,” said U.S. captain Jim Furyk, who was playing Q-School in ’93 when Love and Co. were winning at The Belfry.

There is no shortage of reasons for America’s European failures, nor is there some sort of secret sauce for reversing U.S. fortunes.

“I'll praise both the European Tour and the way they choose golf courses, venues where they have European Tour events,” Furyk said. “We're coming into a golf course that they know a lot better than we do, that will be set up in a fashion that they think suits their game. Those are obstacles we have to overcome.”


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Le Golf National annually hosts the French Open, and the setup this week has a distinctly European flare, with narrow fairways ringed by thick rough - mowed toward the tee box, no less - and relatively slower greens than what the Americans are used to on the PGA Tour.

Then there’s the crowd, a group that has proven itself formidable even when they travel to a U.S.. This week’s scene promises to be particularly intense from the outset, with the massive grandstand behind the first tee poised to hold more than 6,000 fans.

“They make a lot of noise,” Furyk said. “When we walk into that first tee, and they announce both teams, they are going to say, ‘And from the United States,’ announce two guys, and there's going to be a nice applause. And when they announce the two folks from Europe, there's going to be a giant roar and those players are going to feel that presence, and you're going to hear those roars around the golf course.”

And finally there will be pressure. We’re talking pressure the likes of which many have never experienced. Some would compare it to the intensity of being in contention during the final round at a major, but that really doesn’t do it justice.

The American contingent always wants to win for team and country, but this year’s matches bring in the added load of breaking a 25-year slide. The U.S. team will say the right things, dismiss the notion that somehow this Ryder Cup is more important than all others, but simmering under that calm exterior is the nagging truth.

“Phil [Mickelson] started in ’16 on the 18th green; he started talking about winning this Ryder Cup,” Love said. “We hadn’t even finished. He took someone off to the side of the green and said, ‘Look, in Paris it’s going to be a different ballgame. It’s an away game. We’re going to have to be on our game.’”

Ryder Cup captains always wear a variety of hats, but this week the U.S. leaders have taken on the role of arm-chair sports psychologists. It’s simple stuff really: Focus on your job and not the outcome; ignore the noise; win your point.

In an attempt to change his team room's mindset, Love is trying out a new narrative, that it’s been four years since a U.S. team Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup team has lost.

“They have to hear that. We have won three in a row. Don’t worry about the last 25 years,” Love said.

For three days, the U.S. team has been busy trying to learn as much as they can about Le Golf National. You know the deal, luck favors the prepared. This match and America’s 25-year losing streak, however, may depend on what they’re able to forget.

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Tiger Tracker: 42nd Ryder Cup

By Tiger TrackerSeptember 26, 2018, 11:15 am

Fresh off his 80th PGA Tour victory at the Tour Championship, Tiger Woods is competing in his first Ryder Cup since 2012. We're tracking him.