Many consider Johnny Miller’s 63 at Oakmont the greatest round ever played. The then two-time PGA Tour winner came from six shots behind a four-way lead that included local hero Arnold Palmer and, in the process, also raced past the likes of Weiskopf, Trevino, Nicklaus and Player.
Nobody did this at Oakmont, the toughest layout in the United States and particularly not at the Open. But Miller did. He hit every green and recorded the first 63 in Major championship history. And it could have been better – he three-putted the 8th and lipped out at the last two.
There might have been some overnight rain but only three other players in the field managed to break 70. Miller made it all look very easy.
“I’d say that if there was ever a round that I played that felt like somebody helped me from who knows where, up above or whatever, that was the only round that I felt it wasn’t all just me.
“I had tremendous concentration levels that day, and everything just went right. You just don’t play Oakmont like that.
“If you go through the round you will probably realise that that round had some good potential of being in the high 50s or around 60. I did not get a lot out of the round.
“It is not like I was making chip shots and 30-footers and I did miss several putts insides of eight feet. It was just a pretty good putting round; it wasn’t a great putting round. Usually you don’t shoot 63 without a great putting round.
“It was really exciting on 17 and 18. I wanted more strokes because I thought if I got one more under after I birdied 15, it was definitely my championship and I figured if I didn’t birdie any after 15, I probably would still win, but I left the door open a little.
“So the putt I lipped out at 17 and then the violent lip out of 18, I really wanted that putt at 18 really badly, and it wasn’t like I was trying to just cozy it up there.
“They left the sprinklers on all night and it rained all night, which obviously helped. There was also this lady who came up to me on Tuesday and said, ‘You’re going to win the US Open on the 18th green.’ I go, ‘Yeah, hi, how are you doing? Do you want an autograph?’ No. She didn’t want an autograph, just wanted to tell me I was going to win the Open.
“I said, ‘That’s very nice of you to say,’ and didn’t think anything of it. I saw her Wednesday and, OK, that’s nice. I go in and get my tee times right after I see her, and I go in the locker room and I’m paired with Arnold Palmer – the best part of that week was winning at Oakmont playing with Arnold Palmer in 1973 in Pittsburgh.
“For me to get through the gauntlet of Arnold Palmer and his fans, to shoot 69-71, to be able to do that with his fans was almost to me, as much pressure as anything that happened all week. Maybe that prepared me for Sunday.
“The lady after each round said ‘You’re right on track, don’t worry about it.’ On Saturday I forgot my yardage card and the USGA in those days said, you can’t bring your regular caddy to the Opens. I don’t know who came up with that theory.
“My caddy was a nice guy, ‘Sweet Lou’ I called him, a local guy, and of course there were no lasered or measured yardages, just a guy’s walk. Of course I didn’t ask this guy for yardage, because I did all of my own yardages, but I forgot my book.
“I told my wife on the 1st tee that I didn’t have it, I just went crazy, because my iron game was very precise. If there’s any greens in the world that one or two yards can make the difference it’s these.
“In those days, there were no sprinkler heads, there was nothing. So I got immediately so nervous and a shot of adrenaline and was five over after seven. My wife got me the yardage card up on the 10th tee and I settled in pretty good and finished five over.
“I was looking for the lady, you’re wrong, I was going to tell her. I’ve blown myself out of this thing. “On the Sunday I did get a letter in my locker, no return address, just says, ‘You are going to win the US Open.’ From Iowa. I said, well, you’re wrong, too, pal.
“I did have a clear voice come into my head, open your stance way up as I warmed up. That clear voice said, ‘Open it up.’ I thought, well I don’t know if I really want to try this. I birdied the first four holes. I was trying to attack the whole way.
“I think that is the reason why the round went so well. From the 8th when I had three-putted, I was in a definite attack mode. There was no lay-up; there was no trying to be cozy. I was out there for one reason, one reason only; that was to win the Open.
“After I birdied the first four, I went through about a four-hole choke session inside because I knew I was six back and four under after four and I did the old arithmetic that you guys do when you have a chance to shoot your personal best and couldn’t choke quick enough.
“The three putt actually got me angry at 8 because I hit a great 4-wood as hard as I could hit it right under the hole straight up to a putt; didn’t even have a break and left about two-and-a-half feet short and missed it.
“I think there should be a plaque on the 300-yard tee at the 8th that says: ‘In 1927, one guy reached the green on this 255-yard par 3.’
“That might put it in perspective. Can you imagine playing that hole with wasn’t any better than Tom Weiskopf’s or Nicklaus’ 63 at Baltusrol, but theirs was in the first round where all of the Opens in the record have been set, and mine was in the last round to win by one and overtake five Hall of Fame players.
“It’s one thing to do it on the first day. It’s another thing to do it on the last day. Not trying to pat myself on the back. I’m trying to be what I think is accurate as I can, and it was just, tee to green, it was under pressure, the best round I’ve seen. And I’ve seen quite a few rounds.
“I was a young guy with Lanny Watkins. We were the five young thunderbirds for Ford Motor Company, and they were pushing that with the next stars. That last round pushed me to the forefront and I pretty much took the ball and ran with it. After that Open, I won a lot of tournaments in the next couple of years. That was the catalyst, that was what opened the floodgates.
“They all say the greens were holding, but what they don’t say is the greens were playing nine miles that day. I was hitting 3-irons, 4-irons, 5-irons. You were getting 10 yards of roll. That to me makes it better ball-striking. If you hit it in the rough, you’re screwed because hitting in the rough is like hitting in a can of water.”