Johnny Miller dares to tell the truth as NBC's golf analyst

Phil Jackman

June 14, 1993|By Phil Jackman

The TV Repairman:

They, and please don't ask who "they" are, say that watching golf on television is an acquired art.

A typical reaction to the weekend pastime is that the game is boring. This usually comes from someone watching Joe Orsulak foul off four straight 3-and-2 pitches before grounding out to second base, as happened during the Mets-Phillies game yesterday.

Granted, the afternoon deluge in which the three major networks and the largest cable system, ESPN, carried links action in the late afternoon couldn't come near matching the chaos of Phoenix's three-overtime NBA victory against Chicago, which was to follow, for sustained suspense. But it kept those in charge of the remote control busy.

Head-to-head, NBC, doing the LPGA Championship from Bethesda, had it all over the Buick Classic on CBS, despite the fact the latter wasn't decided until Vijay Singh defeated Mark Wiebe on the third hole of a sudden-death playoff.

Maybe the problem is that CBS has a tourney to cover nearly every week and its lead guys, Pat Summerall and Ken Venturi, just aren't excitable types anyway. They're becoming expert at lulling viewers to sleep with such time-honored lines as Venturi's patented "Hit it" whenever a guy putts.

And, frankly, even the interesting use of the language by commentators Ben Wright and Gary McCord wasn't a match for Johnny Miller's brutally honest analysis on NBC.

Miller, no favorite of his former colleagues on the PGA Tour, simply gives with the straight, unvarnished truth. He points out the mistakes players make, not only in the execution of a shot but in the thinking that precedes it. In fact, he's much more critical of players guilty of mental lapses.

While others may ooh and aah about a birdie putt of 10 feet by LPGA champion Patty Sheehan, Miller is the type whose praise is much more meaningful because he pointed out Patty made a "poor" second shot and only a "mediocre" third shot to reach the green on the par-5 hole. His words of praise are well-earned, thus probably more appreciated.

Another thing, even with straight-laced Jim Lampley new to the host's role on NBC, the Peacockers seem to have much more fun working a tournament than those whisperers at CBS.

In spite of garrison finishes at both live tour events, a visit to ABC for a preview of this week's U.S. Open tournament at Baltusrol (New Jersey) was well worth a visit during the late going.

Jack Nicklaus was there with interesting yarns about a couple of his Open victories at the fabled layout, and the historical perspective provided with the usual grace and style of Jack Whitaker was just right during the 30-minute show.

Whitaker, golf fans will recall, was all but told never to take the tree-lined driveway of Augusta National years ago after describing a Masters Tournament crowd as a "mob," and Jack got a subtle shot back yesterday by describing the Open as being for "everyone, not an invitational for a precious few."

The total running time of the golf, including the Senior PGA tourney on ESPN, exceeded seven hours -- or just about the time it took for the Suns to outlast the Bulls.

Three overtimes suggest it must have been a monumental struggle. It was that, even though the basketball was ragged during the last hour and even though Congress should pass legislation immediately demanding play-by-play announcer Marv Albert not be required to work around two commentators and a like number of sideline reporters.

This cast, it seemed, ended up making more noise than the 19,000 fans in Chicago Stadium with most of it able to be cut down to a dozen or so simple, declarative sentences. That's something Magic Johnson doesn't appear to know much about.

Earlier in the day, ABC took a shot at doing a U.S. Cup soccer match between defending World Cup champion Germany and the United States from Chicago and did an admirable job as the Yanks came within a goal of matching the best.

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