Johnny Miller was back in his city a few days ago, back in San Francisco, where he grew up and learned the type of golf that would carry him to two major championships and a place with NBC as the game’s most candid television commentator.
Miller played Olympic Club while he was here, as he did while a junior member nearly a half-century ago, and as he did in the 1966 U.S. Open at age 19. He gained another perspective of what the old O.C. will be like when the U.S. Open returns in 2012.
For Miller, these are heady days. He has become a minority owner of Silverado Country Club in Napa, where the North Course, which he personally remodeled, will have a grand reopening Friday — Miller’s 64th birthday.
Silverado, which he first played in 1969 as an amateur and where he twice won the tournament called the Kaiser International, is now his course.
Artistically, since he created the revisions, and financially, if in a lesser capacity, since with Roger Kent and Tim Wall, he is part of Silverado Resort Investment Group LLC.
“This was rare,” said Miller of his involvement. “It’s an iconic place.”
It’s a place where Miller lived for years, just off the 11th green of the North Course. A place where Jack Nicklaus won in 1969, beating Billy Casper, George Archer and Don January in a playoff. A place in 1971, where having earned his degree from Stanford, Tom Watson made his first start as a pro.
Miller has designed or modified other courses in Northern California, but none had him so emotionally involved. He knew the history — the main building was the 19th century home of another John Miller, a union general in the Civil War — and the opportunity.
“What I did,” said the 21st century John Miller, “was to angle many of the holes, shift the tees, push out the bunkers. There’s white sand now. We lengthened to more than 7,200 yards. You could play the Open there.”
Miller did play the Open more than a dozen times. He won in 1973 at Oakmont, one of his 25 victories on the PGA Tour. As he has pointed out, the total could have been larger, but John was not a driven man — in golf. His sort of driving often involved a Porsche. Or he would skip a tournament and take his boys fishing.
Recently at Olympic Club, he shot 32 on the back nine. “Pretty good for an old guy,” he mused. Pretty good for any guy of any age.
But he loves the course. In that ’66 Open, still an amateur — and here’s a bit of trivia; the first two rounds, he played with a virtual unknown named Lee Trevino — Miller finished eighth.
“When I went on tour after playing Olympic when I was young,” Miller said, “a lot of those courses didn’t seem very hard.”
He could play. So could his contemporaries.
“Sometimes I wish I was 28 years old again and could play even five tournaments,” Miller offered. “These young guys now think they’re better athletes than we were. It would be fun to get with Trevino, [Tom] Weiskopf and Nicklaus and show the golfers today what we could do.”
They’ll just have to take his words for it.
Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.realclearsports.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.