So, Johnny Miller was back in the booth this week ruffling more feathers than the Maui trade wind.
If reports from various news outlets, including the Huffington Post, are accurate, Miller once again stirred the pot of controversy, this time ticking off the ever-excitable Ian Poulter.
Steve Eubanks is a former PGA professional, author, columnist and contributing editor at PGA.com. He shares his thoughts here each week.
During one of the many attempts to get the first round underway, Miller referred to Poulter as “dramatic” on a couple of occasions when Poulter backed off a putt and tried to hit a tee shot in hurricane-force winds.
Poulter took exception to the charge and called Miller out on Twitter. Then, rather sardonically, the Englishman tried to backpedal with a stream of “HAHAHAHA’s” as if the whole thing were an uproarious misunderstanding, something straight out of “Blackadder.”
Underpinning the spat, which wouldn’t have been newsworthy at all were it not for the lack of golf played on Maui until Monday, is one of the oldest feuds in the professional game, a running battle between the men who play professional golf and the men who talk about it: or in this case, one talking head in particular.
Poulter wouldn’t have been angry if Nick Faldo had teased him about being dramatic. This is, after all, a man who wears Union Jack pants and dyes his spiked hair blue. Drama is as much a part of his DNA as sinking 12-footers at the Ryder Cup.
What Poulter was reacting to was Johnny Miller, who has been tweaking players for so long that he no longer gets the benefit of the doubt.
He is the announcer the players love to hate. And in a game where memories last longer than most scoring records, even innocuous statements by Miller these days are greeted with a level of vitriol that often exceeds their stand-alone value.
He is no longer a “love him or hate him,” broadcaster. Lines are clearly drawn: Fans love him, players hate him.
It has been going on since Johnny first sat behind a microphone, but the first public shots in the feud came in 1999 after his comments about Justin Leonard at the Ryder Cup. When Leonard struggled in his first couple of matches, Miller said he should have sat on the couch as the hotel and watched the matches on television.
At the time Jim Furyk said, “What he said about Justin was wrong. That kind of stuff upsets me. That’s no room for that. The flip side is he’s very popular with the viewers. People love hearing stuff like that, but people love going to NASCAR to watch wrecks, too. I don’t know what that says about us.”
Davis Love, who would catch a few zingers of his own from Miller when he captained a Ryder Cup 13 years later, said after the Leonard kerfuffle, “If he continues talking about us like that, I’m going to have to talk to Tommy Roy, his producer, and say ‘Tom, I’m not talking to you guys anymore if you’re going to treat us like that.’
“What really made me mad was that Johnny said, after all that, that he represents the game,” Love continued. “Johnny Miller does not represent the game. I have not heard one person say anything but bad things about the way he does his job. The guys on tour don’t like the way he does it. If he can say he doesn’t like the way we play, we can say we don’t like the way he analyzes.”
Almost 14 years later, the acrimony continues.
Between that time and the present, Johnny made fun of Rocco Mediate’s name, saying “Guys with the name of Rocco don’t get the trophy, do they?” He was downright mean to Tim Clark as Clark was winning the Players Championship, saying things like “There’s a reason Mr. Clark has finished second eight times,” and calling it “unbelievable” when Clark found the final fairway with a driver. And he called Captain Tom Lehman’s Ryder Cup team (prior to the Matches), “probably on paper the worst Ryder Cup team we’ve ever fielded.”
Off camera he’s not much gentler. Bring up any subject – fishing, cars, boats, skiing, or the migratory patterns of the Finnish Cormorant – and Johnny knows more than you. If you don’t believe it, just ask him.
But the feud is fizzling, not because Johnny has softened his opinions, but because most players view him as a caricature. To the players, he is Ron Burgundy, so unaware of his own beclowning that his quips about one of them hitting “a really bad shot” or “not being very smart,” have become more of a reflection of the analyst than the subject.
That is why Poulter was so quick to throw the “Ha Ha’s” out after this latest dustup. He understands what most players have come to realize: Johnny is no longer worth the effort it takes to get upset at him. All you can do now is laugh.