1973: Fact and Fiction in the U.S. Open's Most Famous Final Round
By Ron Driscoll, USGA
This story on Johnny Miller’s final-round 63 in the 1973 U.S. Open is the 13th story in a series chronicling the 15 previous USGA championships at Oakmont Country Club, which will host its record ninth U.S. Open on June 16-19.
Johnny Miller’s final-round 63 in the 1973 U.S. Open at Oakmont is the stuff of legend. He was the first player to shoot that score in a men’s major championship, and although two dozen players have matched it, no one has bettered the score, and no one else has posted a final-round 63 to win.
Why is Miller’s round renowned? He won at Oakmont, generally acknowledged to be the nation’s toughest championship test, and the players he leapfrogged on the way to a one-stroke victory over John Schlee included names such as Palmer, Nicklaus, Player, Trevino, Weiskopf and Boros.
With thanks to Steve Schlossman, a history professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and co-author of “Chasing Greatness: Johnny Miller, Arnold Palmer, and the Miracle at Oakmont,” here are several common myths and little-known facts related to the only final-round 63 to win a major:
Myth: Oakmont was wet: Most recollections of that magical Sunday include a rainstorm the night before, but play had been delayed by a storm that occurred early on Saturday morning. By early Saturday afternoon, the course was no longer rain-soaked. “The notion of waterlogged greens is ridiculous,” said Schlossman.
Myth: A sprinkler malfunction softened the greens: After years of digging, Schlossman unearthed the facts: the course had become saturated by an irrigation mishap, but it happened before Friday’s second round. The scoring average on Friday was 1.4 strokes lower than in Thursday’s opening round and Gene Borek, a club pro, shot an Oakmont-record 65 that day.
Myth: Miller played poorly on Saturday because he forgot his yardage book: Miller shot 76 in Round 3, having left his yardage book in his hotel room. However, his wife delivered it after nine holes, and he actually played worse on the inward nine with the yardage book (3-over 38). He lessened the damage on Saturday and likely saved his title hopes when, after a double bogey on No. 6 left him at 5 over for the day, Miller saved par on No. 7 from 20 feet, then birdied No. 8 and eagled the par-5 ninth.
Myth: Scoring was low on Sunday: The field averaged 73.8 strokes on Sunday, nearly three strokes over par. Only three other players broke 70: Lanny Wadkins (65), Jack Nicklaus (68) and Ralph Johnston (68). There were 11 rounds of par 71 or better on Sunday, 15 in Saturday’s third round.
Myth: Miller felt no pressure: Miller started the day in a tie for 13th, six strokes behind the leaders (Arnold Palmer, Julius Boros, Jerry Heard and John Schlee – one of only two times that many players were tied for the 54-hole lead, including 2015). Miller birdied his first four holes to move to 1 under, two strokes off the lead. Miller knew then that he had a chance to win, and he chastised himself for playing tentatively after he three-putted No. 8 for a bogey.
Myth: Miller was the only one to “go low”: Lanny Wadkins stood on the 18th tee at 7 under for the day, and a birdie would have beaten Miller’s 63 to the clubhouse. But Wadkins’ foot slipped on his tee shot and he made bogey from a fairway bunker to shoot 65 and tie for seventh, four strokes back.
|Hole||Yards||Par||Club Selection||Score||Result||To Par|
|1||469||4||Driver, 3-iron to 5 feet||3||Birdie||-1|
|2||343||4||Driver, 9-iron to 1 foot||3||Birdie||-2|
|3||425||4||Driver, 5-iron to 25 feet||3||Birdie||-3|
|4||549||5||Driver, 3-wood, bunker shot to 6 inches||4||Birdie||-4|
|5||379||4||Driver, 6-iron to 25 feet, 2 putts||4||Par||-4|
|6||195||3||3-iron to 25 feet, 2 putts||3||Par||-4|
|7||395||4||Driver, 9-iron to 6 feet, 2 putts||4||Par||-4|
|8||244||3||4-wood to 30 feet, 3 putts||4||Bogey||-3|
|9||480||5||Driver, 2-iron to 40 feet, 2 putts||4||Birdie||-4|
|10||462||4||Driver, 5-iron to 25 feet, 2 putts||4||Par||-4|
|11||371||4||Driver, wedge to 14 feet||3||Birdie||-5|
|12||603||5||Driver, 7-iron, 4-iron to 15 feet||4||Birdie||-6|
|13||185||3||4-iron to 5 feet||2||Birdie||-7|
|14||360||4||Driver, wedge to 12 feet, 2 putts||4||Par||-7|
|15||453||4||Driver, 4-iron to 10 feet||3||Birdie||-8|
|16||230||3||2-iron to 45 feet, 2 putts||3||Par||-8|
|17||322||4||1-iron, wedge to 10 feet, 2 putts||4||Par||-8|
|18||456||4||Driver, 5-iron to 20 feet, 2 putts||4||Par||-8|
Myth: Miller heard a voice: In a 2007 interview, Miller recalled that, with only a few balls left on the practice tee before Sunday’s final round, a mysterious internal “voice” – never heard from before or since – twice told him to open his stance. In his post-round interview in 1973, Miller simply said he decided to make the change after recalling how well he had played earlier in the year employing that setup.
Fact: His putting in the first two rounds buoyed Miller: Miller played with hometown hero Palmer the first two days, and he bettered Palmer by two strokes with 71-69 despite Palmer vastly outplaying him from tee to green. Palmer noted afterward that Miller’s putting in those two rounds was the best he had ever seen at Oakmont.
Fact: Miller lapped the field on Nos. 11-15: Miller truly seized control of the championship by making four birdies in a five-hole stretch on the inward nine. None of the other players in contention played those five holes in better than even par. Miller left his downhill, 12-foot birdie try on No. 14 one inch short of the hole, his lone par in that stretch.
Fact: Miller shocked Palmer: When Palmer missed a 4-foot birdie putt on No. 11, he was 4 under for the championship, and not having seen a recent leader board, thought he owned a one-stroke lead. When he was informed that Miller was 5 under and playing No. 18, he was stunned. Palmer proceeded to make three consecutive bogeys and finished in a tie for fourth.
Fact: The 4-iron was key to his final three birdies: Miller missed the fairway on the par-5 12th, one of only two fairways he missed on Sunday. His 7-iron from the rough left him a 4-iron into the green. He knocked that shot to 15 feet and made the putt. He hit a 4-iron to 5 feet on the par-3 13th, and to 10 feet on the par-4 15th to set up his final two birdies.
Fact: Miller hit every green, and nearly shot 62 – or better: Miller three-putted for his only bogey, and made nine birdies, one of which was a two-putt on the par-5 ninth. His average length of putt for birdie was less than 9 feet. Besides the birdie try that he left an inch short on No. 14, Miller missed a 10-footer for birdie on No. 17 and his 20-footer for birdie lipped out on No. 18 as he “settled” for 63.
Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.