As the U.S. Open begins play this week at Pebble Beach, a prominent member of the NBC broadcasting crew will be former Open Champion Johnny Miller. As an announcer, Miller has the ability to stir the pot. He is not reluctant to criticize players in his on-air reporting, nor is he unwilling to call them out for breaches of decorum. On many occasions he will compare present-day golfers unfavorably to those from prior generations. Reading CHASING GREATNESS: Johnny Miller, Arnold Palmer, and the Miracle at Oakmont, by Adam Lazarus and Steve Schlossman, might serve as a reminder to viewers and critics of Miller that at least he knows of what he speaks.
Miller’s credibility comes from winning two major championships and several other tour events. But his greatest accomplishment --- and some might argue one of golf’s greatest achievements --- was a final round 63 at Oakmont to win the 1973 U.S. Open. Considering that Oakmont has hosted more championships than any course in the country and that in many of those championships the best golfers in the world have difficulty breaking par, an 8-under-par 63 borders on miraculous.
Lazarus and Schlossman place the Miller round in the context of an incredibly talented Open field of golfers. Oakmont was almost the home course of Arnold Palmer, who to this day, at the age of 80, remains perhaps the best-known golfer in the world. In 1962, at Oakmont, Palmer lost the Open in a playoff to Jack Nicklaus. It was the beginning of the Nicklaus era and a bitter defeat for Palmer. There is a classic storyline here with the aging Palmer seeking one more chance for glory and the young rising star standing in his way.
In 1973, there were golf greats from several eras at Oakmont. Jack Nicklaus, Tom Weiskopf, Julius Boros, Gary Player and Lee Trevino all play a part in the story of the ’73 Open. Most interesting is the one-hit wonder John Schlee, a journeyman player who had a great week at Oakmont, but finished second. The authors masterfully portray the quirky Schlee, a golfer whose physical skill could not overcome his mental hang-ups. CHASING GREATNESS is a long and detailed book, but one that true golf fans who remember many of the greats portrayed in its pages will enjoy.
Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on May 4, 2010