- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 26, 2004

When Johnny Miller shifts his weight from booth to book, most of his brilliance is lost in translation.

Few people on the planet would seem better qualified to write a golf book than Miller. From his 25-year playing career, which reached its zenith in golf’s golden decade of the 1970s, to his 15 years with NBC as the game’s most candid and insightful commentator, Miller has played and witnessed more outstanding golf than perhaps any other man in history.

Factoring in his quick mind, keen judgment and polished communication skills, you would expect “I Call the Shots” ($26, Gotham Books, 266 pages) — his long-overdue printed take on the game — to be jammed with insider anecdotes, pithy observations and compelling opinions.

Let’s just say he needs to keep working on his stroke with the pen.

This is not to say this is a bad golf book, not given the volumes of mindless drivel that have inundated bookstores since the game’s Tiger-driven surge in popularity over the last few years. Merely that given Miller’s credentials, his book could have and should have been far better.

Let’s start with the “should have” portion of the book’s failings. Though Miller is only partially responsible on this account, the book received a real double bogey of an edit. Not only was this initial printing rife with minor errors like a slew of omitted articles, but the ardent golf fan will find a handful of more glaring factual errors that make Miller look anything but an expert source.

In reference to the 1997 Masters, Miller remarks, “Remember, Tiger [Woods] shot 39 on the first nine holes of the opening round.” Woods, of course, opened quite famously with a front-nine 40 before playing the final 63 holes at Augusta National 22 under.

Later in the book Miller shanks the year when referring to Greg Norman’s “final-round collapse at the 1997 Masters [it was 1996].” And at one point, he doubles his derogation of defending PGA Champion Shaun Micheel by changing his name to “Sean.” While these errors seem minor, they are essentially the same form of sloppy execution for which Miller has verbally skewered PGA Tour players for years.

But the book’s deeper failings concern its content. There’s simply too much pontificating and too little storytelling. It’s great to hear Miller’s opinions on Tiger vs. Jack, Annika at Colonial, today’s players vs. yesteryear’s and the like. But for a guy who has spent years in locker rooms, shot 63 in the final round of a U.S. Open and must know the back-room skinny on just about every player since 1970, there are precious few memorable anecdotes.

A perfect example comes when he is reviewing Tiger’s top challengers in chapter 5 (Contenders or Pretenders?). As he finishes up his summary of the super-slumping David Duval, he reveals that Duval called him at the end of last season to ask for his advice. Instead of sharing the specifics of what was surely an intriguing conversation (i.e. delivering the goods for which the book was purchased), he says, “I’ll keep most of what I said private, but I did suggest that he go back to basics.” Not only do we not get the goods, we get a cliche.

Now, there are some very interesting chapters in the book. Miller’s breakdown of his top-10 courses is the least-filtered, best-written chapter in the book. His insights and vignettes on players of his era, particularly Jack Nicklaus (who did the forward), border on superb. And many of his ideas and opinions, from criticism that too many players (the top 125 on the money list) keep their cards to several virtual clinics on swing theory, are engaging and enlightening.

Unfortunately, however, he has trouble staying out of his own way as a writer, preferring to tell the reader how things are instead of simply showing him why. Perhaps his extraordinary self-assurance, the same quality that made him a playing prodigy and makes him an excellent broadcaster, is his greatest handicap as a writer.

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