1975 Phoenix Open: It’s Miller Time

The story of Johnny Miller’s incredible 14-shot victory in the 1975 Phoenix Open

Johnny Miller won the 1975 Phoenix Open by 14 strokes
Johnny Miller won the 1975 Phoenix Open by 14 strokes Getty Images
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Johnny Miller produced one of the most impressive performances in PGA Tour history to win the 1975 Phoenix Open at Phoenix Country Club by an incredible 14 shots.

The story of Johnny Miller’s incredible 14-shot victory in the 1975 Phoenix Open.

Johnny Miller won eight times on the 1974 PGA Tour and broke Jack Nicklaus’ record for money won in a season, picking up $353,021.

The 27-year-old came into the 1975 Phoenix Open, the first event of a new PGA Tour season, as defending champion with fans and members of the press wondering if he had retained his form over the winter break.

The fact he had won an event in Japan the previous month using two different sets of clubs suggested they would not be disappointed.

They weren’t.

Miller ended up winning in Phoenix by an incredible 14 shots, finishing 72-holes on 24-under-par.

His total of 260 was the second lowest ever on the PGA Tour (only Mike Souchak had bettered that number, back in 1955).

There had been suggestions prior to the 1975 Phoenix Open that Phoenix Country Club had been toughened up for the first event of the new season, but there was no evidence of it when the players arrived.

There was only limited rough to contend with and where there was longer grass, it wasn't overly thick.

That was pretty irrelevant to Miller though who was hitting the ball unerringly straight, particularly with his irons.

In round one, Miller fired a solid four-under-par 67 and, for the only time in the week, he had company on top of the board.

John Mahaffey, now a commentator on the Golf Channel and winner of the 1978 PGA Championship, and Leonard Thompson, three times a winner on both the PGA and Champions Tour, also fired 67s.

But, if Miller’s opposition thought they had a chance to prevent the defending champion winning again, their hopes were quickly extinguished.

On Friday, Miller blistered around Phoenix Country Club in 10-under-par 61.

“Johnny Miller did everything but pick up the clubhouse deed staking claim to Phoenix Country Club,” wrote Frank Gianelli of the Arizona Republic.

That superb round saw Miller reach 14-under for 36 holes and gave him a six-shot lead over Mike Hill.

Hill, who went on to enjoy significant success on the Champions Tour (winning 18 times), carded a 63 on Friday which would have received considerably more attention had Miller not bettered it by two.

Hill remained Miller’s closest challenger through 54 holes but he would fade on Sunday and end the week in fourth place, a staggering 17 strokes behind Miller.

Johnny Miller went on to win the 1976 Open Championship

Johnny Miller went on to win the 1976 Open Championship

Although Miller was making Phoenix Country Club look something of a pushover, the fact the cut came at three-over par would suggest otherwise.

It was simply that Miller was playing golf on another level.

Saturday saw a, relatively, conservative performance from Miller – just a three-under 68.

He said after that round that he had played poorly, which must have been something of a blow to those in the chasing pack, as only five players in the entire field managed to better that number in round three.

Although Miller’s assessment of his third round might have, ostensibly, seemed a touch arrogant, he proved it to be accurate on day four.

Firing a closing 64, Miller tore away from the field and ended up as the winner by a staggering 14 shots.

Speaking to the press after the event, Miller could barely believe what had happened through the week.

“I can’t believe I had it so much under par,” he said. “I don’t know myself if I’m for real.”

Only five men have won by a greater margin on the PGA Tour and only one in the last 70 years – That was Tiger Woods, who won by 15 in the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.

Jerry Heard was runner-up in 1975 Phoenix Open

Jerry Heard was runner-up in 1975 Phoenix Open

Jerry Heard finished a distant second to Miller in Phoenix, having carded a fine 65 in his final round.

Heard had been a good friend of Miller since junior golf and, following the tournament, he was full of praise for the champion.

“He's the greatest golfer in the world, there's no doubt about it,” said Heard. “I never thought. I'd see anyone greater than Nicklaus, but I believe that if Nicklaus Is at his best and Johnny is at his best, Johnny would win now.”

Jerry Heard had shown great promise as a youngster on the PGA Tour, winning four times before his 27th birthday.

But a freak event prevented him from fulfilling his playing potential.

During the Western Open, later in 1975, a thunderstorm rolled over Butler National GC outside Chicago.

Playing with Lee Trevino, Heard sat down by a lake and decided to wait it out under an umbrella.

A bolt of lightning struck the pair and, although Heard was able to play out the tournament when it restarted, the bolt had ruptured a disc in his back.

He didn’t have surgery immediately and it cost him.

By the time he did, the damage was such that he could never fully recover and he gave up playing competitively in the early 1980s.

Back to Miller – the Californian’s red-hot streak continued the following week in Tuscon where he won by nine and earned the moniker, “The Desert Fox.”

He went on to win 12 more times on the PGA Tour, including the 1976 Open Championship but would never again quite reach the incredible level he attained at the start of 1975, a level he later described as “A sort of golfing Nirvana.”

Fergus Bisset
Contributing Editor

Fergus is Golf Monthly's resident expert on the history of the game and has written extensively on that subject. He is a golf obsessive and 1-handicapper. Growing up in the North East of Scotland, golf runs through his veins and his passion for the sport was bolstered during his time at St Andrews university studying history. He went on to earn a post graduate diploma from the London School of Journalism. Fergus has worked for Golf Monthly since 2004 and has written two books on the game; "Great Golf Debates" together with Jezz Ellwood of Golf Monthly and the history section of "The Ultimate Golf Book" together with Neil Tappin , also of Golf Monthly. 

Fergus once shanked a ball from just over Granny Clark's Wynd on the 18th of the Old Course that struck the St Andrews Golf Club and rebounded into the Valley of Sin, from where he saved par. Who says there's no golfing god?