Johnny Miller can’t wait to get back in the broadcast booth for a major championship where he won with a great closing round.
Only he will be at Royal Birkdale, not Oakmont.
Miller said Monday he was thrilled the R&A selected NBC Sports Group as its U.S. television partner for the British Open starting in 2017. NBC agreed to a 12-year deal, getting back to the majors and giving Golf Channel its first live coverage of a men’s major on the weekday rounds.
NBC last year ended 20 years covering the U.S. Open when a 12-year deal was awarded to Fox Sports for about $1 billion.
For the NBC deal to start in 2017 at Royal Birkdale is ideal for Miller, who won the claret jug in 1976 at Birkdale by closing with a 66 to beat 19-year-old Seve Ballesteros and Jack Nicklaus.
“It’s sort of a dream come true to cover Birkdale and the Open,” Miller said during a break from a corporate outing. “Obviously, it’s not great that we lost the U.S. Open to Fox. This makes up for that. In some ways it’s even better. It’s another era. To get to do an Open at Birkdale is kind of a bucket list.”
The deal with NBC includes coverage across all media of the British Open, the Senior British Open, the British Amateur and the Walker Cup when it is played in Britain or Ireland. Coverage would be on NBC and Golf Channel in English, and NBC Universo in Spanish.
Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Golf Channel celebrated its 20-year anniversary in January, and president Mike McCarley said co-founder Arnold Palmer was “like a new man” when he shared the news.
No American has done more for golf’s oldest championship than Palmer. At a time when American players found it not worth the time or expense, Palmer entered in 1960 at St. Andrews and first discussed the notion of a modern Grand Slam — the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship.
He was runner-up to Kel Nagle, then won in 1961 at Royal Birkdale and in 1962 at Royal Troon.
“You have the big-event nature of NBC Sports and the 24-7 dedication of the game from Golf Channel,” McCarley said. “Viewers can follow stories and get deeper into them, into the history of the championship or the venue.”
Alastair Johnston of IMG, who handled the negotiations for the R&A, said NBC, CBS, Fox and ESPN made presentations in New York.
“The process became a lot more about relationships,” he said. “At the end of the day, these became essentially the PR machine for The Open Championship in this country.”
Miller, 68, said last fall he wanted to work at least through 2017 and possibly another year. He said he ran into R&A chief Peter Dawson three times at various spots in April, and while they didn’t talk about the TV rights and he didn’t think he had any influence, “he could tell my enthusiasm was right up there.”
“The flavor and history … there’s something about the British that you feel like you’re seeing an old-time movie,” Miller said. “You’re seeing history being made. I loved playing the British. I could have won three of them. It’s the world championship. In the U.S., we think the sun rises in New York and sets in California. The British is the world’s championship.
“I love the U.S. Open. I was groomed to win the U.S. Open by playing Pebble Beach and Olympic,” he said. “But if you asked me the next two things I’d like to have done, it would be the Masters and the British.”
Miller is renowned for frequent mentions of the 63 he shot in the final round at Oakmont in 1973 to win the U.S. Open. He was the first player to shoot 63 in a major. Does this mean viewers should prepare to hear about his 66 at Royal Birkdale? Maybe not.
“I won both my majors with a great last round,” Miller said. “But I don’t put the 66 up there with a 63.”
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