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MarketInsight | Life lessons from a golf pro

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Golf legend Johnny Miller came to speak to a group of investment advisors at TPC Sawgrass the other day. I was one of several local journalists in the crowd. We were supposed to get to play the Stadium course for free, but it rained. For free! It was still very worth it. Johnny Miller was great. He exceeded expectations.

Johnny Miller had an 18-year professional golf career. He won two Majors and 35 professional tournaments. In 1974, he won eight times. He is best known for coming from six strokes back to win the U.S. Open at Oakmont over Arnold Palmer and a host of other legends. Palmer lived fewer than five miles from the course. Miller’s Sunday round of 63 is still the record low for the last round.

Nothing he did the rest of his career could ever match the public’s orgiastic response to that one incredible Sunday, when the fair-haired unknown with the California good looks came from out of nowhere to beat Arnie in his own backyard.

Miller became an instant favorite with advertisers and he took some flack. In the late ‘70s, when his career floundered a bit, a major magazine ran his picture with the caption “The Marketing of a Loser.” It was a reference to the outsized endorsements. Miller is stoic about that time.

“It’s not so much what you accomplish in life,” he told us, “but what you overcome that proves what you are.”

Miller talked about the importance of family. You cannot help but admire his decision to miss tournaments to spend time with his kids.

“No amount of success outside the home can account for failure in the home,” he said.

While talking about family, he gave out a piece of advice that was priceless. He was reminiscing about how his six kids would get so excited when he came home and jump all over him. He discovered that he needed to match their energy.

“To be successful in any human engagement,” he told an enamored crowd, “you need to take a moment to match or exceed their energy level before engaging.”

Johnny went on to have a successful broadcasting career, even more successful than a playing career that was certainly “better than most.” As he talked about the game, it was easy to see why. He is an unabashed student of the golf swing who does “more homework than any other announcer.” Miller spent a lot of time talking about the different ways to finish the swing. Impact is what matters, but how you finish tells a story.

And that, in many ways, is the lesson of Johnny Miller. It is not how you start, but how you finish that sets you apart from the crowd. He proved it in the Summer of ‘73 when he birdied eight of the last nine holes to finish one of the most improbable wins of all time.

Scott A. Grant is local historian and writer. He holds degrees from Cornell University and The Rutgers School of Law. Currently, Grant is President of Standfast Asset Management in Ponte Vedra Beach. He welcomes your comments at

Photo courtesy Scott Grant


Johnny Miller spoke of the importance of finishing strong.


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