Miller Has a New Grip On Things : His 46-Inch Putter Makes Difference

Times Staff Writer

In a world of putting wizards, Johnny Miller is just plain average.

And very happy to have reached that level, thank you.

Until he adopted a putter with a 46-inch shaft at this year's Los Angeles Open, Miller was penalizing himself with his inadequacy on the greens.

After shooting a 68 Saturday that left him 15 under par, three shots behind leader Woody Blackburn, Miller said improved putting can keep him competitive for another five years. Without the new-fangled putter, however, his frustration level might have reached the point that he would have considered a premature retirement.

Miller compared himself to a football team that gets inside the 10-yard line and settles for a field goal every time.

"You've got to get seven points if you're going to win," he said.

"It tears your heart out to be solid tee-to-green and then finish 15th because of your putting."

With the long putter--which had no true antecedent in golf annals, according to Miller--he won't have to take quite as many three-putts.

"I had been trying new strokes and grips and stances since 1977," said Miller, who in desperation turned to the idea of a long shaft on his putter earlier this winter.

The principle is simple: to stabilize the hands and wrists.

The first time he tried it, Miller stuck the end of the grip of the putter in his gut and missed a 12-footer. It was one of the worst putts of his life.

With visions of a round of 100 filling his head, Miller modified his grip, laying the shaft against his left arm.

Voila!

A consistent putter was born.

"I like the principle a lot," Miller said. "It could give me another five years or more out here.

"I was very close to not being competitive, which for me means being in the top 10. I'll quit when my best tournament of the year is finishing 25th."

Miller missed a short putt on the 10th hole Saturday, just as he had done Friday. Those two smarted, he said.

Within striking distance going into today's final round, Miller said his strategy will be to establish an aggressive approach, close to the red line.

That doesn't mean he will be attempting to draw a 1-iron over a bunker and stop it, but he will be "reasonably" aggressive. "I've been in this position so many times before," he said. "I just need to get the momentum going early and let it flow.

"I need to avoid getting a fast start and then putting the anchor out. That has happened to me a couple of times."

Miller has been 12 under par on the front nine and three under on the backside, which shows he is very capable of the desired fast start.

For the first time since his days as an amateur, Miller regards himself as a consistent golfer. What he wants now is to maintain that consistency, but still break out of the mold with enough pizazz to win a tournament.

He appears to be poised to meet that goal here. Victory is within his reach--thanks to that 46-inch putter.

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