When 1973 U.S. Open champ Johnny Miller failed to win the Open again this year, a friend excused his poor performance this way: “Johnny had trouble swinging past his bulging pockets.” The hyperbole is apt. The mop-haired, 27-year-old pro golfer already has racked up eight major tournament victories, thus tying the “modern” record set by Arnold Palmer in 1960, and Miller’s earnings this week stand at $351,321, surpassing the all-time record of $320,542 won by Jack Nicklaus in 1972.
Off the course Johnny has doubled his earnings through product endorsements and personal appearances. Each time he shows his handsome face at a banquet or convention he receives $10,000. This fall Sears, Roebuck & Co. will introduce a new line of men’s clothes, “The Johnny Miller Collection.” And on any football afternoon, following the Joe Namath pantyhose spot, the Redfordesque, 6’2″ fully clothed body of Johnny Miller stretches across a queen-size Beautyrest mattress. Today for these commercials he would get a flat fee of $50,000, plus residuals. Johnny Miller has become, as he admits, “a salable product.” But he ruefully adds, “I can be oversold too; therefore I’ve learned to say ‘no.’ ”
Since he dropped out of Brigham Young University five years ago at the age of 22 to join the golf tour, he has been represented by the Los Angeles firm of Uni-Managers International. Because of Miller’s brilliant career as an amateur, UMI was confident that he would soon be a winner as a pro. In endorsement contracts they insisted on escalator provisions that boosted Miller’s fee with each victory.
Investing Miller’s lifetime earnings, conservatively estimated at $1.2 million, has been a comparatively easy task for UMI. Johnny prefers safe regular savings accounts and real estate investments (including a condominium in Hilton Head, S.C., where he once was the pro) over risky forays into oil exploration projects. E. F. Hutton & Co., a Wall Street investment house, manages a modest stock portfolio for him, and another old-line company, Connecticut General, directs his estate planning.
Standing in his three-car garage beneath shelves holding 30 or so pairs of new golf shoes (all of them gifts), Johnny confesses, “Frankly, I’ve had a hard time spending money. We get all our clothes and sporting equipment free, we still use the furniture we bought when we first got married, and we don’t go out much.”
The Millers live comfortably but far from expansively. The family has five cars—but Miller has won 13 others as prizes and given them away. As a practicing Mormon, he does not drink or serve liquor and refuses to do beer commercials. He also gives 12 percent of his income to the Mormon Church.
Miller’s biggest investment is a new $300,000 house, now rising beside the 10th green of the Silverado Country Club in Napa, Calif. Ground was broken on the day his youngest daughter, Casi Melissa, now 3 months old, was born. The house will have 6,000 square feet of floor space, a children’s section which circles a giant oak, a sunken living room and a master bedroom suite which overlook a pond Johnny has stocked with bass and trout. There will be two extra bedrooms, which Johnny and his wife Linda, already the parents of three children under the age of 5, say they plan to fill. “Eventually,” Linda quickly adds.
Throughout his golf career, Johnny has frequently taken his family with him on the road. But next year John Jr., age 4, enters kindergarten, and that will limit the number of family trips. “That may mean I will be playing in fewer tournaments in future years,” Miller says. “I have eight titles to defend, and there are four major tournaments I want to play in. Beyond that I will be very selective—26 is the limit. As Ricky Nelson sings in Garden Party—’You can’t please everyone, so you got to please yourself.’ ”