PINEHURST, N.C. – Johnny Miller choked back tears. Dan Hicks shook his hand and thanked him for “a great ride.”
With that, NBC’s 20-year run of televising the U.S. Open was over.
A handshake, those held-back tears and a highlight montage marked the end of the network’s final broadcast — for another 13 years, at least — of golf’s national championship.
NBC had televised the U.S. Open every year since 1995 at Shinnecock Hills with the love-him-or-hate-him Miller as its lead analyst.
The U.S. Golf Association’s 12-year deal with Fox Sports begins next year.
Producer Tommy Roy had said the only mention of the farewell would come during the sign-off Sunday. He kept his word, and NBC left most of the sentimentality out of the broadcast.
Instead, during the round, the network kept its focus on the renovated Pinehurst No. 2 course and, of course, on Martin Kaymer as he rolled to an eight-stroke victory for his second major title.
Kaymer’s daylong dominance meant the only question left unanswered was how NBC would handle its farewell.
After the trophy presentation, the network cut to Hicks and Miller — the 1973 U.S. Open winner at Oakmont — for some brief analysis of the German player’s performance.
Then, it was time to say goodbye.
Calling the tournament “the highlight of my career,” Hicks said he “had the best seat in the house with the best analyst that has ever done this game.”
Miller appeared to choke back tears.
“I believe there’s a time and a season for everything,” Miller said. “There have been a lot of great memories, lot of great champions, lot of great moments, and I’ve had my share.”
“Partner,” Hicks said, shaking Miller’s hand, “thank you for a great ride.”
After rolling the credits, Hicks said his final farewell, calling it “an honour and a privilege to document our national championship of golf for all of you. We’ll never forget how much fun this 20-year ride has been. Good night from Pinehurst.”
Then came a highlight montage, starting with Corey Pavin — who won the 1995 U.S. Open, NBC’s first of its two-decade run — ending with Kaymer and including Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and, of course, Payne Stewart, who won the first U.S. Open at Pinehurst in 1999.
And then the U.S. Open was officially out of NBC’s hands.
Under a deal that runs through 2026, Fox takes over next year at Chambers Bay outside Seattle with Joe Buck doing play-by-play and Greg Norman filling Miller’s role as chief analyst.
Fox Sports will deliver 146 hours of USGA golf, including at least 70 hours of its three biggest events — the U.S. Open, U.S. Women’s Open and U.S. Senior Open. The other hours will be spent on amateur competitions, such as the U.S. Amateur and the new U.S. National Fourball Championship.
At the time the Fox deal was announced last year, Miller — whose contract with NBC runs through 2015 — said “you can’t just fall out of a tree and do the U.S. Open.
“I guess the money was more important than the performance,” he added. “No way they can step in and do the job we were doing. It’s impossible. There’s just no way. I wish Fox the very best.”
Before this U.S. Open began, Roy insisted the network would not “mail it in” because it’s “not in our team’s DNA.
“We’re giving maximum effort to deliver our best shows yet,” Roy said.
Despite those efforts, NBC’s final U.S. Open wasn’t entirely perfect.
The man who drove analyst Roger Maltbie’s golf cart during the third round faces four charges after an incident on the course with a North Carolina Highway Patrol officer.
Tommy Lineberry was charged with felony assault on a law enforcement officer, felony hit and run, driving while impaired, and resisting, obstructing and delaying a law enforcement officer. A state trooper said he ignored instructions to stay put, then hit the officer with the golf cart on the 11th hole.
He was released from a local jail after posting bail later Saturday night, officials said. NBC Sports said it was aware of the incident but declined further comment.
Out on the course, Miller came through with plenty of his usual blunt, biting commentary.
Miller called the course’s trademark turtleback greens “over the top,” said they need to be redone to Donald Ross’ original design and said Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore — leaders of the recent renovation — “didn’t want to touch them because they’re sacred.”
Miller also urged 25-year-old Rickie Fowler — who always wears orange on Sundays out of pride in his school, Oklahoma State — to “bench the orange outfit” after he chipped from a bunker during his bogey on the 11th.
That came a few holes after Fowler, playing in the final group of a major for the first time, lined up a birdie putt on the sixth. At the time, he was seven strokes back.
“I keep waiting for the Sunday charge from this generation of golfers. Haven’t seen it,” said Miller, famous for his 63 in the final round of his victory at Oakmont.
At the next dozen U.S. Opens, he’ll have to watch for it on Fox.
Follow Joedy McCreary on Twitter at http://twitter.com/joedyap