JOHN DALY – STILL HIT­TING IT HARD

Head­lines fol­low John Daly like a shadow. Even on the laid back PGA Tour Cham­pi­ons, the ‘The Wild Thing’ is at­tract­ing huge crowds want­ing to see the long ball – and the next ‘in­ci­dent’.

Golf Australia - - CONTENTS - WORDS RICK WE­BER PHO­TOG­RA­PHY GETTY IM­AGES

Rick We­ber speaks ex­clu­sively to ‘The Wild Thing’ who, even on the Cham­pi­ons Tour, is still at­tract­ing hordes of peo­ple want­ing to see the long ball and the next ‘in­ci­dent’.

It wouldn’t be in­ac­cu­rate to say that John Daly has dis­graced the game of golf. He has been cited by the PGA Tour 11 times for “con­duct un­be­com­ing a pro­fes­sional” and 21 times for “fail­ure to give best eort”.

His his­tory in Aus­tralia is an in­crim­i­nat­ing mi­cro­cosm of his colour­ful ca­reer: at the 2002 Aus­tralian PGA, he threw his put­ter into a lake and stormed o the course with­out sign­ing his card, draw­ing a dis­qual­i­fi­ca­tion and a fine; at the 2008 Aus­tralian Open, he grabbed a fan’s cam­era and smashed it into a tree trunk; and fi­nally, at the 2011 Aus­tralian Open, he de­posited seven balls into a lake on the 11th hole, stormed o the course, was banned from the Aus­tralian PGA Cham­pi­onship two weeks later and was called “un­pro­fes­sional” by Trevor Her­den, Golf Aus­tralia’s di­rec­tor of tour­na­ments.

It would be di‡cult to choose his most mem­o­rable melt­down on the PGA Tour. “Wild Thing” was in vin­tage form at the 2015 PGA Cham­pi­onship at Whistling Straits, when he hit three balls into the wa­ter on the par-3 7th hole and wildly slung his 6-iron into Lake Michi­gan. But he prob­a­bly peaked 17 years ear­lier at the Bay Hill In­vi­ta­tional, when he posted what could be an all-time record of 18 strokes—the PGA Tour does not keep records of sin­gle-hole dis­as­ters—af­ter hit­ting six con­sec­u­tive balls into the wa­ter on the par-5 6th hole, then quipped, “I got a lot of prac­tice with my 3-wood.”

And that’s only a glimpse into his on-course be­hav­iour. We haven’t even dis­cussed the four failed mar­riages, the trashed house in Colorado, the trashed RV in San An­to­nio, the overnight jail stay in North Carolina af­ter pass­ing out at Hoot­ers, the al­co­hol-fu­eled bouts of se­vere de­pres­sion, two stints in re­hab and the de­scend-into-hell gam­bling mis­ad­ven­tures that he ad­mits re­sulted in US$53 mil­lion in losses.

And yet, when he be­came el­i­gi­ble for PGA Tour Cham­pi­ons on April 28, 2016, the tour did ev­ery­thing but buy him every Hoot­ers joint on

Amer­i­can soil and put his face on the orange sign, right next to the iconic owl with its boob-shaped eyes.

This is a tour des­per­ately in need of some pizazz. It started out with show­men like Chi Chi Ro­driguez and quickly de­te­ri­o­rated into a pro­ces­sion of solemn, Me­ta­mu­cil-man­dated mer­ce­nar­ies grind­ing re­lent­lessly and grimly in a bid to add to their wealth. Bern­hard Langer is a mas­ter­ful golfer, but there is no vis­ceral thrill in watch­ing the 59-year-old ver­sion of him clin­i­cally carv­ing up cour­ses and the op­po­si­tion.

Peo­ple love to watch John Daly, even if it’s with the same guilty plea­sure of watch­ing blood spat­ter in a UFC ring. Sure, Daly hits the ball into the heav­ens and wears psy­che­delic pants, but he’s wildly en­ter­tain­ing. You never know what will hap­pen when Daly tees it up, and the sweet an­tic­i­pa­tion of that mys­tery has driven the tour to greater heights.

********* It is just min­utes af­ter the Thurs­day pro-am at the Chubb Clas­sic in Naples, Florida. Daly had in­di­cated to a PGA Tour Cham­pi­ons oŽcial dur­ing the round that he wouldn’t con­sent to an in­ter­view with Golf Aus­tralia, but he has changed his mind. Maybe he wants to clear the air. Four days ear­lier at the Al­lianz Cham­pi­onship in Boca Ra­ton, his peace­ful stay on the PGA Tour Cham­pi­ons was rocked by an­other trade­mark Daly in­ci­dent. Dur­ing the fi­nal round, he was strug­gling with his golf and his sci­atic nerve. Af­ter back-to-back bo­geys, his put­ter found its way into the lake and he walked o’ the course with­out speak­ing.

Al­though there re­mark­ably was no video of the in­ci­dent, a fan took a photo of the put­ter in the wa­ter and there were re­ports that Daly was “vis­i­bly frus­trated”.

Asked about the in­ci­dent, Daly says he just “flipped” it to his cad­die, Peter Van Der Riet, who was car­ry­ing Daly’s yardage book and lob wedge in his hands.

“I just kind of went be­hind the back, a lit­tle toss,” he says. “It went past Peter’s right shoul­der, landed on the ground and bounced in the wa­ter.” That’s re­ally what hap­pened? “If I’m go­ing to throw a put­ter, I’m go­ing to throw it 60 yards into the lake and it’s go­ing to be in two pieces,” he says. “That was a very spe­cial put­ter to me. It was a Ping put­ter that John Sol­heim gave to me. It was the 50th an­niver­sary. I would never have done that on pur­pose. That was just a freak ac­ci­dent. My fault. I didn’t know Peter had all that crap in his hand.

“Usu­ally when I toss it be­hind my back, he catches it, but he wasn’t even look­ing. It went right by his shoul­der, bounced on the ground and went in the wa­ter. We’re look­ing down like its six feet down there, we can’t even get the put­ter. So I told Ryan, the head pro, ‘Go get it.’ Un­for­tu­nately, a spec­ta­tor must have jumped in and got it. I’d like to have it back if I could get it back.”

An in­no­cent “freak ac­ci­dent”? Or the re­turn of the petu­lant, dis­grace-the-game Daly? Ei­ther way, life on this tour was sup­posed to be a re­birth for him, and it re­ally hasn’t worked out that way.

In 2016, he couldn’t man­age a sin­gle top-10 finish in 15 starts. His best finish was T11 at the Dick’s Sport­ing Goods Open in July, when he won $44,000. He with­drew from one tour­na­ment and cob­bled to­gether five top-25s to rank 71st on the money list with US$193,661. And his first four tour­na­ments of 2017 pro­duced T17, T23, WD and T30.

You ask him if he thinks he can bring some ex­cite­ment to the dour tour and he shoots back, “Well, I need to play bet­ter. I’m strug­gling with the game a lit­tle bit,” he says.

“The put­ter’s been down. I’m hit­ting the new driver. I mean, if I was hit­ting the irons as good as I know I can and my wedges, it would be a lot of fun be­cause I’m hit­ting a lot of fair­ways with the driver. Even if I just barely miss one, it’s still out there 320. Out here, that’s good be­cause the cour­ses are a lot shorter than what we play on the tour. My wedge game isn’t where it needs to be and the put­ter has just been cold.”

Not every­body is thrilled that Daly has ar­rived on this tour. Some golfers who value the game’s tradition and ethics aren’t so sure it’s a great thing. Woody Austin has pub­licly ques­tioned Daly’s de­sire, won­der­ing whether he has a “fight me­ter”. You ask two-time US Open win­ner Lee Janzen if he’s both­ered by Daly’s his­tory of WDs and he says, “Well, I don’t know what he feels like. I’d have to feel what his own body feels like. But of­ten, if he would just stick it out, even if he’s hav­ing a bad day … Be­cause the fans love to watch him. They don’t even care what he shoots.”

And he is right about that. Ear­lier in the pro-am, Daly’s gallery was at least five times larger than any­body else’s. He signed ev­ery­thing that was placed in front of him and tol­er­ated fans who wanted to pose with him for photos but didn’t even know how to op­er­ate their iPhone.

“It’s been good,” he says of the fans on PGA Tour Cham­pi­ons. “It’s not as rowdy, but I think it’s … go­ing to be a lit­tle older crowd. But they know golf. They’re not go­ing to clap for a bad shot. They’ll clap for a good one, but if you hit one bad, it’s al­most like play­ing in Europe.”

And he clearly puts a pre­mium on in­ter­act­ing with his pro-am part­ners and mak­ing sure their day is what they dreamed of.

On the 18th tee, play­ing part­ner Sam Lin brought Daly a cap and said it was from a boy who wanted it signed. Lin pointed out the boy in the crowd.

“Good work, Sammy,” Daly said. “You fi­nally did some­thing right to­day.” Both of them roared with laugh­ter. Af­ter their round was over, Lin gushed about Daly’s ap­proach­a­bil­ity.

“I never met him be­fore, but he’s an easy guy to get to know,” he says. “You just have to talk about the things he likes to talk about. We were just shoot­ing the breeze. We had a lot of time talk­ing. I think its John’s per­son­al­ity. You have to know the way he talks. He jokes a lot, and so does his cad­die.”

The big question: When the ini­tial buzz fades, will Daly even be rel­e­vant? He’ll have to do more than just show up in those loud pants, with a cig­a­rette dan­gling from his lips like an­other J.D.—James Dean.

That J.D. died pre­ma­turely in his Porsche 550 Spy­der, which re­port­edly was go­ing 137km/hr on Cal­i­for­nia Route 466. And for many ob­servers, it’s amaz­ing the present-day J.D. hasn’t su£ered a tragic, be­fore-his-time death.

It al­most ended for him in 1997. Daly, un­able to deal with the in­stant suc­cess of his 1991 PGA Cham­pi­onship vic­tory as the ninth al­ter­nate

IF I WAS HIT­TING THE IRONS AS GOOD AS I KNOW I CAN ... IT WOULD BE A LOT OF FUN BE­CAUSE I’M HIT­TING A LOT OF FAIR­WAYS WITH THE DRIVER ... IT’S STILL OUT THERE 320.

or the ex­pec­ta­tions cre­ated by his 1995 Bri­tish Open win, sat alone in his Mercedes, revving the en­gine. Just a few feet away was a steep cli£ in Palm Springs. He called for­mer NFL star Thomas “Hol­ly­wood” Hen­der­son—with whom he forged a friend­ship af­ter they met in al­co­hol re­hab in 1992—and said, “There will be no more John Daly to­mor­row.” Hol­ly­wood talked Long John out of shift­ing into ‘drive’ and slam­ming the ac­cel­er­a­tor.

Good friend Fuzzy Zoeller once bet Daly US$150,000 that Daly would not live to 50. It was a rather odd bet—there was no way Daly would have to pay, even if he lost. And when Daly turned 50, he let Zoeller o£ the hook by ac­cept­ing a bot­tle of Fuzzy’s Ul­tra Pre­mium Vodka.

Now, to be sure, 1.75L of 80 proof liquor is not ex­actly what Daly needs—not af­ter a life that went o£ the rails with al­co­hol ad­dic­tion that sent him to re­hab twice. But that’s the Wild Thing’s men­tal­ity. He brags about beat­ing An­drew “Beef” John­ston in a whiskey-drinking con­test at the 2015 Turk­ish Air­lines Open. He su£ered a col­lapsed lung in 2015, but he tried to con­vince his fans that he was go­ing to be OK be­cause he was re­duc­ing his smok­ing—from three packs a day to two. And his gam­bling is “un­der con­trol” be­cause he has ditched the $5000 slot ma­chines for the $25 va­ri­ety.

A few years ago, Daly ran into his old buddy Bill Hughes, who was the gen­eral man­ager at TPC South­wind in Mem­phis when Daly was a mem­ber there in the late 1990s. Hughes asked Daly how he was do­ing.

“I came into this world with noth­ing and I’m go­ing to go out with noth­ing,” Daly said, “and I’m go­ing to have one hel­luva time in be­tween.”

Daly loves meet­ing with his fans when he sets up shop in Au­gusta dur­ing Mas­ters week.

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