By In Stuff

500 Words on John Daly

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — John Daly is one year older than I am, and even though we couldn’t be more different, I still see my reflection in his weather-worn face. We came across each other years ago, when we were both young and trying to figure out the world. He was a 25-year-old golfing phenomenon. I was a 24-year-old sports columnist without a clue.

The first golf tournament I ever attended was the 1992 Doral Open in Miami. I was sent down there by the Augusta Chronicle to write about several golfers for our Masters Preview section. One of the golfers I was assigned was John Daly.

Of course, I had no idea how to go about actually talking to John Daly. He had, months earlier, shocked the sporting world by showing up in as a ninth alternate for the PGA Championship at Crooked Stick and then overpowering the golf course and beating the best players in the world. He called his style “grip it and rip it,” and he swung past parallel, and he infused a new energy into the game. In other words, he did not have time for rookie sportswriters who knew nothing about golf.

But he made time. There has always been a kind streak in John Daly. He told me to show up the next morning for his Pro-Am round. I’ve told the story many times before — he let me walk with him and he talked about everything. We walked together for four or five holes, Then an angry voice from behind us shouted: “Hey, you writing a book? Some of us paid to play with John Daly.” That was Dan Marino. I turned every shade of red. Daly turned back, smiled, said “Hey Dan, you are playing with me.” And he continued the interview. I’ll always love him for that.

Up close, his talent was beyond mesmerizing. He’d answer a question, smoke a cigarette, pull a club and without any thought walk over to the ball and hit breathtaking shots. There’s no real point now talking about what John Daly might have been — Nicklaus once predicted he’d win six Masters — but I can honestly say that all these years later I’ve still never seen a more amazing display of raw golfing talent

Thursday, after 10 holes at The Open, John Daly was four-under par. He wore garish pants, his hair had faded and thinned, his face had creased and burned. His life took many unexpected turns after we first met. He won an Open Championship at St. Andrews. He was addicted to everything that is addictive. He married and remarried. He sang country songs. His life was a country song.

And as we stood out there in the Scottish wind, I thought about all the years that have gone by for both of us. Too many years. Over the next few holes, Daly faded, but that was expected. I was just glad he got another moment on the leaderboard.

16 Responses to 500 Words on John Daly

  1. “when we were both young and trying to figure out the world.” Did you figure it (the world) out? If so, please write 500 words on that topic so I can quit trying to figure it out.

  2. Zach says:

    Athletes like Daly always fascinate me, because despite the obvious truth of how much talent he wasted (if winning two Majors can be called wasting talent), few people seem to truly hold it against him. Maybe it’s because he never seemed like a guy who could hold it together for long, or because he was just such fun, but his struggles always just made him more endearing, not less.

    • Jaunty Rockefeller says:

      I ask what-if questions about unfulfilled potential a lot, but I sometimes wonder if there’s a flaw in the premise. It seems like we’re asking two separate questions rolled into one, the first about the vagaries of life (how many championships would Karl Malone have won if Michael Jordan had never been born?), and the other about how much better an athlete could have been if only they were slightly different than they were in reality (just imagine if Shaq could have hit free throws!). I’m not sure which camp Daly falls into. Of course, his addictions interrupted his career, placing one foot in the first camp. But, I feel like athletes at the top-most level of their sports are already operating at the far, far right-hand end of the talent spectrum, merely competing means that they are already getting very nearly 100% from their potential. To gain entry into the most competitive level, every aspect of their being must be aligned toward that goal. Sometimes, those talents click together so well that they summit the peak of their sport, but change one or two things, and they no longer can even compete. Daly’s game was erratic, but I’m not sure that’s something he could ever have changed–he played a high risk/high reward style that came out in his favor twice in championships, but more frequently did not. If it were possible to separate his personal demons from his actual performance, I just don’t know that we could actually have expected more.

    • Paul says:

      Daly was my favorite golfer till Tiger came along…

  3. Ernie says:

    I actually side with Dan Marino here. He paid money to play with John Daly, was obviously excited about it and then was being ignored. You could interview him any time of day or on the phone.

    • Dan says:

      Paying to play with John Daly doesn’t give him license to be a dick about it, especially when it was Daly talking Joe’s ear off and not vice versa. He should’ve said something to Daly directly – but then he would have had to be polite. Daly’s response was great.

      • Ernie says:

        How was Marino “being a dick” about it? He waited 5 holes to say something, that’s more than 25% of the round. Sounds like he didn’t curse or anything like that.

        • Brent says:

          Dan Marino was a d#$k bc he is Dan Marino and he could talk to (and probably play with) John Daly whenever the heck he wanted. If it had been Joe Schmo who spent half his life savings to play with Daly and didn’t get to, that would be another story.

        • KHAZAD says:

          As Daly said, he WAS playing with John Daly! Just because you pay to play a round with someone does not mean they have to massage your ego, give you lessons, or that you pay for them to pay attention to you constantly as if they were your employee. If I were a player and someone copped that attitude of entitlement with me, my reply would be the last time I spoke to them that day, and rightfully so.

          • Ernie says:

            Who said anything about lessons, massage ego or constantly? You are really extrapolating what is said here. Marino was right for wanting to talk to Daly for part of the round.

  4. Bob in VA says:

    Just poetry. Thanks, Joe. I once saw Daly put on an exhibition at our club in South Dakota. I suppose other pros can hit some of the shots like he did, but Daly had that charm and enthusiasm with it. There is something about how we can’t look away from a train wreck. Fascinating.

  5. MikeN says:

    So Jack Nicklaus is a pretty good judge of talent, he just has a calibration bias of 6. He predicted 10 Masters for Tiger, and 6 for Daly.

  6. chlsmith says:

    I don’t understand the Everyman persona he can pull off. He is NOT Everyman. He is an AMAZING talent, and as a two time major tournament winner, I don’t see how he has wasted anything. He’s made a ton of money, lost a ton of money, and lived life like it’s a rocketship. Good for him.

    As for his long game, it was amazing at the time, but his short game is all-time AMAZING. Lefty has the only hands that could compare to Daly’s. I guess he had to hit too many iron shots. 🙂

  7. chlsmith says:

    That’s too many amazings in one post. Must be the beer.

  8. David says:

    Joe, while I’m always going to have a soft-spot for the famous “curiously long” posts, if it means they’re ore frequent, I’ll take the 500-word ones any day of the week!

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