“I never liked to read, and I didn’t see the point. Shakespeare sucked.”
John Patrick Daly is not one of world’s great intellectual forces, but he sure can hit a golf ball a long way. Over the past couple of decades his renegade influence has played a large role in having golf shed its image as a sport of the monied elite, and in between extended bouts of alcoholism, losing tens of millions of dollars on pokies and four tumultuous marriages he has remained one of the most popular golfers in the world.
It’s the combination of a loud, borderline insane personal life and frequently breathtaking golf which has endeared him to fans, and after the first round of The Open Championship at Turnberry he sat at two under, four shots off the lead, and yet again had the chance to prove the doubters wrong and his own self right. He closed out with three straight rounds of 72, fading from contention. But for golfers arrested outside Hooters by the Winston-Salem police less than a year ago he was unchallenged at the top of the leaderboard.
Daly loves playing golf in Scotland – anyone watching overnight (thanks, jetlag!) would have noted that the crowds only wake up for a truly miraculous shot. Bunker it at Turnberry and only the bitter wind will whistle in your ears. He considers them the purest golf fans in the world, and has rewarded them with a truly heroic playing ensemble. Even granted that golfers aren’t known as the prettiest of athletes, his garb throughout The Open was pretty outlandish.
Having noted that, atop the leaderboard after the first round sat Miguel Angel Jimenez after a scorching 64, and he looks like the kind of guy who made Creasy Bear so angry in Man on Fire.
Anyway, so he might be in a tight two-way tussle for ugliest man in the tournament, he also has no right to even be playing golf at this point. Daly’s life is a catalogue of misfortunes as long as your arm, and for every triumph there have been at least five disasters to offset it.
Growing up in Dardanelle, Arkansas, golf was an escape from an alcoholic father who would one day pull a gun on his son in a stupor, and a mother absent more often than not. Daly and his brother Jamie raised themselves as soon as the latter could be considred a babysitter for his younger sibling, with the Daly brothers opening up the family ranch for all-night keg parties from their mid-teens, which their parents never picked up on upon their return due to John’s extreme OCD cleaning tendencies.
He could always hit a golf ball a long way, but started working on his short game by chipping his way round a baseball diamond. It was this kind of dedication which garnered the man a scholarship to the University of Arkansas. The coach there presciently noted that even then, Daly was a little overweight (his pre-round meal to this day remains multiple McMuffins), and told him to start smoking Marlboro Lights as an appetite suppressant, and switch Jack Daniels and diet coke from beer.
He’s attended rehab twice for alcoholism, smokes at least two packs a day, and ealier this year had stomach-limiting lap-band surgery, so that prescription obviously worked out real well for him. His lovelife has been scarcely less extreme, with his second wife Bettye turning out to be a decade older than she had told him (and have a 14-year-old son – this when Daly was still in his twenties), and fourth wife Sherrie (unconventional spellings should be a red flag for Daly) attacked him with a steak knife in 2007, resulting in him playing the second round of Memphis’ Stanford St Jude championship with his face even less pretty than usual.
If he was just a marginal professional (he’s ranked 414 in the world as of today), this would be just a tragic story, but Daly had won two majors before he turned thirty, including a heartstopping PGA Championship in 1991, which he started as ninth alternate. He was the longest driver on the US PGA Tour for more than a decade, has amassed 19 titles as a professional, and when his game is working he has a subtlety around the green which belies his boorish image.
That’s certainly important to his fans, but equally attractive to his rabid, establishment-baiting newfound golf fans is his unashamedly hillbilly lifestyle. He travels by a US$1.5m custom tour bus, rather than squeeze himself onto domestic plane seats and put up with hours without a cigarette between his lips. He’s recorded country albums, with songs like All My Exes Wear Rolexes, and has seen Dead Solid Perfect and Caddyshack (his favourite golf movies) over 70 times between them.
He’s like a regular guy who won the lottery, only the ticket keeps paying out. So he buys a house in Colorado on a whim and hangs out with the Denver Broncos (and also has a Madden card from his fame explosion in ’91 due to place kicking during an NFL game), lost US$50m when they installed pokies in Vegas that let you crank through $5k at a time, and his fourth wife and her family have all done Federal time for drug trafficking (while he was married to her). Plus he’s a big time rooter: “I want to have sex three or four times a day. I mean, I’m horny all the time.”
Keep that image in your mind, kids. He last won on the PGA Tour in ’04, has lost his long driving title to the likes of Bubba Watson, and most things in his life seem to be pointing to a gradual fade from the limelight. But with Daly you feel like the moment he’s counted out is the one he’ll pick to come storming home. He finished second in the Italian Open this year, and tied for 27th at The Open. The tummy tuck seems to have reinvigorated him, along with his wardrobe, and something about his character, the things he’s endured and survived convinces me he’s got one more triumph in him.
Even if he doesn’t, he’s made golf bearable, and played as a big a part as Tiger in breaking its historic class/race barriers. And for all the madness and bewildering moves he’s made in his personal life – he might be the most confounding figure in all sports over the last couple of decades – you can’t help but love the guy. If nothing else, you have to respect a guy who wandered out onto the hallowed fairways of the PGA Tour in the early ’90s looking like this.