Saturday, June 16, 2007

This was a tough one to write. I was with John Daly for the last two rounds and the playoff hole at the Buick Invitational, and it was all I could do not to root for him on the air. Lucky my mike was closed when he hit that tournament-winning sand shot in the playoff — I was screaming, "GO ON, FAT BOY, GO ON!" I just love the guy, and if his galleries are anything to go by, I'm not alone. I suppose I could do the right thing and attempt some semblance of objectivity, but at the end of the day I'm a golf fan, and there aren't many of those who are unhappy to see the return of John Daly.

Golf has had a few greats, some of whom have been a little reality challenged or even totally f---ed up, but compared with John Belushi, sorry, John Daly (Freudian slip) they all look like choirboys. (With the possible exception of Tom Weisk--f.) But this is a love story, not a fearless expose. That's right, JD's life is a soap opera, minus the bad plot, crap acting, great makeup and, of course, the suave, handsome, sophisticated hero.

The bottom line is that we luuuve this big boy like one of our own because that's what he is. You see, I believe every honest soul among us has a little Johnny inside, some nasty little character parasite that we struggle to suppress but that aches to take us over and expose us. Mine is an addiction to Bushmills, coupled with a pathological fear of Bill Murray. Heaven forbid anyone should discover our dark little weaknesses or hear our inner squeals for help. Johnny's flaw isn't so little though, and not very well hidden. No, we're talking about a guy with a crack the size of the Grand Canyon. (Plus a smaller one that pops out every now and then as he bends to pick the ball out of the hole.) That big ol' crevice in JD's disordered personality is held together with gaffer's tape, chewing gum, quiet desperation, Diet Coke and nicotine, and it looks like it could burst at any time, exposing the hairy, scary black hole of the big lad's innermost nowhere. Sports fans are a little evil, you know — we watch because we want to see a crash, and we don't mind serious injury as long as there's a survivor to ogle afterward.

Call him what you will, but Johnny's one hell of a survivor.

I knew him when he weighed 160 pounds and his mullet was just a guppy. I was leading an event in Africa by a shot after three rounds and was introduced to him on the 1st tee. He hit it so far past me that day, he had to wave me up several times, and he wound up beating me by one stroke. Who knew this lunatic would win the PGA and the Open Championship? He has married himself out of a couple of fortunes, almost died of his enthusiasms and made an album for WalMart, and the only reason he's never tossed himself off a tall building is that with his record on personal decisions, he'd probably land on someone he loved.

Johnny hasn't won more because he has always had a habit of letting the crowd choose the club for him. And that would be the driver — people don't come to see Long John lay up, and he's never disappointed them. Whether he crashes in flames or lands perfectly, he's always giving value.

We're talking about a guy who won the Open Championship at St. Andrews, man! Same place our favorite big, fat sinner was seen at the 1993 Dunhill Cup, sitting on the steps of the Royal & Ancient clubhouse with tattered jeans hanging out of battered rain pants, chewing a burger right out of a McDonald's wrapper. The Claret Jug he won there in '95 has often been filled with beer, champagne and occasionally even claret, but I guarantee you only Daly would get ketchup on it.

And don't think John is just a champion for the common man. His win this year at Torrey Pines made him a hero and a symbol of hope for the millions of Americans who are held hostage by addiction or united by that lowest of common denominators — the horrifying disease of depression. Whether you live in a refrigerator carton under the interstate or you're the chairman of the greens committee, John Daly is an inspiration to you or someone close to you. He is to me. So let's bless his giant liver, his even bigger heart and his huge, fat ass while we're at it, for John Daly is a good man, a kind man and a brave man, and we are lucky to be seeing him do more than just survive on the PGA Tour.

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