The story of John Daly's win at the 1991 PGA Championship

John Daly, 1991 PGA Championship
AP
Daly basked in his Wanamaker moment.

John Daly's career has featured a litany of surprises, but none more audacious than the first: his win at the 1991 PGA Championship. Forget that Daly, a rookie, had missed 11 cuts in 23 starts preceding that week at Crooked Stick Golf Club in Carmel, Ind. The real shocker was his getting into the tournament at all, the result of a domino chain of withdrawals that ranged from excusable to extraordinary and that introduced Ken Anderson, the PGA's czar of the alternates list, to a new kid on the Tour block: 9th alternate John Daly. "I had never heard of him," Anderson recalls today. "I had to go look him up in a PGA Tour player guide so I'd know what he looked like in case I had to go find him and get him registered." What transpired, of course, was one of the most fateful clashes of time and circumstance in golf history. Here, from those who were there, is how it all unfolded.

Legend has it that Daly drove all night from his home in Memphis to get to Crooked Stick and didn't know he was in the field until Thursday morning, when Nick Price withdrew due to the impending birth of his first child, Gregory. That was a slight exaggeration.

Anderson: "I spoke to John on Tuesday night or Wednesday morning to tell him he was first alternate, and he said he was going to get in his car and start driving. He got lucky in that Price had an afternoon tee time. It allowed him to sleep in. I looked up where the players were staying that week and left a message at John's hotel to say he'd gotten [into the field] and didn't have to get to the course at 7 a.m."

 

Daly had never seen Crooked Stick -- all 7,295 yards of it -- and needed a caddie who had. Jeff (Squeaky) Medlin, a hard-working former bricklayer, was set to work for Price, but had driven from his home in Columbus, Ohio, to Carmel knowing his man might withdraw. When Price did scratch, Medlin picked up Daly. After winning four majors, three with Price and one with Daly, Medlin would die of leukemia at age 43 in 1997.

Dianne Medlin, Squeaky's widow: "Jeff was pretty meticulous about walking the course. He'd be out getting yardages for hours. He was there, I believe, on Monday -- it's only a three-hour drive from Columbus to Indianapolis, and I think he drove over just to see what was going to happen, if Nick was going to play."

Daly and Medlin worked together for the first time Thursday, and despite being relatively unknown, Daly tapped into the form he'd displayed that July, when he notched three top-15 finishes on Tour.

Daly: "I was pretty loose because I had just secured my card. I had made 160 grand -- I don't know where I was, 50th on the money list, maybe 40th."

 

Grouped with Billy Andrade and Bob Lohr, Daly shot an opening 69. It made a nice note for the papers, nothing more. The PGA of America had moved the tees up, and Kenny Knox and Ian Woosnam were the co-leaders after shooting 67s.

Andrade: "I knew John from college. He was at Arkansas, I was at Wake Forest. I just remember every hole he'd go, 'Where do I hit it here, Squeaky?' John was like a blind man with a guide dog. He didn't miss a lot of shots."

Lohr: "The first hole he hit 1-iron, which I thought was interesting. We were all hitting driver there. The fairways were soaking wet. I vividly remember hitting a good drive, and John flying it by me with a 1-iron. The third hole, a par 3, he hit three clubs less than I did. I remember he had this white, plastic-looking Cobra driver nobody else had. It was the best driving exhibition I've ever seen."

Medlin: "Jeff had caddied for guys like Freddie Couples, Nick, Jeff Sluman, and to go from that caliber of player to someone he'd never heard of, he was like, 'Oh, I'm working for a rookie.' But after the first round he called and said, 'I can't club this guy. He hits it longer than anybody I've ever seen.'"

A spectator had been killed by lightning at the U.S. Open at Hazeltine earlier that summer, and during a rain delay in the PGA's first round a bolt killed 39-year-old Thomas Weaver, who was 100 yards from his car, in a parking lot a mile from Crooked Stick.

Jim Nantz, who covered the tournament for CBS: "I remember that lightning bolt shaking the ground and finding out later someone was killed. I was doing the late-night show as I do now, and I remember going to the hospital. I think I'd been dispatched by CBS to see if there was a statement or something from the hospital."

 

 

Price's wife, Sue, gave birth on Friday morning, and Daly took the lead for good. Among his memorable shots was a 199-yard 6-iron that landed within three feet for eagle on the par-5 ninth hole. No dogleg was safe, and he shot a second-round 67. Upon seeing his name atop the board at round's end, Daly said, "I'll remember this day the rest of my life."

Jim Ferriell, Crooked Stick's head pro: "Prior to the PGA, [Crooked Stick designer] Pete Dye asked me to look at a new tee he was putting in on 14. It was going to be 275 yards to carry a creek and I said, 'Some guys will be able to carry it, but they won't move it right to left enough to turn the corner.' Hell, Daly did turn the corner. He had wedge or 9-iron in."

Daly: "All I remember is 14, a big dogleg left, and it was like 280 to carry the water, and I was hitting L-wedge into that hole. Guys were hitting 3- or 2-irons in. It was a big, big advantage."

 

Andrade: "I remember waking up in the middle of the night Friday and thinking, 'This guy is going to win. He's hitting it over all the trouble.' He didn't have any stress off the tee, and that's so much of what the majors are about. I think Squeaky was a big difference. On every hole, he'd go, 'Just kill it,' in that high-pitched voice."

Fuzzy Zoeller: "The bunkering kind of closed in at 260, and then at 280 it opened back up to the wide-open spaces. Well, John never saw 280. He was pumping it out there 300 yards in the air."

Pete Dye: "I had Greg Norman out to the course prior to the PGA and he couldn't carry anything; John Daly carried it all."

 

Daly's fireworks obscured the fact that he was putting well.

Andrade: "I remember him putting like kids putt, ramming everything in. It seemed like they were going in the center at 100 mph, which told you he was confident."

Daly: "I made all my six-, seven-, eight-footers that week."

 

Daly was paired with veteran Bruce Lietzke on Saturday, and by the time they teed off, the Legend of John Daly was growing exponentially.

Lietzke: "It was pretty awe-inspiring. I don't think I'd ever seen his name. Back in the '70s, there was this guy who wore the rainbow wig and had a sign that said, john 3:16. He was there, and a writer said he didn't know if the guy was making a religious statement or giving Daly's driving distance."

Nantz: "The story was growing every day, and by the time Saturday rolled around, we were documenting his whole history, every piece of information we could find on the guy. I was diggin'."

Lietzke: "I'd never seen anyone's swing go that far past parallel, at least nobody on Tour. He had a real following, even though nobody knew who he was. He played to the crowd; of course they loved the distance and he hit it straight as a string. He was smoking cigarettes and waving. He was the everyman's hero."

Bud Martin, Daly's agent: "The perception in the public and the way CBS presented it was this guy was just kind of driving down the highway, as the ninth alternate, and said, 'Hey, I might as well play.'"

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