John Daly was warming up the other day, which for him meant munching on chicken wings, swilling Miller Lites and finding unique places to sign his name. A man’s got to practice, after all, and the Masters is only a few short weeks away.
Daly should be in good form by then, if his performance last weekend at the PODS Championship was any indication. He’ll need to be, because it figures to be a grueling week in Augusta as he munches on chicken wings, swills Miller Lites and signs everything imaginable in a Hooters parking lot just down the street from the course.
The good news is he won’t need to worry about missing his tee time as he did earlier this week at Bay Hill. He won’t have one, leaving plenty of time to party until either his keg or his Sharpie runs dry.
By now, Daly should have won a green jacket or two. He’s got a lot of issues, but talent was never one of them, and his rare combination of raw power and a velvety putting stroke seemed a perfect match for Augusta National.
Now, the closest he’ll come to the champion’s dinner is if he helps Hooters cater it.
Yes, John Daly seems to be self-destructing once again, which shouldn’t come as much surprise to the legions of fans who have stuck with him through assorted drunken binges, rehabs, marriages and divorces, and even an occasional stabbing. It’s a large part of what draws them to golf’s anti-Tiger, a man whose very public flaws make him far more compelling to the average fan than a dozen Vijay Singhs.
What you see has always been what you get with Daly, and it hasn’t always been pretty. He was the ultimate Cinderella story when he won the 1991 PGA Championship after getting in as the last alternate, and we’ve watched in fascination over the years as he battled wives, demons, blackjack dealers and the stuffed shirts of golf on a roller-coaster ride that seems always perched on the brink of disaster.
He’s now a fat, middle-aged man who chain smokes Marlboros, downs Miller Lites by the six-pack, and travels the country in an RV looking for a tournament to play. His game has largely disappeared, and this week so did his coach, who accused Daly of being more interested in getting drunk than getting better.
Is there any wonder that he may be the only player other than Tiger Woods who sells tickets? This guy is one of us.
Just like us, he has his bad weeks, and this one was par for Daly’s course. Butch Harmon dumped him, Jon Gruden caddied for him, Arnold Palmer scolded him and he was kicked out of the king’s tournament for not showing up on time to play in the pro-am.
He’s had worse, though. A few years ago he was at the Buick Invitational when he got word that his fourth wife had entered a federal prison to begin serving a five-month sentence. Last year, he showed up at a tournament with red marks on his face and claimed his wife had tried to stab him with a steak knife.
It’s all funny stuff, or at least it seems like that to the people who buy him beer after beer or cheer him wildly when he makes an 11 on a hole. After all, who among us hasn’t done the same things?
What’s not funny is that Daly seems incapable of taking any responsibility for his behavior, largely because he keeps getting rewarded for it. He has played so poorly in recent years that he must rely on sponsor exemptions to get in tournaments and they keep flooding in despite the fact he shows up both unprepared and unrepentant.
Tournaments practically beg him to play, just so fans can roar at the site of him chain-smoking his way down a fairway, his gut hanging out of an oversized shirt with more decals on it than a NASCAR race car.
“I always get three questions,” Kym Hougham, tournament director of the prestigious Wachovia Championship, said last year. “Is Tiger coming? Is Fred Couples coming? Is John Daly coming?”
Daly paid back the Wachovia by packing it in for an 87. He’s missed the cut, withdrawn or been disqualified from 45 percent of his PGA Tour events since his rookie season in 1991.
He’s also won two major championships, which for a long time was two more than Phil Mickelson had. His ability is unquestioned, and the only questions other players have when they see him hitting balls on the driving range is why he can’t seem to take that game to the course.
“What a shame. So much talent,” Woods said.
Indeed, just imagine what Daly might have done had he put even half the preparation into a tournament that Woods does. Imagine how many major championships he might now have had he not squandered his talent because it’s more fun to drink and hang out with buxom blondes than it is to spend hours on the driving range.
Imagine him battling Woods through Amen Corner on Sunday at the Masters instead of battling traffic leaving the Hooters on Washington Road.
He had a chance to be a legend of golf. Instead, he’ll never be more than just a character of the game.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlbergap.org