HONOLULU (AP) — John Daly couldn’t get past the front door, the best compliment he has had in years.
Daly has lost about 100 pounds in the last nine months through lap-band surgery. He received a sponsor’s exemption to the Sony Open, so he agreed to host the pro-am party Tuesday night at a Honolulu hotel along with Rich Beem.
Daly was late, although he had a good excuse.
“They wouldn’t let me in,” he said. “If I weighed 300 pounds and had four chins, I’d have no problem getting in. No one recognized me.”
Indeed, the two-time major champion has a new look for the new season.
The question is whether he has a new game.
A year after he was serving a six-month suspension from the PGA Tour, Daly has yet another chance this year. He already has received two sponsor’s exemption, is in Pebble Beach on his own, and said The Greenbrier Classic in August has offered him a spot. He turns 44 this year and feels more pressure to perform than when he was a rookie in 1991, when he won the PGA Championship at Crooked Stick as the ninth alternate to begin a wild ride.
“I feel a tremendous amount of pressure, not from my sponsors, but from myself,” said Daly, whose only status comes from being a past champion. “My goal is to get my card. If I make enough money, fine. If I win, fine. Just so I can finally set up 2011 with a schedule.”
Daly, however, isn’t alone.
The tropical warmth of Honolulu brings a renewed sense of optimism for young and old, for the four PGA Tour rookies who have never teed it up in the big leagues to guys like 50-year-old Tom Lehman, making his 467th career start.
The Sony Open, which starts Thursday, is the first full-field event of the PGA Tour season.
Among the newcomers is Brian Stuard, who went from the anguish of narrowly missing his card from the Nationwide Tour (No. 26 on the money list) to the thrill of earning it for the first time at Q-school.
Stuard was a little wide-eyed showing up at Waialae Country Club, for even though the Sony Open doesn’t attract massive crowds being on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, it’s still more than he has seen at a tournament.
“I’m trying to approach it like any other golf tournament,” Stuard said.
Then he went to his locker, which is right next to Vijay Singh. And when he headed to the practice range, he wound up hitting balls next to the Fijian, who already is in the World Golf Hall of Fame.
“That was a little different,” Stuard said. “Everything is just bigger.”
Paul Goydos can relate.
His rookie season was 1993. His first PGA Tour event was at Waialae. His first round was an 80.
“I felt completely intimidated,” Goydos said. “My chances of winning were zero, not even measurable. I was walking through the locker room on Monday and Davis Love was walking toward me and the guy looked about 12 feet tall. Hitting balls next to Payne Stewart, watching him hit the ball so good … it was silly. I was pretty intimidated in a sense that, ‘Am I really this good?”‘
He started on the 10th hole, and the wind was blowing so hard that a short par 4 that typically requires a drive and a wedge made him reach for a 6-iron for his second shot. He could barely stand upright on the green. And when Goydos managed to two-putt for a par, he noticed a leaderboard through the palm trees on the opposite nine of the 18th fairway.
The leaders were at 9 under.
Goydos, who has won twice on the PGA Tour, was walking through the locker room on Monday. This time, he ran across 21-year-old Rickie Fowler. The first reaction? “Who’s kid is this,” Goydos said.
“He looks like he’s about 8 years old,” Goydos said. “He’s going to intimidate me in another way – youth.”
Twenty players at Waialae have one tournament in the books this year, having played at the winners-only SBS Championship at Kapalua. The winner, Geoff Ogilvy, headed home for Arizona to prepare for a trip around the world to Abu Dhabi.
The defending champion at the Sony Open is Zach Johnson.
Also in the field is Singh and Ernie Els, rare for them to play at Waialae without having qualified for Kapalua. Els has moved from London to Florida and plans to cut his travel this year, so he figured Hawaii wasn’t a bad place to start – not without having to arrange to travel to the Middle East during a global schedule like no other of this generation.
He turned 40 late last year and knows time is running out. The Big Easy hopes to prove his time is not up.
“When you have a love of the game, you still want to achieve things,” Els said. “The first week is still quite exciting. You look around this week at who might be doing what for the future of the tour. Players like myself, Retief (Goosen) … Phil (Mickelson) will be 40 this year. It’s like the sand in the hourglass is starting to run out. And we’d like to prove to everyone we still belong.”