By DOUG FERGUSON
AP GOLF WRITER
John Daly smashed one tee shot off the top of a beer can during a pro-am. At another tournament, he returned from a rain delay with Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden as his caddie. And his most memorable photo this year came in an orange jail suit, eyes half-closed.
Daly said Wednesday that such unwelcome publicity is why the PGA Tour suspended him for six months.
The two-time major champion confirmed his suspension to The Associated Press, calling this the low point of an 18-year career during which he has made as much news off the course as he has with his prodigious game.
“Is it fair that I got suspended?” he said. “It’s not fair in reality, but it’s probably fair in perception.”
Daly said he wanted to go public to let fans and tournaments know that he wasn’t abandoning them by taking his game to the European tour. At least until the spring, he simply didn’t have much of a choice.
“I’m not sure this is the smartest thing to do, but I’d rather be honest, especially with the fans,” he said. “It’s hard for me not to play on the West Coast. I love it out there.”
PGA Tour spokesman Ty Votaw declined comment, even after seeing Daly’s remarks, citing the tour’s longtime policy of not discussing fines or suspensions.
This is the second time the tour has suspended Daly, along with at least two other times when he agreed to sit out the final few months of a season to get his life in order.
He has not played on the PGA Tour since he missed the cut Oct. 17 in Las Vegas. Ten days later, police in Winston-Salem, N.C., said he appeared intoxicated outside a Hooters restaurant, and Daly was taken to jail to sleep it off. That led to his photo in the orange jail suit, which became an Internet sensation.
Still trying to recover from various injuries, Daly made only five cuts in 17 starts on the tour, finishing 232nd on the money list. His world ranking has plunged to No. 736.
Daly isn’t even sure when the suspension began, but he hopes it ends in May. He said PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem sent a letter to his agent, Bud Martin of SFX Sports, who passed along the news.
“Tim and his staff have to do what they do,” Daly said. “Truly and honestly, I wish Tim would get to know the facts better before he makes a decision. I would love to sit down and have a nice talk with him, tell him what really happened. But perception is reality in the world, and sometimes they have to do what they have to do.”
Martin would only say the suspension was to end in the spring, adding “it remains confidential with the PGA Tour.” He said Daly wants to use 2009 to turn his career around.
“This is the last negative thing that’s been gnawing at him,” Martin said. “We didn’t make any requests for exemptions, and John wanted to be clear with them. He wanted to play in their tournaments, but he can’t. He didn’t want to let his fans down. He wanted them to know the truth.”
Daly said he hopes to play well enough to earn sponsor exemptions on the PGA Tour when the suspension is lifted.
“John’s New Year’s resolution is do everything he can to make positive things happen on the golf course,” Martin said. “I hope he can walk the walk. The talk sounds great. But it’s going to be him working hard and staying out of trouble, and having success on the golf course.”
Daly became an overnight sensation when he won the 1991 PGA Championship at Crooked Stick as the ninth alternate, introducing his powerful “grip it and rip it” style to golf. Four years later, he won the British Open at St. Andrews. But his career has been dragged down by two trips to alcohol rehab, four marriages, gambling losses and other off-course episodes that have made him a sideshow to some and a cult figure to others.
Asked why he was suspended, Daly pointed to four incidents during the year.
After a rain delay at Innisbrook during the Florida swing, he emerged from a hospitality tent with Gruden as his caddie for the final seven holes of the round, prompting a split with swing coach Butch Harmon.
“My whole goal for him was he’s got to show me golf is the most important thing in his life,” Harmon said in March. “And the most important thing in his life is getting drunk.”
While promoting a golf course in Missouri, Daly a regional television interview wearing only blue jeans – no shirt, no shoes – while showing how to play one of the holes. Then at the Buick Open, during a pro-am that featured Kid Rock in overalls, Daly revved up the fans by hitting one drive off the top of a beer can.
He drew the most attention from the night in jail. Daly told the AP that his friends called police when they feared he had passed out, claiming they were unaware he sleeps with his eyes open when he’s had too much to drink. Daly was put in jail under a state law called “Assistance to Intoxicated Persons.”
“The picture didn’t help,” Daly said. “People think I got arrested when I didn’t get arrested. It is what it is. I’ve got to deal with it and go on. Whatever reason the tour has, maybe a positive will come out of this.”
CBS Sports analyst David Feherty, a recovering alcoholic, said after the North Carolina arrest he hoped Daly would get help.
“He’s one of the most generous and one of the kindest souls,” Feherty said. “The stories of his generosity to the people are legendary. The only person he has ever been unkind to is himself.”
Daly has played four times overseas since the PGA Tour suspended him, tying for 17th in the Hong Kong Open and missing the cut at all three tournaments he played in Australia. In the Australian Open, he lost his patience with a fan who put a camera in his face during the round, smashing the camera against a tree.
“This is the lowest I’ve ever been,” Daly said. “There’s always light with me. Right now, my home tour is probably Europe. And I love the European tour. I always have. But my home is the United States. That’s where I would rather play.”
Daly said the publicity cost him his endorsements. His only deals are with Focus Golf Systems, which signed a 15-year agreement in 2006 to sell his golf clubs and apparel in Wal-Mart stores; and Fly Emirates, part of a deal that will pay his travel expenses when he plays the Abu Dhabi Championship, Qatar Masters and Dubai Desert Classic in January.
“This has been the worst year,” he said in the New Year’s Eve interview. “One day left.”