BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. — With only four made cuts in 17 starts on the PGA and European tours in 2008, and a highly publicized he said/he said with coach Butch Harmon, John Daly needed a fresh start. The oft-troubled two-time major champion got one when he called Northern Michigan’s Rick Smith, the former coach of Phil Mickelson.
"We started working together Sunday out at Oakland University," Smith said while following Daly in the second round of the 90th PGA Championship at Oakland Hills on Friday.
The practice session lasted seven hours, according the Greg Johnson of The Grand Rapids Press, who also had this quote from Daly: "I haven’t been able to feel like I’ve finished a swing for months now, and Rick has me feeling it again."
On Friday, after trying to drive the green on the 300-yard, par-4 sixth hole, and ending up short and left, Daly chipped to six feet above the hole. He missed the birdie putt and the crowd groaned.
"Oh, he needed to make that," Smith said. Daly was at eight over par. The cut looked like it was going to be seven over.
Then came the killing stroke. On his 16th hole, the 449-yard, par-4 seventh, Daly pulled out a hybrid club instead of his trusty driver. It was one of his few conservative plays all day, but he still lost his tee shot right.
Smith: "Did that go in the lake?"
Daly made bogey to fall to nine over par, then bogeyed the next hole to drop to +10. It was slipping away.
Still, Daly-watchers could see a change. Smith has been trying to get him to fire his right side through the ball, and while Long John hit just two of 14 fairways Friday (compared to seven of 14 Thursday), he didn’t miss by much. A handful of drives rolled just inches into the rough Friday, which spells doom at Oakland Hills. Other tee shots, such as his drive off the 435-yard first hole, were dead solid perfect.
Smith is also trying to change Daly’s ball position with both the driver (he was teeing it too high and had it too far forward in his stance) and his putter (his eyes weren’t far enough over the ball).
Daly shot 80-89 at the British Open last month, and he hasn’t made a cut on the PGA Tour since the Mayakoba Golf Classic in Mexico in late February. He tried submitting to the tutelage of the no-nonsense Harmon earlier this year, but the two had a falling out over Daly’s off-course habits and feuded in the media about whether or not those habits constituted alcoholism.
So the prodigiously talented golfer with the prodigious appetites called Smith, who coached world No. 2 Mickelson while the lefthander was winning three majors, among several other tournaments. Whether or not Daly will last under Smith any longer than he did under Harmon remains to be seen, but he refused to give up Friday — a good sign for a player who has tanked in the past. Daly stiffed his approach shot to the 219-yard ninth hole, his last of the day, and made the short putt for birdie. He finished nine over, probably a stroke or two south of the cut line but better than playing partner Vijay Singh (76-76, 12 over).
Daly signed a few hats and programs, then walked past a clot of waiting reporters.
"C’mon, Rick, let’s go eat," he said. He walked to the door of the player dining room, took off his sunglasses and gazed back at the course. He’d shot 74-75, and hit a lot of good shots. He’d likely missed another cut.
(Photo: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)