Why does John Daly still thrill us? He does, you know. He only appeared on the British Open leader board for a short while last week, but he was there long enough to make everyone feel good. “We just laughed,” Tiger Woods would say of the moment when he looked up at the board and caught sight of Daly, a first-round 66, a brief return to the top of golf.
We all just laughed happily. Why does Daly, after everything, still make so many people cheer? Maybe it’s the way he showed up in our lives in 1991. He was a ninth alternate who drove all night to the PGA Championship in Carmel, Ind., and promptly shot an opening 69 on a Crooked Stick course he had never seen. He won the championship, and when asked how he did it, he simply said in his Arkansas twang, “Grip it and rip it.”
That was the crazed life Daly lived — grip it and rip it. His Wikipedia page features sections on alcoholism, gambling, marriages (four of them), lawsuits, charity works. He made millions of dollars and lost millions more. Yes, he has lived a country song life (and recorded a few country songs along the way).
And he battled his golf game throughout, barely wrestling his prodigious talent to a draw. Before there was Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus predicted that Daly would win multiple Masters. “The golf course is made for him,” Nicklaus said.
But greatness was not in the cards. (Daly’s best finish in 12 appearances at Augusta National is a tie for third.) I Only Know One Way is the title of Daly’s second album (released just as the British Open began), and it is his style in life and in golf. He hit the ball farther than anyone, rushed through his rounds and, on occasion, would show breathtaking touch around the greens. It’s a style that pushed him to miss a lot of cuts and disappear from the golfing world time and again. But every now and then he would still do something amazing. In 1995, when it seemed as if his star had burned out, he shocked the world by winning the British Open at St. Andrews. In 2004, long after his star had burned out, he shocked the world again by winning at Torrey Pines.
So last Thursday, when he bombed his drives and made some putts and shot that 66 at St. Andrews — wearing the outrageous Loudmouth Golf Apparel clothes that clashed against the gorse — you could not help but wonder if he had something remarkable in him again. He did not. He shot a 76 on Friday and spent the weekend missing putts in the wind and finishing 48th. But you could not help but feel a bit thankful for that brief moment when he was back on the leader board. John Daly is still around. So is the perpetual hope we all feel that it’s never too late.