John Daly looks to bounce back from injury and auctions off a good time at the 2009 British Open

John Daly looks to bounce back from injury and auctions off a good time at the 2009 British Open

John Daly has been working with instructor Rick Smith since the PGA Championship.
Dave Martin/Getty Images spoke with John Daly this week about his reputation, his future on the PGA Tour and your chance to accompany him to Turnberry

Talk about this British Open package you’re auctioning off for charity.

It’s a variety of things. These guys —or women — will get to fly with me to next year’s British Open and stay with me at my villa, and even get to play at an Open venue. Having won an Open, I’ve got a little bit of sway and can get them some passes for the actual tournament that should get them pretty much everywhere except the players’ locker room. I’ll be working, and they’ll get a chance to see how hard it really is out there. We’ll have a good time, too. We’ll have some cookouts where I can tell them stories about my life in golf and all my buddies and hopefully make a really great trip for them.

Do you think spending time with fans all week might be a distraction for you as a player?

That shouldn’t be a problem at all. We’ll try to get in there on Saturday, and they’ll get to play a round with me on Monday, so the timing should work out well. They’ll have a chance to get out there and watch some practice rounds, and hopefully by the time the tournament starts they’re gonna get a good idea of what it’s like being a Tour pro. We’ll go out and eat a couple times, and they may want to go on their own and see the different sights, get a bit of the culture and really get the Open experience.

All the media scrutiny that you get must be very difficult, but it’s also an advantage when it comes to doing charitable work. Do those things even out?

Yeah, in a way. I like to think that when people get a chance to meet me and spend time with me, they get to know what I’m all about. I’m not gonna say I’ve been a saint, and I’ve certainly done things that I regret, and when people ask I’m gonna tell my side of the story, cause if it’s not true, I’ve got to. But the charities have been great, and my family and friends are definitely the ones who know the real John Daly. It’s funny to hear people talk about sports they see on television. I even do it myself. I’ll be watching a football game and think, “How could he make that decision?” That’s how easy it is for you to get scrutinized without anyone actually getting to know who you are.

What has changed most about you or your game since your British Open win?
I still hit it somewhat long, but I don’t need to hit driver on every hole. Patience is something that has become very important, especially when you’re talking about playing in tournaments like the British Open where the weather can really test you. And all of these golf courses are a test. The holes keep getting longer and longer, but that doesn’t mean it’s any easier for a long hitter. Say there’s a hole that had bunkers at 215 or 230 that I used to fly over, but now the hole is longer and I’m trying to fly them at 310 yards. There are a lot of guys who don’t even need to worry about those bunkers anymore, so length isn’t always the answer to longer holes.

You had solid years in ’04 and 05, where it looked like you were coming around, but the last couple of years have been pretty tough for you personally and professionally. Is there anything you think you could have done differently?
It would have been kind of hard, with the ribs and the shoulder it would have been kind of hard. [Editor’s note: At the 2007 Honda Classic, a fan took a picture of Daly during his backswing. He tried to stop his swing and injured his shoulder, ribs and a stomach muscle]. Even bigger was the fact that it was an important time frame. I had great endorsements that I lost because I wasn’t able to fulfill my commitments after my injury. That woman [who took the picture in his backswing] really put my career and livelihood in danger.

Do you think the PGA Tour needs to do more to enforce rules, including banning cameras?
Most every other tournament’s been pretty good, and I’m sure these people were good at the gate, too, but there were no fences inside the community, so anybody who lived [at the PGA National] could just walk out onto the golf course. That’s what happened, and it’s just sad that those rules were disobeyed.

Are you healthy now?
Yeah, I had surgery this year and it went well. Now I can see the club out of the corner of my left eye on my backswing, which is a big trigger for me. For eight or nine months that just wasn’t possible, and it made things very difficult. People who have had the surgery before have been successful with it, so I’m feeling good.

What’s on tap for the rest of the year? Are you going to try to make the top 125?
Yeah, I’m gonna head down to Vegas [for Justin Timberlake’s event] and then the Open and the Ginn. Unfortunately I didn’t get my sponsor’s exemption for San Antonio [the Valero Texas Open], but I’m hoping that I might be able to play that one too.

If the sponsor’s exemptions ran out, would you ever consider going to Q-school?
I think I’ll give it two more years. If I’m not playing every week on Tour I can always play in Europe, so I’ll always have options. And you never know. I could play in a Nationwide event if I had to. I think Q-school is the fifth major; that’s a really hard grind even for good players.

How many tournaments would you like to play in next season?
From what I’ve been told I’ll be in the Sony, which will be my first tournament unless I can win one of these before the end of the year, and I should be in San Diego for the Buick Open and hopefully at the AT&T, where they have a lot of pros. I’m hoping to get in as many tournaments as I can.

What are your thoughts now on Butch Harmon’s comments? [Harmon criticized Daly for spending a rain delay during the PODS Championship in the Hooters tent, after which he emerged with Tampa Bay Buccaneers Coach Jon Gruden as his caddie. Harmon said the most important thing in Daly’s life is getting drunk and severed their working relationship.]
Well, Butch got his facts wrong, and he knows he got his facts wrong, but he still hasn’t retracted his statement. The fact is, there were PGA officials all around that tent, and if I was drinking or doing anything else inappropriate, there’s no way that they were going to let me back out on the course, so the people who believe him are just crazy. The only thing I was drinking in that tent was diet soda.

Has the experience soured you on swing coaches, or are you working with someone again?
I’ve been working with Rick Smith since just before the PGA Championship, and so far it’s going well. We’re gonna do the best we can to try and do well in these last tournaments.

What are you working on right now?
Right now I’m getting a little bit more confidence in my game, and mostly that’s just because I’m starting to get healthier. Once that confidence comes, you start hitting better shots and making some of the putts that it doesn’t seem like you’re gonna make. That’s when you start to win.

Have you been thinking at all about life after golf?
No, not at all. It’s the only thing I want to do. I love the challenge. I love everything about it.

What’s one thing you love most about the game?
The fact that you’ve got to do it on your own. Except for the Ryder Cup, which isn’t where you make your living, you don’t have any teammates there to back you up, so when you do well it’s very self-satisfying.

What’s your response to people who call you out of control?
You can’t think about it, can’t let it get to you. That’s just an opinion people have, and that’s the power of the pen in the media and the power of the voice. I don’t read the paper that much, I know I’m true to myself. I’m still here. I’ve won two majors, but when I go out there I’m kind of a slight underdog, kind of like my [Arkansas] Razorbacks. And every now and then we come through.

You used to be known as Long John and now mostly go by The Lion. Are there any other nicknames we don’t know about?

No. They used to call me Wild Thing in South Africa, and at the time that was a pretty good description, but those days are over. I like the lion — it’s kind of a cool and courageous animal. When he’s on, he’s on, and when he’s not … [laughs] well, he’s not.