Playing a New Tune

Set to rejoin the PGA Tour after his second suspension in a year, John Daly insists that he finally has a grip on his oft-troubled life
March 14, 1994

So who stole John Daly?

Exhibit A: For the third straight day now, a man purporting to be John Daly has turned on the shower in this 50-foot bus he calls home, hoping to find hot water. On the first two days, his two-man crew—Donnie, the guy who takes care of the bus, and Wedgie, his caddie—worked on the hot water. Today, finally, they figured they had it fixed. That's good, because after three days Daly really wanted to wash his hair. But for the third straight day, the water comes out freezing.

The only question now is, Which will Daly select to smash the shower door with, a one-iron or a driver? After all, this ain't Gentle Ben Crenshaw here. This is the scourge of the links—long drives, short temper—the guy who has destroyed more hotel rooms than water seepage. Donnie holds his breath. Wedgie stands perfectly still, hoping maybe Daly will mistake him for a floor lamp.

But Daly is not blowing up. Daly is not even turning purple. Daly is just smiling.

"No problem," he says, cheerfully. "I can wear a hat."

Exhibit B: Take a look at those hands. Those are not John Daly's hands. Those hands have something Daly's hands haven't had in years: calluses. You telling us John Daly actually found out where the practice tee is?

Exhibit C: Take a look at that waistline. John Daly's waistline used to be 25 pounds and 44,000 peanut M&M's wider. John Daly actually found the salad bar?

Exhibit D: Take a look at that face. Smiling. John Daly has actually found happiness?

We'll know beginning this Thursday, when Daly and his nuclear driver and his heel-scratching backswing return from a four-month PGA Tour suspension to play at the Honda Classic in For! Lauderdale. If he hits it to Naples, it's Daly.

"I can't wait," Daly says. 'I've been so bored. I almost felt like going down to Doral [site of last week's tournament], standing around on the first tee and going, 'Hey, you need a fourth?' "

Daly was banished to golf's penalty box in November for picking up his ball at the Kapalua International and putting it in his pocket before the ball was done playing the hole. That wouldn't have been so bad if, a month earlier, Daly hadn't also severed relations between his golf ball and the hole at the Buick Southern Open. And refused to sign his scorecard after a 77 at the Kemper Open in May. And turned around at a clinic near Portland in August and screamed a drive right over the haircuts of about 5,000 startled fans on a hillside. "He could've killed someone," Arnold Palmer said at the time.

A legend already at 27, Daly thus became the first person in the history of a tour full of Eagle Scouts to be suspended twice in one year. The first suspension came in December 1992, after he got into a drunken argument with his soon-to-be ex-wife, Bettye, and turned his Castle Rock, Colo., house into an unplayable lie. Alcohol rehab followed.

The second suspension was supposed to last until the Freeport-McMoran Classic in New Orleans at the end of March, but PGA Tour commissioner Deane Be-man allowed Daly to return three weeks early. What must have impressed Beman was what Daly didn't do during his time off, which is to say Daly didn't immediately go out and play about 25 Kyoto Invitationals for his usual $125,000 appearance fee and the Botswana Skins Game or do two or three Oprahs. Instead, he did something he had never done in his life. He took time for himself.

He worked on his head and his game. He bought a condo in Palm Springs and hit balls for six hours a day at Mission Hills Country Club. He learned to play the guitar. (Eddie Van Halen actually gave him a lesson.) He stopped fighting with Bettye over everything to do with their 21-month-old daughter, Shynah, saying, "We finally agreed we just want what's best for her." He didn't box himself in with commitments and appearances and shoot-outs. He boxed out, instead, playing 5'11" center for a local rec league basketball team to get in shape. One tour's loss is another tour's gain. "Too bad," says teammate Robert Delgado. "That guy could really play defense."

Actually, Daly has stopped playing so much defense. He's copping to all charges. "I kind of did some bad things," he said last week. "I did the kind of things a boss might fire you for."

Last season Daly was a Hard Copy segment in spikes. He was going through a divorce, he was trying to stay sober on a Daly basis, he was addicted to chocolate (desperate for M&M's one night, Daly ordered up the hotel gift shop's entire supply), and he wasn't speaking to his putter, which was on its way to leaving him 171st in Tour putting stats.

"Anybody that went through the hell I went through would've picked up too," Daly says, looking healthier and more rested than he has looked in years. "What was bad was that everybody thought I was drinking again. I actually think some people wanted me to be drinking again, because half the people that drink can't stop. Even my family and friends thought I was drinking again. 'You're drinking again, aren't you?' 'No, I'm not.' 'Then why do you have to go back in rehab?' "

He didn't have to go back in rehab. In suspending him, Beman suggested to Daly that he do some outpatient counseling at the Betty Ford Clinic, but Daly said no. "I've had enough of rehab," he says. "I've had enough of those stories. It's too depressing."

Aside from Donnie and Wedgie and his new girlfriend, Paulette Dean, a model he met at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic, Daly has pretty much been on his own one-man program. He insists he is still a nonpracticing alcoholic. "I'll take a urine test for anybody, anytime."

Instead, he turned to his mind guru, former Dallas Cowboy linebacker Thomas (Hollywood) Henderson, a former cocaine addict and a drug and alcohol counselor whom Daly met when he was in rehab last year. Henderson explained to him that Daly was not his golf game. "You are John Daly," Henderson would say, "and sometimes you play great golf." What Daly is trying to do is turn negatives into positives and learn that "a bad day on the course doesn't have to mean a bad night and a bad week and you get to scream at your agent."

"If you sober up a horse thief and that's all you do, what you have is a sober horse thief," Henderson says. "Now John Daly has to learn how to live, with principles and ethics."

What that means in golfspeak is that Daly has to learn how to grind. No more slipping the golf ball into your trouser pocket. "I can't quit anymore," Daly says. "I need to take AA to the golf course. Golf is day-to-day. It's shot to shot, it's not four days at a time.

"Man, 1994 should be a real good year for me," he says. "I've got a lot of stuff off my back. It's like starting all over again. I feel like I'm just trying to earn my card. In two years I'd never worked on my game for a good solid week, much less two and a half months.... I'm doing what I want to do now. I've had enough of worrying about everybody else. Now I'm taking care of me."

Take, for instance, the bus. With the giant words GRIP IT AND RIP IT painted on the side, the bus was his home his first full year on the Tour, 1991. But when he got married, Bettye didn't much like the bus, so he put it in a garage for a year. Now that the divorce is almost final, the bus has been pardoned, hot water or no hot water.

"This is perfect," Daly says, while trying to restring one of his electric guitars on board. "I don't have to worry about a phone ringing. We stay in these campgrounds, and they're usually really private. I cook whatever I want to cook. I don't have to order room service. I don't have to worry about my guitar bothering the people in the next room. And when we get the satellite dish up on the roof, I can get any channel I want." At $140,000, the bus cost more than his first house, in Memphis.

Wedgie follows the bus around the country in Daly's Toyota Land Cruiser. He will also be following Daly around the course this season. Wedgie, a.k.a. Brian Alexander, was an assistant pro from Chickasaw Country Club in Memphis. He gained his nickname caddying for Daly in Chattanooga in 1989. One day during that tournament, Wedgie handed Daly a wedge for his approach shots on every par-4 on the course.

Maybe the only people happier than Daly himself that he is back on the Tour are the tournament sponsors. At the annual PGA Merchandise Show this January, Daly had a line of autograph seekers that stretched 100 yards, by far the longest for any player there. He plans to play every week from the Honda through the Masters, then take a short rest.

How Daly will play is anybody's guess. He is about as predictable as an earthquake. He placed third at the Masters last year when his marriage was falling apart, he was trying to get close to his father for the first time, his weight was driving him crazy and he was dying for a drink. Calm and happy, he might miss the cut by two sports sections. One thing that's clear, if unthinkable: He is even longer than before. "Ten to 15 yards," says his agent, John Mascatello. Gulp.

How Daly will behave is even more of a guess. He is still a long way from being Tom Kite. If there is one thing Daly needs work on, it's patience. In his years on Tour, he has become the master of the walking five-iron, frequently getting so disgusted with himself that he hits the shot without actually setting up over it. He is being tutored on patience by noted golf shrink Bob Rotella, but there are signs that he still doesn't quite know the meaning of the word. Of red lights, Daly says, "I treat 'em like stop signs. You take a look, see if it's O.K. and go right through 'em." This is patient? He also told ESPN's Dan Patrick, "I want to win more Masters than Jack Nicklaus. I want to win eight Masters." In his life, Daly has won only twice on the Tour.

Still, there is a newness to him, a resolution that wasn't there before, and, besides, he has his draw working again. "I'll be nervous," Daly says. "I'm not promising I'm not going to ever pick up again, but I don't want to. I want to stay on an even keel all the way around.

"I decided I'm either going to work my ass off or just be an average guy on this Tour. I don't want to be average.... You win a PGA, they give you that 10-year exemption, you just kind of put it on cruise. I don't want to do that anymore. My dream when I was a kid was coming out here and winning. I want to get back to that dream."

Talk about change. When Beman announced last week that he was retiring as commissioner, Daly didn't even throw a party. "I probably gave him some of those gray hairs," says Daly. "But, really, what Deane did [suspending him] was a blessing. I never would have stopped playing. I never would've actually worked on things. I'd have kept right on going. The Skins Game, overseas, I'd have never stopped."

Exhibit E: For two hours now, Daly has been trying to restring his Fender Stratocaster, and for two hours it has mocked him. He took the guitar apart and put it back together four times, and he only made things worse. Finally, just as he is sure he has everything perfect, just as he is tightening the last string, it snaps.

Daly stares straight ahead. Everybody in the bus takes two steps back. Daly runs his fingers over his face. Wedgie makes like wallpaper. Daly turns slightly pink. Donnie gets ready for a Fender bender.

But John Daly does not do a Pete Townshend on the guitar. He takes a deep breath, smiles, and says, "I'm learning a helluva lot about this guitar, aren't I?"

Seriously, where are you hiding, John Daly?

PHOTOBILL FRAKES TWO PHOTOSBILL FRAKESA relaxed Daly, 25 pounds lighter, is readying his game for the Honda Classic, where he'll surely go long. PHOTOBILL FRAKESThe tumult of '93 behind him, Daly, with daughter, Shynah, believes that his star will rise in '94.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)