You might remember John Daly, formerly the longest hitter in
golf, formerly the biggest force to hit the game since Arnold
Palmer and currently the Wild Thing who in the Tigercentric
world of 1996 is rapidly becoming a mild thing. Even before the
late-season heroics of Woods, Daly had managed an
all-too-effective disappearing act from the main stage. Since
reaching his zenith by winning the British Open in 1995, Daly
has played the worst golf of his six-year career on Tour. This
season he had only one top-10 finish while falling to 121st on
the money list. And his troubling tendency to crush it and rush
it when he's out of contention has intensified.
Still, there's no doubt that Daly has lost more than any other
player during Woods's ascendancy. Daly's galleries, the largest
on Tour since he won the 1991 PGA, have thinned now that he has
lost his long-drive mantle to Woods, whose 302.8-yard average
was 14 yards better than Daly's 288.8. But Daly's conundrum goes
beyond the fans and their penchant to follow the leader.
In September, Daly fired his longtime caddie and erstwhile
friend, Greg Rita, after hearing that Rita had considered
working for Woods. (Rita is now on Scott Hoch's bag.) At the
Lincoln-Mercury Kapalua International last week on Maui, Hawaii,
Daly said that he might make an equipment change, part company
with Wilson Sporting Goods--with whom he has seven years
remaining on a 10-year contract once estimated to be worth $30
million--and play without a ball- or club-endorsement deal next
year. Most ominously, Daly seems to be in a cage match again
with his addictions and possibly with depression. In a sense,
the two-time major-championship winner is starting over at 30.
An important first step will take place on Thanksgiving weekend,
when he meets Woods in the Skins Game. Plain and simple, Daly
thinks he's longer than Woods and is eager to prove it. Daly
says the stats lie because he often uses an iron off the tee,
and he has gone so far as to calculate that in his last five
starts of the season he averaged 314 yards with his driver. "I'm
not scared of Tiger," Daly says. "I'm not scared to go
head-to-head. I'm not scared to have a long-drive contest with
him. Who's to say who's longer? We'll find out at the Skins
Game. I'm looking forward to it."
Those rooting for Daly enjoy hearing him talk like that. They
hope that the jarring effect of Woods will shake Daly out of his
stupor. "If Tiger Woods hasn't gotten John Daly's attention,
something is wrong," says Scott Simpson. "Here's a 20-year-old
kid who's longer and straighter than John, who's in shape, who's
dedicated and who has become the most popular golfer. It might
be enough to get John to think, Hey, maybe I should try
Daly, however, contends that he has practiced more than at any
time in his career. "This is the first year I've really busted
my ass, but for some reason it hasn't kicked in," he says. "I'd
hit 500 wedges, think to myself, I've got it now, then go out
the next day and lay sod over the ball. It gets tough to keep
practicing. Maybe I don't know how hard golf is."
There's no question the game is hard the way Daly's playing it.
Not only did he finish last on the Tour--188th--in driving
accuracy, hitting only 57% of the fairways, but he was also
fourth from last in percentage of birdies on par-3 holes, which
along with his 174th ranking in greens in regulation indicates
that he is as much of a scattershot with his irons as he is with
Daly went to Kapalua looking to have some fun, although it is
the place where he picked up during the second round in 1993 and
was suspended by then commissioner Deane Beman. Kapalua is
perhaps the most user-friendly tournament of the year, and Daly
and his wife, Paulette, enjoyed a low-pressure week that
centered on activities at the players' hotel, the Ritz-Carlton,
as much as the 72 holes of golf. On Thursday night Daly took his
electric guitar on stage during a concert by Hootie and the
Blowfish and soloed the introduction to Bob Dylan's Knockin' on
Heaven's Door. After the third round Daly went to a high school
gym and played in two full-court basketball games with members
of the band and Tour players Brad Faxon, Billy Andrade, Woody
Austin and Jim McGovern, got back to the hotel in time to see
Evander Holyfield upset Mike Tyson and finished the night by
attending a Vince Gill concert.
On the course, though, Daly didn't look as if he were enjoying
himself. He played poorly, shooting a one-under-par 289
(71-75-73-70) to finish 43rd, 20 strokes behind winner Paul
Stankowski. His game was erratic and uninspired. As he has all
year, Daly seemed devoid of intensity, and while he never lost
his temper, he could never summon any enthusiasm either. "I
don't think I've had fun on the golf course since I won at
Atlanta," says Daly, referring to his 1994 victory in the
Was he forgetting about his dramatic triumph in the British Open
at St. Andrews? "Not really, no," he says.
The cause may be what he describes as a case of burnout from all
the overseas tournaments he has entered for hefty appearance
fees. "I had the opportunity to set myself up financially, and I
did. But I paid the price," he says. Daly promises that next
year, other than a trip to Australia for two tournaments early
in the season, his only trip abroad will be to the British Open,
a decision that he says will cost him more than $1 million in
guarantees. "If I have one piece of advice for Tiger, it's stay
home," says Daly, who intends to play as many as 28 Tour events
But there are other reasons that Daly may be down. By his own
admission he's 20 pounds overweight at 220, and he's still
smoking, eating junk food and gambling to excess. "I'm addicted
to everything I do," he says, adding that he plans to seek
professional help. "I'm a guy who's either going to go full bore
or I'm not going to do it at all."
That's why so many of his fans were disappointed to learn that
he had fallen off the wagon. In October, Daly issued a press
release through the Tour stating that he was drinking again
after more than 3 1/2 years of sobriety. The release was
intended to quell rumors that he was bingeing, but the admission
was seen as bad news by rehabilitation professionals and
recovering alcoholics. "When I read that, it just made me
furious," says one longtime counselor who requested that his
name not be used. "Anybody who cares about John would not say
this is O.K. What I read was about denial and rationalization
and relapse. Alcoholism is a disease of relapse. The man is
going down the wrong path."
Daly justifies his return to drinking as an experiment that
served a useful purpose. He ended what he contends was a
three-year, seven-month and four-day period of sobriety on Aug.
4, the Sunday of the Volvo Scandinavian Masters in Kungsbacka,
Sweden, after finishing 18th. Sitting with him were his agent,
John Mascatello, Rita and a close friend from boyhood, Donnie
Crabtree. "I had a bottle of beer open, sitting there between my
legs, and I just pondered it for about five minutes," says Daly.
"They were all looking at me, nervous to see what would happen.
Then I took a swig, and they all couldn't believe it. It's
funny, though. The first sensation wasn't anything. I ended up
having three beers."
Says Mascatello, "I was obviously shocked. It was painful to
Daly says he decided to drink because "the whole time I was
going through sobriety, I was thinking, Man, it would be great
to have a beer. It was something that was always over my
shoulder. I had to find out." Daly estimates that over the next
seven weeks, he had about 18 beers and never more than three at
a time. Then, he says, he abruptly quit again. "It wasn't even a
big deal," he insists. "I was sitting at the house [in Memphis]
alone on a Saturday or Sunday, watching some games. I'd had a
couple of beers and thought, You know, I don't want this. I
don't even want it."
Daly has since come to a more elaborate conclusion. "There's
just no reason for me to drink again," he says. "My life is not
going in that direction. My life is to play golf, sit home with
the wife and kids and do things with the family more than I used
to. Luckily for me and my family, I found out it doesn't taste
good to me anymore."
But Daly stopped short of saying that he's through with alcohol.
"I can say that I'm going to stop, but I can't say that I'm
going to quit," he says. "You can never say you're going to quit."
Daly seems content that the episode is over and that he's in
control. Observers familiar with alcohol addiction say the
opposite is almost certainly true. "When I heard about John's
latest attempt to be a social drinker, it just made me sad,"
said a man in Daly's gallery at Kapalua who described himself as
a recovering alcoholic. "He still thinks that he's different
from other people. He has not accepted that alcohol is bigger
than he is, that he's helpless against it. Until he does, he's
headed for another blowout."
Although Daly attended Sierra Tucson, an addiction treatment
center, for three weeks in 1993, he hasn't attended Alcoholics
Anonymous meetings. Daly says he's not even sure that he's an
alcoholic. "I don't know if alcoholic is the right name for my
case," he says. "That's the hardest thing I was trying to go
through those three years: Am I really an alcoholic? Or am I
just allergic to alcohol? Is it the same thing? That's something
I'd like to find out."
For all his ambivalence toward drinking, Daly has no doubt that
he suffers from persistent depression. "I just know I'm not
happy," he says. "I think my worst enemy is me."
He knows how depression feels but remains puzzled by its cause.
"I'm still working on it," he says. "I have a tough time dealing
with...I don't know. It's more than golf. You know how fans come
up and talk. I feel like I don't talk to them long enough now. I
say, 'Whatever' or 'I don't know.' I used to keep the
conversation going, saying stuff like, 'Yeah, that's great!' I'm
not sure what happened to me."
In other times of adversity Daly has proved to be a survivor who
thrives on urgency. Before he won at St. Andrews, Daly's best
finish for the year had been 12th. He's hoping that he can
rebound yet again.
"In all aspects of my life, I'm going forward," he says. "The
golf game will hook in. Now I have the chance to prove to myself
and to others that, hey, a bad year was all it was, and come
back strong next year. I know this about me: When I get in the
hunt, I'm going to win or somebody is going to have to kick my
butt. I just got to get there. The good news is, it can't get
Yes it can, John. Yes it can.