The John Daly traveling circus came to Pinehurst with all of its
captivating sideshows: the massive golfing talent that again
grabbed the world's attention, if only for the first day of the
U.S. Open; the primal connection between the player and his
fans, a link that has been strained but never broken; the candid
portrayal of his struggle to overcome his addictions, a brutally
honest self-assessment that is as disarming as it is
enlightening; and the inevitable controversy, this one ending
with Daly's declaration that he would never play in another Open.
Daly squeezed a lot into his week. He was tied for the lead for
most of the first round, then spent the next three days going
backward, sliding all the way to a last-place finish at 29-over
309. The nadir came on Sunday at the par-4 8th hole, where Daly
made a septuple-bogey 11 that included a two-shot penalty for
hitting his ball as it was trickling down the backslope of the
green. Unlike his give-up six-putt at the Memorial two weeks
before the Open, Daly said the 11 was a protest against what he
considered to be unfair pin positions. "I'm going to stick up
for the guys," he said. "The USGA needs to learn how to run a
Before the blowup it appeared that at 33 Daly had finally
figured out how to run his life. He has been sober for 27
months, since his all-night binge after the first round of the
'97 Players Championship. He hasn't gambled in almost three
years, which is quite a sacrifice for someone who savors the
memory of how his knees shook as he bet $400,000 on a hand of
blackjack. He is back on Paxil, the antidepressant he had
abandoned last November but resumed taking after losing his cool
on the 18th green in the opening round of the Memorial. And,
after three failed marriages, he is in a steady relationship
with Shanae Chandler, herself a recovering addict. "I had the
same problem," says Chandler, 23. "You can't understand until
you have to pull yourself out of the depths of hell."
The bad news is that Daly's golf is not on the straight or
narrow. "It used to be that my game was good and everything else
was crap," Daly says. While it's true that everyone on Tour has
seen his game disappear from time to time, few players have as
desperate a need to return to form as Daly. The man who has won
nearly $3 million and amassed twice that in endorsements is
nearly broke, and he's burning up assets like a freight train
using its own cars for fuel. The two-bedroom condo in Palm
Springs? Sold last spring. The 5,000-square-foot house in
Memphis? Going on the market this week. The black '99 Mercedes
S500? Also sold.
June 27, 1999
"Everybody thinks I have a lot of money," Daly says. "I don't.
I've got a $35,000 nut every month for mortgages on my ex-wives'
houses, alimony, child support--which I don't mind paying--taxes
and the gambling debt. All the money I made with Wilson and
Reebok is gone through gambling."
Daly estimates that he won $42 million in the casinos, which
sounds impressive until he adds that he lost $51 million. When
Daly signed a five-year endorsement deal with Callaway in 1997,
the company lent him $1.8 million to cover his outstanding
casino markers, a loan that will be forgiven if he remains sober
and doesn't gamble for the life of the contract.
In an effort to get his finances in order, Daly has reduced the
salaries of Donnie Crabtree, his boyhood pal who describes his
duties as being Daly's righthand guy, and caddie Brian
Alexander. "It's not that big a deal," Crabtree says. "Brian and
I both know when things get better, he'll make it up to us."
Daly finds himself in the vicious cycle usually reserved for
players trying to avoid Q school, not players who rank among the
top draws on Tour. "You miss a cut, you feel like, I got a
weekend off so I'd better play next week," Daly says. "I thought
if I kept playing, I'd work through [the slump]. That backfired."
Daly came to Pinehurst having played for seven consecutive
weeks, during which he missed three cuts, withdrew twice and
finished 51st and 67th in the other two tournaments. Though he
had a medical reason for withdrawing at the Colonial
(allergies), he admits that his behavior at the Memorial was
grade-A bonehead. The six-putt makes people assume the worst. "I
tried on four of them," he says. "That's the sad part."
Fuzzy Zoeller, who has been Daly's friend and mentor for years,
says, "He's his own worst enemy. I told him, 'Your belt has a
lot of notches on it. You've got to suck it up and go. You can't
keep withdrawing. That leaves a bad taste in people's mouths.'"
After the Memorial, Daly decided to go back on Paxil even
though, he says, "I hate the side effects. With Paxil, it's the
sweats." Daly pauses. "There's also a sexual problem. It's
pretty much like Viagra. I can have sex for a long time."
He understands that golfers can fall into slumps as easily as
they can get hot, but that doesn't make his situation any easier
to take. "The guys I've talked to say, 'Don't worry about it,'"
he says. "I ask them, 'When you were in that position, did you
worry about it?' They all say, 'Hell, yeah.'"
That lack of confidence explains why Daly was the last player
who expected to birdie the first three holes of the Open, yet
that's exactly what he did. When Daly came to the course on
Thursday, he hadn't played those holes in eight years. (He
played one practice round, on Wednesday, but didn't start until
he joined Zoeller and Tim Herron on the 5th tee.) Daly finished
third on the No. 2 course in the '91 Tour Championship, but he
couldn't rely on past experience. "I played so drunk here in
'91, I don't even remember the holes," he says.
After making putts of 12 and 20 feet to birdie the first two
holes, Daly had the honor at the 335-yard 3rd, yet he just stood
there, leaning on his driver with his left hand and tapping his
thigh with his right. It soon became evident that Daly was
waiting for the green to clear. One playing partner, Jim Furyk,
yawned, while the other, Darren Clarke, waited with his left
hand on his hip. As the minutes passed, more fans gathered, and
the excitement grew. "I thought I could reach the greenside
bunker," Daly said. "I didn't want to distract the guys in front
of me." When he hit his tee ball 40 yards short of the green, a
teenage fan yelled, "You are my role model! You are my role
model!" That response was typical: For the rest of the field,
the North Carolina gallery meted out polite applause and
occasional cheers; for Daly the fans went NASCAR. They screamed
encouragement. Everywhere he went Daly generated empathy. "Go,
John!" "Patience, Big John, patience!" "Hang in there, John!"
Crabtree compared the electricity in the gallery to what it had
been when Daly burst onto the scene by winning the '91 PGA.
Given the warmth and generosity of spirit extended to him, Daly
seemed to understand that the gallery wanted to pick him up and
carry him to the finish line. No doctor could have prescribed a
better tonic. Two days before the Open, Daly had said, "I've
never told anybody this: I have a tough time looking at the fans
because of the things I've done. I'm real scared to get close to
the fans. I'm afraid. I don't look at myself as being good
enough to talk to them. I'm almost embarrassed to be seen."
But if anyone thought Daly could come out of nowhere and win the
Open the way he won his previous two majors--he also won the '95
British Open--he let them down with his 77 in the second round,
his 81 in the third and especially with the 11, which led to an
83, in the fourth. At the 8th hole Daly's approach shot rolled
over the green. His first putt didn't make it up the slope and
rolled back to him. When his second attempt also came up short
and started coming back, Daly swatted the ball while it was
still rolling, knocking it through the green. From there he
chipped on and three-putted.
At that point the USGA went on alert, and Trey Holland, the
chairman of the championship committee, said that if Daly had
acted up again he would've been disqualified on the spot for
breaking rule 33-7 of Rules of Golf, which demands that golfers
play in the spirit of the game. "We would have asked him very
politely to leave the course," Holland said. "If he had refused
we would've let him play, but he would no longer be competing."
Daly, though, was unrepentant. "I'm not going to Pebble Beach
[site of next year's Open] and watch them ruin that course,
too," he said. "I don't consider the U.S. Open a major anymore."
There's no telling what the golfing public now considers Daly.
If Daly had acted up again, "we would have asked him very
politely to leave the course," said the USGA's Holland.