Now Momma Lou makes chocolate gravy; Lord, she is so nice /Poppa
Jim pulled me aside and gave me some advice /He said, "Quit
spending all your money on all those old skanks /Just put some in
your pocket and put some in the bank" --John Daly, "ALL MY EXES
Except for the part about winning the British Open, John Daly's
life has always played out like a bad country song, with all the
touchstones of the genre: the wrong women, battles with the
bottle, squandered fortunes and a scrape with the law (to say
nothing of the PGA Tour commissioner). In the beginning--circa
1991--Daly's flaws contributed as much to his popularity as did
the awesome drives he launched with his hyperextended swing. On a
Tour full of country-club types, Daly was raw and real, with
problems you could relate to. (Well, some of us could relate to
some of them.) But in the eight years since his last PGA Tour
victory, Daly, 37, has regressed from contender to curiosity.
Just when it seemed he had lost all his shock value, Daly has,
over the last three months, gone on a self-destructive binge
that has put his golf game and personal life in disarray--and
his problems are far from over. "John Daly needs help," says a
member of his inner circle. "The Tour feels that way. Everyone
close to John feels that way."
Daly's tailspin began in July. On the 23rd his fourth wife,
Sherrie, gave birth to John Patrick Daly II, a.k.a. Little John.
He is Big John's third child, from as many mothers. Five days
after the birth, Sherrie and her parents--Alvis Miller and his
wife of 39 years, Billie--were indicted in a Mississippi federal
court for allegedly laundering more than $1.2 million in illegal
drug profits. Sherrie could face up to 20 years in prison. Daly
may be an aspiring country music crooner, but Tammy Wynette he
ain't. "I believe they're not guilty, and I'm standing 100
percent behind them," he told SI in late September. "Granted, if
Sherrie is going to prison for 20 years, I'll have to divorce
Since his wife's arrest, Daly has been disqualified or has
withdrawn from four of his seven Tour starts. At the 84 Lumber
Classic, he started shaking uncontrollably and had to be carted
off the course. At the Texas Open he raked in a missed putt while
the ball was still moving and didn't report it to Tour officials
until after he had signed his scorecard--an automatic DQ.
Afterward there were reports (denied by Daly) that he trashed the
interior of his $1.4 million bus. "He's not really a golfer any
longer," a Tour player said. "More like a freak show."
A week later at the Southern Farm Bureau Classic, Daly six-putted
a green, chasing after his ball and "hockey-sticking" it into the
cup, tap-tap-tap-tap-tap. Once the game's biggest draw, Daly was
dismissed as "sad" by tournament director Robert Morgan, who
added, "If he continues the way he is, the John Daly persona is
not going to be an attraction anymore."
In addition to the real problems Daly faces, he has had to deal
with a torrent of rumors in recent months. Last weekend, the New
Jersey wire service SportsTicker cited sources saying,
incorrectly, that Daly had entered an alcohol rehab clinic on
orders from PGA commissioner Tim Finchem. "I'm just frustrated
that I'm having to defend myself on things that aren't even
happening," Daly says. "It's been a joke."
In the wake of his wife's indictment, two of Daly's longtime
associates called it quits. At the PGA Championship in August,
Daly was fired by his caddie, Mick Peterson, who made it plain
that he no longer wanted to have anything to do with Sherrie
Daly. Donnie Crabtree, John's personal assistant and driver for
10 years and his closest friend since the first grade, quit a
week later. "It's hard watching somebody that you love
self-destruct," Crabtree says. "John can go weeks without
drinking, but he's a binger. He'll drink and not eat, smoke three
packs a day. He drinks Diet Cokes like they're going out of
style. No rest, high stress, lots of caffeine, lots of nicotine.
You add all those things together, and you get what's happened
over the last six or seven weeks."
Asked if he thinks Daly--who denies any recent binge
drinking--has become a danger to himself or others, Crabtree says
he doesn't consider his friend "consciously suicidal" but cites
the belief of people in 12-step programs that you have to hit
rock bottom before you can come back. "My fear with John is that
his rock bottom might be something you don't come back from."
Early last month Daly thought he'd arrived at a simple solution
for his latest round of problems: dump the wife. On Oct. 5, the
day PGA senior vice president and chief of operations Henry
Hughes called Daly to express concerns over his recent behavior,
Daly instructed his attorney to file divorce papers in Memphis.
Daly then flew to Seoul for the Korean Open, an Asian tour event
that had ponied up an appearance fee for him. A world away from
his troubles, Daly summoned one of the most stunning performances
of his career, shooting a back-nine 32 on Sunday, Oct. 12, to win
his first tournament in more than two years. The field was weak,
and the course wasn't exactly Pebble Beach, but for Daly the
victory was monumental. "Your adrenaline gets pumping when you
have a chance to win," he says. "I was hitting my driver 30 or 40
yards farther than I normally do."
The day after the tournament Daly rested in a suite at the Paris
Las Vegas hotel and casino in Las Vegas. In a relaxed but subdued
conversation--one of several with SI over the past six weeks--he
said that his divorce would be governed by a prenuptial agreement
that he and Sherrie signed in 2001. On various occasions, he
said, he was physically and verbally abused by his wife in front
of friends, family, other Tour players, the rock band Hootie and
the Blowfish and, in one colorful incident, three strippers at a
charity golf outing. He also claimed that although his wife had
told him that she and her parents were targets of a federal
investigation, she had not disclosed that it involved the
laundering of drug profits. (Sherrie denies having known this
"It's cut and dried," Daly said. "She gets 50 grand, and that's
it." He puffed on a cigarette and stared at a bowl of roses in
the center of the table. "I wanted to make it work. It's
embarrassing to have to go through another divorce. There's two
beautiful children involved." He shook his head. "But I'm going
to go insane if I don't get away from this woman."
The knot was tied two years ago in the wedding chapel at Bally's
Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. The bride wore a wedding gown.
Daly wore jeans and a sport coat. After the ceremony the wedding
party took an elevator up to his suite and celebrated. For the
first time in years the planets seemed to be aligned for Daly.
The day before the wedding he had won $850,000 playing slot
machines, and he was cresting on a comeback that saw him rise
from 507th to the top 50 in the World Ranking. "I really thought
I had found a woman who was a lot of fun," he says of Sherrie. "I
really thought I'd found the right woman."
The lovebirds had met during the 2001 FedEx St. Jude Classic, in
Daly's adopted hometown of Memphis. He was engaged to another
woman at the time, but after being introduced to Sherrie by
mutual friends, John joked that he was going to marry her
instead. Seven weeks later, to the accompaniment of slot-machine
bells, John and Sherrie were wed.
With the benefit of hindsight, John concedes that he didn't know
Sherrie well enough to exchange Christmas cards, much less
conceive a child with her. Nine months earlier Sherrie had broken
up with the father of her son Austin, who is now four. John
probably wasn't looking beyond Sherrie's obvious attributes. At
27 she is a shapely, well-groomed blonde with a chatty air that
can be disarming. She was a cheerleader at Collierville (Tenn.)
High and studied at St. Joseph's School of Nursing, although she
didn't get a degree. In recent years she has worked sporadically
as a commissioned car salesperson, mostly at the Auto Center, a
used-car dealership in Collierville owned by her father, Alvis.
The indictment against Sherrie and her parents charges that Alvis
Miller, through a series of cash transactions involving used cars
and real estate, laundered illegal drug profits for three members
of a domestic drug ring, all of whom pled guilty. The case
focuses on 47 cash deposits ranging from $2,000 to $9,500--just
under the $10,000 level that must be reported to federal
authorities--made by the Miller family over 33 months, all of
them at two Collierville banks. Four of the deposits were made by
Sherrie, which is why, unless she or her parents make a deal with
prosecutors before their scheduled trial date of Nov. 17, she
faces penalties ranging from probation to 20 years in prison if
"The whole thing is a joke," Sherrie says. "I borrowed money from
my dad because my checking account was overdrawn. Yes, I made a
$9,500 deposit.... This lady at the bank, she was a little old
lady, she was like, 'Oooh, you don't want to deposit all that
cash. You need to keep it under $10,000 or we'll have to fill out
all those forms.'" Sherrie adds, "Now, this lady that told me
that is eightysomething years old, and I don't think she
Sherrie's lawyer, Kemper Durand, says his client may have made
the deposits, "but our take is she was a flunky doing what she
was told by her father." The indictments of Billie Miller and
Sherrie, says Durand, are the government's way of pressuring
Alvis to plead guilty. "This is what we call Southern gentleman
justice. They're hoping the man will take the hit so his wife and
daughter will get dismissed."
That approach may not work with Alvis, a voluble man of 60 with
the blocklike physique and belligerent outlook of his son-in-law,
John Daly. "I'm not scared," Alvis said three weeks ago, leaning
back in his office chair at the Auto Center. "I'm not giving in
to anybody, because I didn't do anything I thought was wrong. If
we laundered any money, we certainly didn't know it." Miller
characterized his business dealings with three of the drug-ring
principals as favors for lifelong friends and said he had no idea
they were involved in drug trafficking. "This has ruined my
business," he complains. "I haven't sold a car in two months.
People think I'm a drug dealer."
While they wait for the scales of justice to tip one way or the
other, the Millers--and, at times, Sherrie, Austin and baby
John--live in a spacious four-bedroom house with swimming pool
and gazebo on 35 acres of farmland at the edge of Collierville.
Until the case is resolved, the feds have a lien on the house,
the land and the Millers' bank accounts and used cars.
John Daly "is not in any way implicated," according to a highly
placed government source. Nevertheless, it is Daly who has
behaved like the beleaguered suspect, losing sleep, chain-smoking
and confounding his nervous system with alcohol and caffeine. The
loss of his beloved mother, Lou, who died last year of cancer,
contributed to his personal and professional decline.
"Every month, before he can take a breath or miss a cut, he has
to pay $20,000 [in child support and alimony]," Sherrie says,
explaining some of the pressure Daly endures. "When you're not
making any money, that comes pretty quick." Daly's ex-wives
numbers 2 and 3 seem to rank ahead of the feds on Sherrie's
don't-like list. "They live in Rancho Mirage and Orlando in very,
very fine homes," she says. "Tile roof, the whole bit. They live
large, and they don't even have to go to the mailbox to get their
check. We wire it. All they have to do is spend it."
Daly, on the other hand, told SI that the principal cause of his
anguish was wife number 4. Among other things, John claimed that
Sherrie kept him in the dark about the scope of her legal
troubles and then dismissed them as trivial when they emerged. "I
had to find out from the newspaper," he said of the part of the
federal indictment that involved the laundering of drug money. "I
saw it in the Memphis paper, and that hurt me more than
Crabtree supports Daly's claim that he was shocked when he read
the news. "His jaw dropped," Crabtree says. "His face was in his
hands. Because the headline, if I remember right, [called her]
John Daly's wife. His name was the one that was up there."
In recent weeks, however, Daly has repeatedly defended the
Millers. On his return from Korea he stood up for his wife again
("I believe she's been honest about that case," he said); praised
her parents ("I love Alvis and Billie, they've been great to
me"); praised Sherrie's parental skills ("She's always been a
good mother"); and insisted that he wasn't divorcing her because
of the charges. So ... why?
"I couldn't deal with it anymore," Daly said in Las Vegas,
tapping another cigarette out of his pack. "The things that she's
done to me in front of people. I have let her beat the living
s---out of me.... just poundin' on me with her fists." In
Fayetteville, Ark., Daly said, he was schmoozing with singer
Darius Rucker and other members of Hootie and the Blowfish on his
bus when an angry Sherrie pushed him, and he tripped and fell
against a counter, injuring his right shoulder. Another time,
during a locker room card game in Florida, she smacked his head
repeatedly with the buckle on a cap because he had autographed it
for a female fan with the words "You were great last night!" The
worst abuse? "When she about choked me in Ontario [Canada]," Daly
says. "She lost it, took it out on me." (Sherrie confirms that
she pushed Daly and smacked him with the cap but denies choking
Allegations of abuse are common in divorce cases, and Daly
himself was accused of throwing his second wife, Bettye Fulford,
against a wall during a drunken rampage in Castle Rock, Colo., in
1992. (Both Daly and Fulford later denied this had happened.
"I've never hit a woman in my life," Daly says. "I don't even
spank my kids.") Bryan Van Der Riet, a former teaching pro who is
president of John Daly Enterprises, says Daly called him at two
in the morning the week of the Bell Canadian Open. "John said,
'You better come to the bus quickly, this woman is going to kill
me.' So I high-tailed over, and he was outside the bus and she
was inside. [Daly said] she had tried to strangle him with his
gold chain and snapped the big lion head off. John was out by his
courtesy car looking for the gold chain. We eventually found it
on the ground." The couple argued through the night, Van Der Riet
says, and Daly withdrew from the tournament after a first-round
Crabtree cites another example from another Ontario. In January,
at a sports bar in Ontario, Calif., Daly, Crabtree and Mick
Peterson were watching a live women's boxing match. "They had
these girls with big blown-up gloves on their hands," Crabtree
recalls. "They're not naked, they're not anything. Sherrie came
up behind [John] and hit him on the back of the head, absolutely
as hard as she could. His head snapped forward, like he had been
in a car accident. She started screaming, 'If you want to see
women fight, you pick any woman in this club and I'll go beat her
Sherrie, while confirming some details of the incidents, says it
was John, not she, who had the alcoholic rages. The choking
incident? "He's lying about that," she says. The Texas bus
bashing? "He started slamming the cabinet, then he ripped it off
the wall and started banging it into all the mirrors and breaking
everything." The boxing match? She had been told it would involve
huge men, not college-age girls "wearing thonglike shorts and
bikini tops." The story that she attacked three strippers last
spring at a charity golf outing in Little Rock? "I did try to
choke one of the girls, but she shouldn't have been naked in
front of me like that."
Had she ever physically abused her 230-pound husband? "Oh, my
God, no," Sherrie says. "Well, one time, but he was yelling in my
face so bad.... Look at the size of him, and look at me. Does
that make any sense?"
The constant bickering, those close to Daly say, goes a long way
toward explaining why he has had only one top 25 finish in 2003
and is 169th on the PGA Tour money list. "The boy had no peace,"
says Arkansas jeweler Blake Allison, who has worked for Daly in
various capacities for 20 years, most recently as operator of a
merchandise trailer that Daly tows to tournaments. "If he would
go somewhere, she'd sneak up on him or hide across the parking
lot. It was a brutal situation."
Says Van Der Riet, "I'll tell you what I said to the PGA
Tour--that as far as I'm concerned, 95 percent of this has
nothing to do with alcohol. At the John Deere Classic she wasn't
there. At the Buick she wasn't there. Those two weeks John didn't
drink a drop of alcohol. He missed the [Deere] cut by one or two,
but he hit it great." Daly tied for 38th at the Buick.
In Korea, Daly's friends all point out, he had only his caddie
for company. "That win in Korea might not be a big win in the
world of golf," Crabtree says, "but in the world of John Daly it
is a big deal. As bad as things have been for him, I think the
future could be that good."
Daly, looking out his Vegas hotel window at the lights of the
Strip, shared Crabtree's optimism about his playing ability. "I
wouldn't be out here if I didn't think I could still win," he
said. His PGA Tour career, though, had hit a new low, and his
personal life had slipped even further into the abyss of
honky-tonk heartache. "It saddens me that it has to go this way,"
Daly said. "The hardest thing for me is losing Austin. I know
he's my stepson, but he's four years old, and he's been calling
me Daddy for almost three years. Little John is going to be fine,
I'm always going to take care of Little John, but Austin,
snuggling up to me in bed...."
Daly's eyes teared up, and he swallowed hard.
On the day that Daly flew back from South Korea, Sherrie was
waiting for him with Austin and Little John at a private airport
in Las Vegas. "I said, 'If you're going to divorce me, we need to
do this in a civilized manner,' but he wouldn't even talk to me,"
Sherrie said. "I'm in shock that John has turned on me like this.
I mean, honestly, I thought I knew him."
As it turned out, Daly's attorney had not filed his divorce
complaint yet, so instead of waiting for papers her husband had
told her were coming, Sherrie filed a complaint herself in a
Tennessee circuit court on Oct. 17. In it Sherrie alleged that
Daly had committed adultery and that there was "no hope" for the
marriage. Two days later, at Sherrie's request, John's brother,
Jamie, went to the couple's house in Dardanelle, Ark., to pack up
Sherrie's belongings and take them to her in Collierville.
When Jamie arrived at the house, however, he was surprised to
find John's luxury bus parked in her driveway. John had driven
there the night before, and by morning he and Sherrie had decided
to try to reconcile their irreconcilable differences. "I want to
be with my kids and try to work things out with her," Daly said
that afternoon by phone from Birmingham, where he was playing in
an outing. "If it doesn't work out, we can go our separate ways."
Asked to predict an outcome, Daly replied, "I have no idea."
Despite the tumult of the last two years, Sherrie sounded
undeterred and even optimistic. "We're going to be a family," she
said. "We're not going to let all these people ruin our marriage.
John and I are very happy. The kids are happy. Everybody's
She laughed and added, "We need to be on Jerry Springer, huh?"