"GRIP IT AND RIP IT" has always been an ironic catchphrase for
golfer John Daly. While the "rip it" part makes sense--at 37 he
can still hit the ball prodigious distances--his self-destructive
tendencies (SI, Nov. 3, 2003) have made him famous mostly for
losing his grip. There is no denying Daly's talent (he won the
1991 PGA Championship and the '95 British Open with a compelling
show of brute force and finesse), but his game has long suffered
under the heavy handicaps of substance abuse, compulsive gambling
and clinical depression.
So, it was startling last week to see a portly, chain-smoking
Daly, sometimes accompanied by his fourth wife, Sherrie, exhume
his career with a playoff victory at the Buick Invitational in La
Jolla, Calif. Even more amazing was how he won. Beached in a
bunker behind the 18th green, 96 feet from the hole, Daly hit the
sand shot of his life to within seven inches of the hole for a
tap-in birdie. His playoff opponents, Luke Donald and Chris
Riley, responded by missing birdie putts of less than seven feet.
"It's just been forever since I won on U.S. soil," a tearful Daly
said afterward, his ears ringing from the high-decibel chants of
his partisans. "You begin to wonder if you can win anymore."
Daly had gone 8 1/2 years without a PGA Tour win, and last year
he finished 171st on the money list. In October, however, he
pulled himself together and won, with a terrific final round, the
Kolon Korean Open, an Asian tour event. Six weeks later, showing
a confidence we hadn't seen in him in years, Daly won a highly
regarded Callaway Golf Pebble Beach Invitational, a non PGA
event. Since then Daly, never a range rat, has been working on
his game at his home in Rogers, Ark., and in California with
teaching pro Chipper Cecil, and hitting as many as 10 pitch shots
and 10 putts per hole during practice rounds. "I saw a lot of
determination in John," says Cecil. "Not to go out and beat
everybody--just to prove what he's always known, that he can play
this game as well as anyone."
Daly's conversion to good work habits got little attention on
Sunday, but his stats tell the story. He one-putted 36 times,
second most in the tournament, and he got down in two from the
sand 11 of 13 times over four rounds--which you can't do if your
training regimen consists largely of right-arm curls with a
bottle of booze.
Grip it and rip it? Not this time. Daly got back to the winner's
circle by following a much older adage: "Practice makes perfect."