Big Letdown John Daly played his way into this year's Masters, but during tournament week everything that could go wrong did

April 18, 2004

John Daly didn't even bother to change his shoes before
hightailing it out of Augusta National last Friday afternoon.
Clutching a guitar in his left hand and two stuffed plastic bags
in his right, Daly, who was barely 10 minutes removed from the
36th-hole bogey that pushed him a shot above the Masters cut
line, marched briskly out of the clubhouse with his spikes
clattering against the pavement. Ignoring the gaggle of
reporters running after him, he made his way to the parking
lot, dumped his golf bag into the trunk of his black sedan with
its OPEN 95 license plates, climbed behind the wheel and took
off down Magnolia Lane.

It was an ignominious conclusion to a week that had begun even
worse. Four days earlier Daly's wife, Sherrie, and her parents
settled the charges against them in a federal money-laundering
case, in Oxford, Miss. Sherrie's father, Alvis Miller, pleaded
guilty to conspiring to launder money from gambling operations.
Sherrie and her mother, Billie, pleaded guilty to a lesser charge
of structuring cash deposits from the family's used-car
dealership. The plea bargain recommends that Alvis serve up to
two years in prison, while Sherrie and Billie serve five years'
probation and up to six months of house arrest. (Sentencing is
expected in 60 days.)

Those proceedings were hardly the ideal backdrop for Daly's
return to the Masters after a two-year absence, but they help
explain why the usually accessible Daly kept such a low profile.
He practiced at Augusta on Monday and Tuesday but did not set
foot on the grounds on Wednesday. Daly's merchandise trailer, in
which his line of Team Lion products was being sold, was parked
all week at a Hooters near the course, but Daly, who spends time
every day at the trailer signing autographs and moving product
during most tournaments, stopped by only twice.

Aside from an interview on the Golf Channel, Daly made only a few
early-week comments about Sherrie's plea bargain. "You don't beat
a federal court, a federal judge and the FBI. No way," he told
reporters. "I told Sherrie, 'You have to look at what's ahead. If
there's probation, house arrest, you have to take that. I know
you're not a convict. I know you're not guilty. But you're not
going to win.'"

While walking the course as her husband played on Thursday,
Sherrie insisted that her offenses are not as great as the plea
agreement makes them seem. "The prosecutors know my involvement
was very small," she said. "My dad was misled and taken advantage
of. We hated to make the deal, but in the federal system,
ignorance does not excuse you from the law."

The ongoing case has not been the only tumult in Daly's personal
life. Last December, Sherrie, who is Daly's fourth wife,
confronted John after she discovered pictures of John posing with
a topless stripper posted on the Internet. "I think he got scared
because I sounded so calm," Sherrie said with a laugh. "He said,
'I understand if you want to divorce me, but nothing happened
outside of those pictures,' and I believe him." Still, she paid a
detective $50, she says, to track down the woman, who also says
that nothing sexual occurred between her and John.

Then, on Feb. 19, a judge of the Superior Court of Riverside
County, Calif., ruled in favor of Daly's third wife, Paulette, in
a case involving the couple's eight-year-old daughter, Sierra.
According to the ruling, John must give Paulette notice before he
visits Sierra; the visits may only occur in southern California,
Arizona or Nevada (Paulette and Sierra live in Palm Desert,
Calif.); and Sherrie may not be present at any time during the
visits. The evidence submitted to the judge included a
three-page, single-spaced letter from Sierra's therapist, as well
as a two-page declaration from John's former personal assistant,
Donnie Crabtree, who claimed that he had seen Sherrie screaming
at Sierra and physically abusing John. Said Sherrie, "This case
is not over. We have attorneys working on it as we speak."

Daly was especially stung by Crabtree's letter because the two
had been best friends since attending elementary school together
in their hometown of Dardanelle, Ark. (They haven't spoken since
Crabtree quit working for Daly last summer.) Crabtree insists he
did the right thing. "John's been saying I took Paulette's side,
but I didn't. I took Sierra's side," he says. "If he wants to be
upset that I said these things about his wife, then that's fine,
but he shouldn't be telling people I made him out to be a bad guy
because that's not true."

Remarkably, Daly has played some excellent golf through all of
his travails, most notably in his first Tour win in nine years,
at February's Buick Invitational. He arrived at Augusta ranked
third on Tour in driving distance (303.6 yards) and second in
putting (1.699 per green hit in regulation), and expected to
contend for the green jacket.

Once play started, though, his putting faltered. He failed to
make a putt longer than five feet--which was not surprising since
only a few minutes before teeing off on Thursday, Daly adjusted
the loft on his putter by stepping on the clubhead and pushing
against the shaft. Daly, who signed a new equipment deal with
Dunlop in January, has also been experimenting with stiffer
shafts in his irons, and he struggled with distance control on
several approach shots.

He did not give up without a fight, though. On Friday, Daly made
the turn at five over par, one above the projected cut, then
birdied numbers 12 and 13. He followed with a three-putt bogey on
the 14th, but a spectacular sand save at 16 put him in position
to play on the weekend.

That hope was dashed by his disaster on 18. From the middle of
the fairway Daly flew the green with his approach. Evidently
thinking he needed to chip in for birdie to make the cut, Daly
made an aggressive run from his downhill lie and left his ball 45
feet from the hole. Shortly after his two-putt bogey and sprint
off the grounds, John was back in his RV with Sherrie headed for
South Carolina, where he was scheduled to play in an outing with
his favorite band, Hootie and the Blowfish, on Monday.

As night fell, Daly's employee and sometime caddie, Bryan Van Der
Riet, was still in the Hooters' parking lot, working inside the
Team Lion merchandise trailer. "John really wanted to play well,"
Van Der Riet said, shaking his head. "It has to be frustrating to
fight all day and give it away at the last hole." Those would
have to be the last words on Daly's week because the boss wasn't

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOHN BIEVER LONG GONE Daly had plenty of length but didn't make a putt longer than five feet. COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOHN BIEVER MON SHERRIE As Sherrie watched her husband play at Augusta, she said her guilty plea looks worse than it actually is.

Sherrie confronted John after seeing pictures of him posing with
a stripper on the Internet.