Back in 1991, John Daly was to golf what Leicester City is to football in 2016.
The sport has thrown up some unlikely winners over the years, but none more unique than the ‘Wild Thing’ at the USPGA Championship at Crooked Stick.
It was the first full year on the PGA Tour for the American, who turned 50 on April 28 and will make his Champions Tour debut this weekend at the Insperity Invitational. He did have a couple of top-10s, but nothing in his CV jumped out when he took up the ninth alternate place and teed it up at the PGA Championship.
Four days and 276 shots of utterly ingenuous and uninhibited golf later, a legend was born.
There have been many players with far greater success on the golf course since then, but very few have been able to connect with the fans like Daly has. Just take a look at his Twitter page and you will understand – he has close to half a million followers, but he himself follows back nearly 143,000 of them.
Daly has been very open about his blue-collar background, and he has been brutally honest about his life. Fans relate to the fact that even someone like him has everyday problems like them – from as mundane a thing as fear of flying to major issues like gambling addiction and marital discord.
In fact, so deviant has Daly’s lifestyle been from that of a professional golfer, 1977 Masters champion Fuzzy Zoeller once made a $150,000 bet with him that he wouldn’t live to the age of 50.
More than his two majors – he later won the 1995 Open Championship at the Home of Golf in St Andrews – Daly cherishes the relationships he has made with strangers across the world.
“That’s the greatest thing. I hear people saying John ought to be in the Hall of Fame and stuff, and I always tell people, ‘Look, I’m already in the Hall of Fame because I’ve got the greatest fans in the world’,” said Daly, also known for his song-writing and vocal skills having brought out an album “I Only Know One Way” in 2010.
“No matter what, through thick and thin, my fans have always stuck by me. I’ve always been honest with them. I think I have a lot of fans because I’ve never lied to them. They’ve pumped me up and I feed off of them and I always have and probably always will.”
There is no doubt fans love watching Daly – whether he is ‘gripping and ripping it’ (he was among the first players in the world to average over 300 yards), or melting down completely and taking 18 shots to finish a hole (1998 Memorial, sixth hole).
But, on the verge of a new chapter in his life, Daly has absolutely no regrets about his achievements, or the perceived lack of them.
Most experts believe that if he had devoted himself 100 per cent to golf, he would have won much more than two majors and three regular PGA Tour titles.
Reflecting on his career, Daly said: “I’m kind of satisfied with everything in the 2000s. My mind was right, and I did everything I could to try and win golf tournaments.
“But in the ’90s, with the physical ability I had, I wish I would have had the mental attitude back then like I do now. I think I wasted my talent in the ’90s, especially towards the later part of it. All the money was coming in, and I didn’t work hard enough at it. I didn’t do the right things to prepare myself to win golf tournaments. But that’s definitely on me, and I admit that.
“However, that’s just not the case anymore for me. I’m just kind of a grinder now, but I think my mental attitude is 10 times better than it was in the ’90s.
“Being kind of a blue-collar guy, I taught myself how to play the game growing up, I didn’t have anybody coaching me on how to manage a golf course and definitely not how to manage my life.
“Right now, I’m in a great place. If I lived in the past, I’d be dead. So you can’t live in the past. It’s just not worth it. I admitted the mistakes I’ve made and hopefully I’ll try not to keep making them. That’s the key.”
Having played the last few years on various Tours depending on sponsors’ invites, Daly is happy he will have a fixed schedule on the Champions Tour. And he is looking to drive his RV across the USA to take part in tournaments, just like he did 25 years ago when he drove all night long from Memphis to Crooked Stick.
“I’m really excited, one, to make it to 50, and two, just to be able to have kind of a home to play again,” he said. “It’s been pretty tough the last few years not knowing where I’m going to play and waiting by the phone on exemptions and stuff, and now that I have sort of a category here that I can play a few years out here and get a schedule going and play a lot of golf, it’s going to be good for me.
“I am sure I will be nervous on the first tee. Whichever Tour you play, if you’re not nervous on the first tee, then we don’t need to be out here. I just hope it’s positive energy, and I hope for me it’s just going to be a confidence builder as the weeks go on because I’m pretty rusty right now not playing a lot of golf in the last nine months.
“So, everything for me is just a starting over and it’s kind of a learning process on new golf courses, and playing competitive golf hopefully will get me back in that rhythm where you can start playing and get some confidence.”
And before we finished, I thought it would be a good idea to find out John Daly’s thoughts on Leicester City’s fairy-tale win.
“That’s about right. I was saying that it’s like me winning the PGA in ’91. That’s great that they did that, my hats off to their team,” said Daly. “It just shows that in sports, especially team sports, you just never know because it doesn’t matter how much you pay one player on one team, it doesn’t make them the best.
“So my hats off to Leicester for winning it all because they were like the underdogs, and that’s what I’ve always been all my life. Like I say, I’m a fan of theirs now, big-time fan. God bless them for winning it all.”
I was in Shanghai last year for the WGC-HSBC Champions, and I witnessed the making of a superstar there.
Li Haotong was an absolute sensation in finishing tied-seventh that week, but it was the manner in which he carried himself and the poise he showed on the golf course that made me mentally bookmark him to follow his career in the future.
Well, it did not take much time for the 20-year-old Chinese to deliver. Last week, at Topwin Country Club, Haotong shot a superb final-round 64 to win the Volvo China Open.
In Shanghai, he shot a 66 in the third round at the Sheshan International Golf Club, and was just one shot behind leaders Kevin Kisner and Russell Knox. As good as that 66 was, the 72 on Sunday, playing alongside world No. 1 Jordan Spieth and followed by a massive group of spectators, was even more impressive.
It looked as if the severity of the moment had got to him. Haotong got off to a horrible start, opening with a bogey followed by a double, and he was four-over after five holes. But he then made two birdies in the next three holes, saved several stunning pars, and a couple of late birdies helped him finish on even-par and tied seventh.
Spieth also shot a 72 that day, but his was nowhere near as exciting as Haotong’s. For someone that young, the pressure of home support was intense. On top of that, he was playing alongside the world No. 2. To turn around his round in the way he did, proved he was a special talent, and the Volvo China Open win now just underlines his potential.
These are exciting times for Chinese golf. There was a time when the players from the country only showed up to make up the numbers in tournaments there. Not any more. Wu Ashun won the Volvo China Open last year, and the home domination continued this year.
I am now waiting for Guan Tianlang to turn professional. In my opinion, him making the cut as a 14-year-old in the 2013 Masters, despite the two-shot penalty, was one of the most eye-popping performances ever at Augusta National.
The good news about Jordan Spieth is he seems to have moved on from his meltdown at the Masters.
There was growing concern about the Texan, who hasn’t made any competitive appearance since that eventful evening at Augusta National, and was missing in action until reappearing in the #SB2k16 Spring Break spectacular with friends Rickie Fowler, Justin Thomas and Smylie Kaufman.
He’s finally commented on his Masters collapse, and can’t understand why people are getting so emotional about the whole thing.
At a FedEx event in Pittsburgh, he said: “I’m not taking it very hard. I’ve had ladies at grocery stores coming up and putting their hand on me and going, ‘I’m really praying for you’. And I’m like, ‘My dog didn’t die, I’m doing OK.’ I’ll survive; it happens. Actually, I laugh about it now. I really do.”
During that chat, Spieth also revealed how he thinks, saying he expected to be in contention in, “at least 50 majors”, and something like that quadruple bogey is bound to happen again.
Time and again, I have been amazed by the scale of Spieth’s thinking. He could have said “a few majors”, but instead said “at least 50 majors”. He really is a remarkably confident 22-year-old.
Every year before the Players Championship, Sports Illustrated conduct an anonymous poll with several professionals on the PGA Tour. It’s the same survey that mentioned Rickie Fowler as the most overrated player on the Tour before the Californian won three times last year.
The most interesting question this year was whether the players believed Tiger Woods will win again after making his comeback later this year.
Astonishingly, 43 per cent of players still believe he will.
“For me, it’s more a mental thing with Michelle now rather than physical… She is very low on confidence right now. She really hasn’t had any good tournaments to speak of this year.” – Coach David Leadbetter on his client Michelle Wie’s recent issues after she pulled out of the ANA Open with a neck injury.
23 – the highest recorded score in a single hole, by Tommy Armour at the 1927 Shawnee Open at Shawnee Country Club. There have been two 19s at Pebble Beach – by Hans Merrell on the 16th hole in the 1959 Bing Crosby National Pro-Am, and then four years later by Dale Douglas on the 10th hole.
You can read our full interview with Daly by Sport360’s Joy Chakravarty in Thursday, May 6’s edition of the newspaper or online at www.sport360.com the same day.
As a teaser to our wide-ranging chat with Daly, we have picked out nine times the golfing eccentric has proved to be just that.
* Moments after winning the 1991 PGA Championship, he gave $30,000 to the family of the fan who tragically died after being hit by lightning during the tournament.
* In 1991, he was the longest hitter on the PGA Tour, averaging 288.9 yards to second-placed Greg Norman (282.3yds). In 1997, he became the first player on the Tour to average above 300yds (302yds), with Tiger Woods being second at 294.8yds.
* He has been suspended five times by the PGA Tour and cited 21 times for not giving his best effort. The Tour doesn’t announce suspension and fines, but in Daly’s case, it was made public because of a legal case.
* Every year, he pitches up outside the Augusta National in his RV and sells merchandise from the Hooters parking lot.
* Daly once estimated his gambling losses over the years to be to the tune of $55 million
* In 2009, he lost 115 pounds after undergoing a lap-band surgery and giving up alcohol
* At the 2007 Honda Classic, he fractured two ribs and separated his right shoulder when trying to stop the shot and hitting behind the ball after a female spectator jumped in front of him and tried to take a picture mid-way through the round.
* After a round on a hot and humid day in a tournament in Malaysia, he told the media: “I counted. I had 36 bottles of water… on the back nine.”
* Daly has had four failed marriages, and is now engaged to Anna Cladakis. The two got engaged last year before the Turkish Airlines Open.