Nineteen years is a long time, relatively speaking, except in the life of John Daly, in which it seems like only yesterday. The year was 1991 and Daly improbably won the PGA Championship, hoisting the Wannamaker Trophy over his head and a monkey on his back. A few thousand beers and cigarettes and a few lost millions later, the Great American Folk Hero is in grave danger of losing his grip and writing his epitaph.
It’s been a wild, crooked ride on Daly’s fan train and many are choosing the last couple of stops to get off. The drunken night in Winston-Salem, N.C., that led him to spend the night in an orange jump suit and the rage that led him to smash a fan’s camera in Australia have served to drive home the point that Daly is no longer a lovable good ol’ boy with a long backswing. Instead, these latest incidents should leave no doubt that he is over the edge and off into the abyss.
Since 1991, he has been fined $100,000 by the PGA Tour, suspended five times, placed on probation six times, been ordered to alcoholism treatment seven times, cited 11 times for “conduct unbecoming a professional,” and 21 times for “failing to give best effort.”
All this courtesy of Daly’s file with the PGA Tour, which has grown over the years to a fat 456 pages. Normally, the Tour keeps its files on disciplinary actions against players private. But as the result of Daly’s lawsuit against Morris Publishing, parent of the Florida Times-Union, the file was made public and the Times-Union revealed its contents.
In a vindictive response, Daly twice posted the cell number of Times-Union golf writer Garry Smits on his Twitter account and urged his fans to harass Smits. As of last Wednesday afternoon, Smits had received about 100 calls from Daly supporters, many of whom were abusive.
The most egregious offense stayed quiet until now, but at the 2005 U.S. Open in Pinehurst, Daly nearly ran over an agent of the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agency with his courtesy car at a security checkpoint at which players were required to show their credentials. Daly sped past, putting the ATF agent in danger. He was ordered to return to the checkpoint and apologize the next day, but the agent in question was not present.
The last two incidents came in late 2008, one of which occurred in October when he got drunk and passed out outside a Hooters restaurant in Winston-Salem, N.C. He refused medical treatment and spent the night in jail. As a result, the PGA Tour fined him $10,000, suspended him for six months and ordered him to attend an in-patient alcoholism treatment center – for the seventh time. The file didn’t indicate whether he actually went to treatment.
He was easy to pull for in the beginning. Full of promise and ragged edges, Daly had as much raw talent as anyone in the game and just as much propensity for wasting it. He drank too much, smoked too much and ate too much and all that excess seemed to make him inexplicably revered by the masses. Those who didn’t admire him hung around for the same reason some people attend auto races – there’s liable to be a wreck at any moment.
He tried to get sober around 2000 and had the financial and morale assistance of the late Ely Callaway. After one of Daly’s famous binges, Callaway promised to pay off $3 million in casino gambling debt if Daly would check into the Betty Ford Center to deal with his alcoholism. Daly couldn’t get past the front door. Since then, he has been through two more wives for a total of four and grew to well over 300 pounds, before losing nearly 100 pounds by undergoing lap-band surgery.
He hasn’t had his full playing privileges on the PGA Tour for the past two years and has been forced to rely on sponsor’s exemptions for his starts. Between missed cuts and withdrawals, Daly hasn’t finished four rounds very often during that period, leaving tournament sponsors to wonder if their exemptions might be better served elsewhere. It’s unclear anymore if Daly can still move the needle as far as attendance is concerned, but if he can’t make it past Friday, is the price worth the pain?
Daly turned toward Europe, where he still has quite a few gawkers, and to Australia, taking six-figure appearance fees to play in three Australian championships in December 2008, missing the cut in all three and smashing a fan’s camera in the bargain. Daly, for his part, claims he’s still got a heart as big as his belly once was and that he’s just misunderstood and the victim of circumstance.
Time, unfortunately, is running out for Daly, both in his golf game and his shattered personal life. He’s more pitied than admired these days and more and more backs are being turned toward him. Daly needs golf more than ever and it’s a shame it’s no longer the other way around.