Without a doubt, John Daly is one of the most colorful characters in pro golf. His resume is that of a rare athlete, including a 1991 PGA Championship win, the 1995 British Open crown, and the 2017 PGA Tour Championship.
This is a golfer capable of competing at the highest tier across many decades. This longevity is a standard even the great Tiger Woods has struggled to achieve. Yet Daly was the biggest obstacle to this success.
How John Daly’s gambling cost him millions
Daly’s gambling, as well as his substance abuse, likely prevented him from an even better career. To what degree his success could’ve been is hard to project. But the effects of his gambling, in Daly’s own words, was a big problem. He admitted in a 2016 interview that he lost at least $55 million in bad bets alone.
He initially revealed his issues with compulsive gambling in his 2006 autobiography. The year before his book release, he experienced his worst gambling losses to date. At the Wynn Casino in Las Vegas, Daly plopped himself in front of their $5,000 slot machine.
He proceeded to lose $1.5 million on a horrific losing streak, unable to stop himself from digging further into the hole. To put that in perspective, he won about half that placing just behind Tiger Woods’ winning performance in the 2005 WGC-American Express Championship.
While Daly recognizes his issues, as he shared in his disarmingly honest ESPN 30 for 30 documentary, he has not stated that his gambling days are over. He does currently say he’s slowed down his habit.
John Daly’s history of substance abuse
Before Daly’s 30 for 30, Daly’s gambling was mostly the stuff of rumors. And the shocking extent of it was a mystery seemingly to the golfing world as a whole. His substance abuse, on the other hand, was common knowledge.
A telling encounter with Tiger Woods at the Target World Challenge in 2004 gives some insight into Daly’s approach to his game. He caught Woods about to hit the gym. Daly asked him why he wouldn’t have a few drinks instead. Tiger replied, “If I had your talent I’d be doing the same thing you’re doing.”
Daly suffers from health issues related to substance abuse. Arthritis in his knees has led to liver damage from painkiller use, exacerbated by his drinking habit.
Daly’s 2017 PGA Tour title win despite his struggles
Despite health issues, Daly continues to be a competitive pro golfer. His latest big win was in 2017, when his knees, diabetes, and liver issues were advanced. His natural talent was still apparent. Daly earned the Inspirational Invitation that year.
The California native continues to compete, albeit in a limited capacity. He is one of the few pro golfers using a cart, which his old friend Tiger Woods criticized him for.
The numbers add up to a stark picture: With up to $60 million in gambling debt and immense natural talent limited by his substance abuse, Daly’s compulsions have cost him a great deal. Not just in his personal life, but in his bank account as well.
Big wins, loud suits, a big fanbase, and exuberant champagne baths are still part of Daly’s life at 53 years old. But he still has to pay a hefty cost to live the lifestyle he chooses.
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