Golf is a sport of skill and finesse usually reserved for the gentrified country club set. The game rewards players who approach it with a dispassionate, businesslike demeanor. Every once in a while though, the game gets infiltrated by a more passionate and dynamic player like John Daly. Some might even call him crazy.
John Daly’s golf accomplishments
Daly is loud, obnoxious even, although that wouldn’t be an insult to him; he revels in his public persona. You’d recognize Daly in an instant if you saw him. He’s got bleach-blonde hair that alternates between a mullet and a formless shave. He wears bright tiger-stripe pants and mismatched Hawaiian shirts. There’s a cigarette perpetually dangling from his mouth, and a sizable beer belly hanging from his belt line.
It’s hard to get past his looks. But if you do, there’s a golfer with one hell of a swing hidden in there somewhere. Daly burst onto the scene in 1991. He wasn’t highly-trained. He played golf throughout high school and college, but was resistant to outside coaching, preferring to play the game his way. In 1987, he dropped out of the University of Arkansas to pursue a career as a professional golfer.
Over the next four years, he traveled the country taking part in minor tournaments with only moderate success. His big break came in 1991 when Daly registered as a ninth-place alternate on the PGA tour. Thanks to a stroke of luck, Nick Price dropped out of the tournament, and Daly was bumped up. The virtually unknown rookie would go on to win the PGA tour that year, catapulting him into the center of the public eye.
Daly’s freakouts and failures
Despite his incredible first season, Daly struggled over the next few years. In 1992, he was unable to recapture the momentum of his inaugural year, only winning the BC Open, but placing 82nd in the overall PGA tour. During the mid-’90s to the early thousands, Daly became known more for his antics, temper tantrums, and wild persona than he did for his golf stats.
Daly became known for throwing his clubs out of frustration, as Golf Digest details. He once famously said, “Throwing a club shows you care.” His biggest club-throwing blow up happened at the 1998 Bay Hill invitational. Daly had a run-in with water hazards on the course’s infamous par 5 sixth hole where he shot an ugly 18 just trying to maneuver his ball out of the swampy rough. Club: gone.
Two years later at the US Open, Daly fed ball after ball into the Pacific Ocean, picking up a mind-blowing 14 off a par 5 green. His club took a ride in response.
Most recently, during the 2015 PGA tour, he shot seven over par, feeding Lake Michigan three balls before launching his putter into the drink. Daly was eventually disqualified after his meltdown.
Daly is a complicated man. He has one of the most powerful swings in golf’s entire history, and at his best he’s capable of true greatness. But between his on-the-course antics, and his off-the-course scandals, addictions, and marriage difficulties, his golf career has looked more like a sideshow and less like an elite sport.
It’s true, Daly has struggled with his passions over the years. He’s had an off-again, on-again addiction to alcohol, and lost millions gambling. The PGA itself has shown disdain for the chaos Daly brings to the tour, fining him numerous times for his erratic behavior.
But are Daly’s reactions crazy, addiction-fueled breakdowns, or is he just a reflection of the average fan, a guy who somehow wandered into the Shady Acres country club looking for a good time? Given his blue-collar, cult-like following, I’d say Daly is a bridge between a complicated sport and the American public.