There will always be a sense of “what if” with John Daly’s golf career. He seemed to have the talent to become a top player. But over time golf took a backseat to alcohol and gambling, which caused him to struggle on the course. Then, in 1991, Daly earned his first PGA Tour win, and those addictions and struggles seemed far away. Here’s how Daly went from zero to hero on the 1991 PGA Tour.
John Daly’s early life
In 1954, as ESPN reports, Daly was born in California to a construction-worker dad and a homemaking mom. The family moved to Arkansas when he was four years old; he started playing golf a year later. The Daly family moved several more times during his youth, and he attended three different high schools.
In high school, Daly first achieved success in golf. The golfer won the 1983 Missouri State Amateur Championship and 1984 Arkansas State Amateur Championship. He attended the University of Arkansas on a golf scholarship but didn’t earn his degree. Daly turned pro in the summer of 1987 after playing in the U.S. Open as an amateur the year prior.
The 1991 PGA Championship
GolfLink details how Daly vaulted onto the scene at the PGA Championship in 1991. The 25-year-old PGA Tour rookie was virtually unknown. Daly was the ninth alternate and didn’t expect to play in the event. So he didn’t travel from his Memphis home to the Indiana course. On Wednesday morning, Daly got a call telling him a spot was open if he could make it.
Nick Price’s wife was going into labor, causing him to withdraw from the event. Daly jumped in his car and made the drive — nearly 500 miles — to get there in time for the opening round. (He didn’t make it in time to play a practice round.) It was his first time playing at Crooked Stick Golf Club. But he had a good first round, finishing three-under-par for eighth place.
Daly was the leader after the second round, with a score of eight-under. After the third round, he extended his lead to three strokes; his 71 in the final round clinched his first PGA Tour victory. Daly credited the crowds with calming his nerves. Thousands cheered him, viewing him as an “everyman” thanks to his folksy, laid-back attitude.
John Daly did two things post-victory
Daly showcased his humor and character with two things he did in the aftermath of winning the tournament. He was hungry after playing 72 holes of golf over the last four days. So he took a limousine through the McDonald’s drive-through to get some food before returning to Crooked Stick for a party.
Daly’s other post-win action isn’t as well-remembered, but it was more significant and thoughtful. The golfer announced he would donate $30,000 of his winnings to a scholarship fund for the daughters of Thomas Weaver, a fan who was struck by lightning during the tournament and died.
Doing those two things after winning his first tournament put Daly on the path to becoming a household name.