Another dose of Daly, please
The Golfer Monthly’s Brad Clifton takes a look at the growing fascination Australian golf fans have for the game’s most maligned and colourful character
How do you get the Australian public back on your side when things have gone pear-shaped? Drop 50 kilograms, where fluorescent floral clothing and tell them you played golf better when you were drunk.
Another dose of Daly, please
Yep, that should do it – and so the John Daly-Down Under love affair blossomed to uncharted levels last month, a year after he left our shores with anger management issues and a hatred for overzealous photographers.
The colourful American once again teased us all with his raw power and deft touch around the greens before the man with the outrageously loud pants did his best to spoil it all with disastrous second round exits in both the Australian Open and Australian PGA Championships at Coolum.
Sadly, John Daly critics agreed with his observation on inebriated golf, but to his fans, his loyal fans, it was just another honest appraisal from the man who has so much left to prove.
Daly, aptly named ‘The Wild Thing’ has spent more than 20 years entertaining the golfing world, and not just on the course.
From his ‘zero to hero’ victory in the 1991 PGA Championship and that famous playoff victory against Constantino Rocca in the 1995 Open Championship, to those much publicised gambling problems and boozy all-night benders, Daly has had his fair share of headlines.
But you don’t win two Major championships if you don’t have talent and it’s this gift of golf, a few obvious flaws and a self deprecating demeanor that has seen Daly’s profile flourish Down Under to an audience that can really relate to him.
The man himself admits there’s something special about the Australian summer and the fans he meets.
“I love coming down here. The weather is usually great. It keeps me playing. It keeps me working on things,” Daly said during his visit to The Lakes.
“It is not only playing the two golf courses here. I love this course and of course Coolum, I love that place. It just keeps you competitive. It is better for me to play these two weeks, the last two competitive rounds for the year. You can always get something out of it. Good playing would be nice for me. Being able to finish the year off down here is always great.”
But Daly has always been a bit of a lottery Down Under when it comes to both fans and tournament officials. They both hand over money in the hope of hitting the jackpot with ‘Long John’ and on the occasion, their numbers come up with a trademark Daly-of-old performance. Fans are thrilled to walk away talking about Daly’s extraordinary round, while tournament officials reap the rewards for bringing the human headline to town when his game is at its best.
But history shows they have wasted their money on too many occasions – a point that has been thrown up by the Australian tabloids in recent weeks following the two cuts he missed before Christmas after pocketing a rumoured $100,000 appearance fee for each of the Aussie ‘Majors’.
While it seems hard to justify such an investment, Daly did bring the crowds back to The Lakes and Coolum, albeit for just 36 holes.
But that’s the Daly conundrum and one that will always be a riddle for Australian tournament officials. It’s very much a risk-reward decision paying the big American to jet into town, but one that is inevitably justified by the huge galleries following him, all decked out in their Daly attire purchased from the on-course merchandise store.
For Daly, the conundrum is simple – make more cuts and make more people happy in the process.
“I have to play better on Thursday and Friday,” Daly said.
“I know I have made a lot of cuts but I am barely making cuts. When you are shooting one, two, three, four, five-under par for two days on our Tour, you can be seven to 10 shots out of the lead in most tournaments. That puts pressure on Saturday when you try to make a move.
“I am very fortunate that I have the aggressiveness and I trust the aggressiveness to make a move but it just hasn’t happened.”
Daly admits he has been hitting the ball as good as he ever has, but it has been his putting that has been his downfall, particularly in Australia.
He recently offered a novel suggestion that the poor form is a result of his massive weight loss after lap-band surgery last year. Daly said he used to anchor his elbows to his ‘love handles’ above his hips to stabilise his putting stroke and now has had to adjust to the reality of his new physique.
But was he really ‘fair dinkum’ about the benefits of playing golf drunk?
“I did play better when I was drunk. I did not think about it too much. I did not worry about it as much,” he said.
“Of course, back then, I always had next week. Now it is different because I don’t know if there is next week. I have to wait, sit by the phone. It is tough from that aspect. But I know in my heart that I am doing the right things in my life to be a better golfer, to be a better father, to be a better person.
“My moods are totally different. When you do something for so long and then you stop. I know a lot of people who have quit smoking who are miserable for a while. You have to adapt to it and the people around need to understand that I don’t want to drink. I don’t want to go back to those old days. I am too old and it is not for me.”
While his golf game is still a work in progress, Daly’s life off the course is really starting to ‘take shape’. New girlfriend Anna Cladakis has got her man on the straight and narrow, he’s making a squillion out of clothing endorsements and while he hasn’t given up the smokes, he has swapped the beer for coke zero and chooses the video store over the casinos these days.
Daly’s new-look figure has reinvigorated his life and he puts it all down to the often- controversial lap-band surgery.
“It has been great. I don’t have six different sizes in my closet at home,” Daly said.
“I have been 195 pounds (89kg) for nine months now. It will be two years in February. I think last year was adjusting to the weight. It was tough. It was going down awful quick last year, maybe too fast. This year I have not had a feel in the band for eight or nine months. I feel great. I still don’t look the way I’d like to be but I am comfortable with my golf swing this way. I am 195 pounds, down from 309 is a big change. Any diet I ever did, I could get down there but I could not keep it down there. The band has really helped me a lot.”
Cutting out his favourite foods was another tough hurdle he wasn’t ready for, but one he has managed to finally get his head, not mouth, around.
“Milk was the biggest thing. I used to drink a bottle of vitamin D milk every day. I was a big milk drinker, along with a whole thing of Oreo cookies,” Daly said.
“Now I have skim milk with cereal instead of the vitamin D milk. Bread won’t go down at all. Spaghetti is one of the biggest things I miss. I can eat the meat but I can’t eat the noodles. Very thin chips I can eat. It has been a big change. French fries were one of my favourites, especially the McDonalds ones. I can’t eat them any more. I’ve adjusted to it and adapted to it. It is good.”
And while Daly will no doubt get the invite back to Australia this year, his immediate priority is keeping his career alive and well. How? Well, that’s simple.
“It is very important to win again,” he said.
“I would not still be playing the game if I did not think I could win. Ball-striking wise, I feel I am hitting it as good as anybody off the tee or into the greens.
“My short game, my chipping, before it was like 14 good holes and four bad ones. Now it is 17 good holes and one bad one. I’m getting there. I think the more golf I play, the more tournaments I play, it is the only way I am going to get better.
“I have said that over and over again. I am not a guy who can play two or three weeks and then take two or three weeks off. It is amazing how Tiger does that. I just can’t do that. I have always been a grinder who feeds off competition. I get better the more I play.”
Time will tell when that next big cheque arrives, but one thing is for sure – Long John doesn’t need to make cuts in Australia to be a winner and one thinks tournament promoters realise that too.
The wait until December has started.