Long-driving, hard-living John Daly almost seems to take pride in his journey of walking down fairways that are less traveled by his fellow golfers.
Get in trouble? Daly almost always found a way. Be controversial? No problem. Erratic golf? Championships one week, missing the cut the next week.
Such checkpoints in Daly’s career were his hallmark.
No wonder two of his nicknames were Long John (his drives off the tee) and Wild Thing (his lifestyle).
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Now, at age 50, he looks back at all the vagaries of his career with a smile — and without apology. Things have slowed down, and so has Daly as he joins golf’s over-50 contingent on the PGA Tour Champions. In addition, he has been on good behavior for a lengthy time now, with nary a headline about drinking and resultant troubles.
Daly is living proof that age can mellow you, although it apparently can’t tone down his well-known audacious golf wardrobe.
“It’s great,” Daly said of his life and attitude these days, both on and off the course. “I’m enjoying it.”
Of playing senior golf, he said: “This tour is laid back unless you get in contention. Then it’s very competitive. You have to shoot 5-under a round, at least 5-under every day, to even have a chance to win golf tournaments out here.
“But I’ve got a new life and a new job, so it’s not bad.”
Daly joined the PGA Tour Champions last season and for the first time will be playing in the Allianz Championship on The Old Course at Broken Sound in Boca Raton this week.
The three-round tournament tees off on Friday and runs through Sunday.
Daly brings two major titles to the event, as his résumé includes winning the 1991 PGA Championship and the 1995 British Open.
That 1991 PGA title is particularly special in his memories — Daly instantly going from a complete unknown to the person that everybody in golf was talking about.
The only reason he even played in that PGA Championship was pure happenstance with many players, for various reasons, pulling out of the tournament. Daly was the ninth alternate and the first eight could not travel to the tournament in time.
That left Daly.
Daly, without even a practice round, teed off in the event at Crooked Stick Golf Club near Indianapolis and beat Bruce Lietzke by three strokes, and for the entire tournament he wooed the fans with his grip-it-and-rip-it style of play.
With that PGA Championship, a golf star was born, and he added to his accomplishments by winning the 1995 British Open.
All seemed good, but not necessarily so.
Daly has since admitted to alcohol and gambling problems, and his golf game became at certain points almost bizarre.
In the 1998 Bay Hill Invitational, in a scene straight out of “Tin Cup,” Daly — using a 3-wood — hit six balls into the water during the final round. He took an 18 on the par-5 hole. In the 2000 U.S. Open, Daly took a 14 on the 18th hole. In addition, a couple of times he walked off courses without finishing,
That’s the old John Daly.
The new John Daly is playing golf with his emotions under control. And he likes the idea of playing against a lot of familiar faces in the more low-key setting that the PGA Tour Champions provides.
Mentioning his competition on the tour, Daly said: “We were all kind of friends back in the ’90s. We wanted to beat the hell out of each other like we still do, but we’ll sit down and have a beer together, and we’ll go out and eat together.
“Kind of like the old-school system.
“We don’t need phones sitting at dinner texting each other. We’ve got [expletive] to talk about. Excuse my language, but you know what I mean. We have a good time out here, and we all help each other out.”
Apparently, the new milder, gentler Daly has gained perspective.
That is supported by how he views life on the over-50 circuit.
With a smile and laugh, he said: “I’m only 18 … but with 32 years of experience the way I look at it.”