John Daly balanced his golf ball on a tee and raised his bulky frame.
“First up on the tee …” the starter began to announce. That’s as far as he got.
No practice swing, no pause. No time to let a gentleman finish his sentence. Only a mighty swing to kick off a pro-am round Thursday that punished the little white ball some 300 yards down the middle of a TPC Twin Cities fairway, straight as an arrow like always.
“Well, I guess you know,” the starter continued with a chuckle. “John Daly is ready, everybody.”
Doing things his own way has been the Daly mantra since he burst onto the scene 25 years ago with a victory in the PGA Championship, getting into the field as the ninth alternate after Nick Price withdrew midweek. Daly drove all night from Memphis to Crooked Stick in central Indiana, showed up on the tee Thursday afternoon without ever seeing the golf course and wound up winning by three.
“I could’ve gone, missed the cut and embarrassed myself,” said Brad Bryant, the last player to be called — and pass — before tournament officials got to Daly’s name in 1991. “The way it worked out, I’m happy for John. Always have been. And people continue to want to see him play. He’s always been a bit of an anomaly.”
The mullet and mustache might be gone, but Daly’s signature look hasn’t changed much over the years. He turned 50 in late April and is now one of the most recognizable faces — and bodies — on the PGA Tour Champions circuit.
“To be a part of these new breeds is fun,” Daly said.
This weekend’s 3M Championship in Blaine is Daly’s ninth event, and he’s still looking to pick up his first top-10 finish.
“It’s hard, man,” Daly said. “People don’t understand how hard it is. My buddies were telling me, ‘You’re going to go out there and [dominate] on that tour.’ And they don’t get it. No way. It’s a more laid-back competitiveness, but I’ve had a taste of it a little bit out here. And you get it going. The adrenaline gets flowing just like the regular tour.”
Distance certainly hasn’t been the problem; Daly averages 303 yards off the tee, farther than any player on tour. It’s chipping and putting that give Daly fits. But as long as he keeps hitting the long ball, the crowds will keep showing up.
“Johnny’s going to be fine,” said Rocco Mediate, who is grouped with Daly and Mark Calcavecchia in Friday’s first round. “He’s putting better than he thinks. We all are. He’s a great player and he always has been. He’ll be a factor here, and can win anywhere he wants to.”
That includes the home of golf, St. Andrews, where Daly won the 1995 British Open in a playoff.
“A redneck, blue-collar guy from Arkansas,” Daly said, laughing. “I still don’t know how that ever happened. But I’ll take it.”
Daly’s meltdowns — personal and professional — gained more attention than his golf game after those two majors.
He’s shot 90 on tour. He’s taken an 18 on a par-5. He’s admitted to alcohol and gambling troubles. He has been married and divorced four times, and had lap-band surgery several years ago after he ballooned past 300 pounds.
Daly has toned down his act yet doesn’t shy away from his chain-smoking, Diet Coke-guzzling, bright pants-wearing ways. That’s part of the draw.
Daly is an everyman. He speaks his mind, blares Tom Petty songs from his golf cart on the driving range and practices self-deprecating humor with the best of them.
“Sometimes I forget all the memories,” Daly said of watching highlights last week at the PGA Championship champion’s dinner, where he wore a loud red, white and blue sport jacket. “I need to put myself back in there again and remember that I did something.
“I am my own worst enemy.”
On the Champions Tour, Daly is among friends. And he has plenty more in the gallery eager to see his grip-it-and-rip-it style off the tee, ready or not.
“He doesn’t get enough credit for how good a golfer he is,” said Jesper Parnevik, who walked 36 holes with Daly at the Senior Players championship. “He’s known for the wild party side and all that, but he’s also very humble. A good guy, straight shooter. I would watch him, and I do when I’ve played with him. I can see why the crowds are attracted to him.”