John Daly remains a huge fan favorite at St. Andrews, even 15 years after his surprising victory. (Getty Images)
Daly's different now, but not everything about him has changed
John Daly says he's calmed down a lot since his huge victory at St. Andrews 15 years ago, but that doesn't mean he won't pull out the driver and play as aggressively as possible here.
ST. ANDREWS, Scotland (PA) -- Former British Open champion John Daly insists he is a more patient man than when he won at St. Andrews 15 years ago -- but it will not stop him from attempting to blast his way around the Old Course this week.
The American, who reveled in his "Wild Thing" reputation for several years, added the Claret Jug to his 1991 PGA Championship title when he won a playoff against Costantino Rocca in 1995. His game has never hit the same heights since, but returning to the Home of Golf has special memories for Daly, who at 44 claims he has learned much from his numerous life experiences.
The shared fairways and double greens mean there is plenty of room for his expansive driving and, as he illustrated on previous visits, he has the short game to negotiate the nuances on and around the putting surfaces.
"It is always good to be back. It has been a while since 1995, but it is a great memory," he said. "You always remember when you win and try to forget when you play badly. To win here to me is the ultimate. Some guys favor the other three [majors] but the Old Course is the home of golf. It is where it started, and that is why it means so much to me.
"My advantage here is avoiding the bunkers and that is why the driver comes into play for me so much here,” he explained. "There are going to be some holes where people say, 'Why are you hitting driver on there?,' but I feel that is my strength and I'm hitting it really well. I think I have to be aggressive off the tee here. It's worked for me before -- it worked in 2005 to a point (finishing 15th) when I hit driver a lot.
"I just don't know any other way to play it. I played the 12th (at Loch Lomond) on Sunday so conservatively and I'm still chewing myself up about it -- I should have hit driver and then a wedge in,” he said. "That is kind of the way I'm going to take it here. If there are four or five bunkers anywhere from 250 to 290 yards, I'd rather be worried about the 290 one than trying to finagle a 3-iron in there and try to go around them."
But it is not his length that will be key around the Old Course so much as his form around the greens. Daly, who has battled alcohol, gambling and weight problems and has been divorced three times, is not happy with the way he is chipping the ball and will be looking to his putter a lot this week.
"My course management is better and my patience is better [than in 1995]," he added. "As you get older, you get a little more patient and things don't bother you as much. Here you don't have to hit it great, you just have to have a little imagination and this year I'm not chipping the ball well because I don't like the new grooves (a result of a change in regulations regarding clubs) at all.
"I'm going to be doing a lot of putting from maybe 20 to 30 yards out because I just don't have any confidence in that 50-yard shot and that is what is great about this course,” he said. "You can putt it, chip with a 3-iron -- whatever I feel I can get close to the green with. It is a matter of two-putting the 80 to 100-foot putts. If you can go round here without three-putting, it will be a great week."