John Daly embracing senior golf and his own imperfections

By Joe Juliano
Published on
John Daly embracing senior golf and his own imperfections

FLOURTOWN, Pa. -- John Daly has his imperfections like everyone else. It's just that his have received so much attention and scrutiny since he burst on to the golf scene in 1991 when he won the PGA Championship as the ninth alternate, going from complete unknown to overnight sensation.

However, for all of his obsessions over the years, whether it was his drinking, smoking or gambling, Daly was and has remained an open book. His openness has endeared him to the fans who have followed him the last 25 years, maybe because they identify with some aspects of his hard-living existence.

Now that he has turned 50, his fans are able to follow the rebirth of his competitive golf career on the PGA Tour Champions. He will play in his fourth event on the senior circuit this week, the Constellation Senior Players Championship at the Philadelphia Cricket Club in Flourtown, which starts Thursday.

The long-driving, free-wheeling Daly continues to take delight in his loyal legions, and says he has "the greatest fans in the world."

"I know I've gone through the same things they have because I haven't denied them, and I've always been honest with them," he said last weekend while driving his bus from Michigan to Des Moines, Iowa, site of this week's tour stop at the Principal Charity Classic.

"I think that's something I've always believed, that I should be honest with the fans and, of course, the media. When I do wrong, I say I do wrong. I don't have any skeletons in my closet. I let it all out."

Daly still likes to have a beer once in a while, and you'll usually see him with a cigarette on or off the golf course. As for gambling -- his 2006 autobiography stated that he lost more than $50 million -- he likes to play the slots at casinos but not for very long. He still likes to snack; his tour bio kindly lists him at 215 pounds, but he recently told USA Today he weighs closer to 250.

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He said "things have been a lot easier" since he met Anna Cladakis in 2008. The couple, who were engaged last December, travel together to tournaments in his bus, and she caddies for him.

"Ah, she's just been the best," said Daly, who has been married four times. "We're such a great team. I think we're just a perfect couple. We have a lot of fun. I've got her back, and she's got mine. What more can you ask for in a relationship?"

Daly's candor also shows when he reflects on his career, especially the part that followed his second major championship in 1995 -- the British Open at St. Andrews, the home of golf, where he joined a list that includes Bobby Jones, Sam Snead, Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and, since Daly won, Tiger Woods twice.

"After all that money was coming in . . . I just got lazy," he said. "I had the greatest contract with Wilson and Reebok and had all this money coming in. I didn't practice or focus on it. For me, the [playing] exemption was so long that it was like, 'Well, there's always next week. I'm not worried about it this week.' Instead of working on the things I needed to work on, I would just be lazy about it.

"That's just what I did, and I can't change it now. But the thing now is, I wish I had the mind back in the 90s that I do now. But I just don't have the physical abilities that I did in the 90s."

What Daly also is lacking in his return to competition is confidence. He won five tournaments and more than $10 million during his PGA Tour career. Over the previous five years, however, he has played in only 70 tour events, mostly on sponsors' exemptions, and made 27 cuts.

Since he turned 50 on April 28, the competition comes more frequently, but the rust remains. He finished tied for 17th and tied for 15th in his first two tournaments but missed the cut at last weekend's Senior PGA where he suffered a quintuple-bogey 9 in the first round. He broke 70 only once in his first nine rounds.

"It's a little frustrating," he said. "It's been kind of tough. The ball-striking's pretty good, and the putting is a little streaky. But chipping . . . I'm usually really good at it, but it hasn't been too good so far. Until I get my confidence back and my chipping, it's going to be a little tough. But as long as I keep playing competitively, hopefully it'll come around."

He is delighted to have a regular schedule again and be around guys whom he broke in with.

"I'm enjoying it," he said. "The guys are great. They're my buddies from the 90s and early 2000s. Everybody gets along. Nobody gets uptight about too much. When I came back, all of them were great. Everything was just positive. It's a warm feeling that I haven't had in a long time."

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Daly said he is pleased to be coming back to Philadelphia, where he played in a 1992 celebrity skins game at Commonwealth National in Horsham with former Eagles quarterback Jim McMahon as one of his playing partners.

"Me and Jim had a blast," he recalled.

Daly now lives mostly in Clearwater, Fla., where he has gotten to know members of the Phillies organization through his affiliation with Hooters "and I always wish them well," he said.

"The Philadelphia fans are unbelievable," he said, "but I get a little upset when they boo their Eagles. I'm a Cowboy fan, and I don't want that to turn people away. Cowboy fans, we never boo our team. But Philadelphia is a great city, and their fans are loyal. They're really good."

Daly will point his bus to the east and hit the road Sunday as soon as he finishes play in Des Moines. While the drive to Philadelphia in a lengthy one, he says, "1,000 miles is only 15 hours, and that's OK."

"This is fun," he said. "I'm a road warrior. I love to drive. This is what I've done all my life, and it's just great."

This article was written by Joe Juliano from The Philadelphia Inquirer and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.