It is hard to believe that 20 years have elapsed since John Duly burst onto the scene by winning the 1991 PGA Championship at Crooked Stick.
The unknown 25-year-old rookie had started the week as ninth alternate but he got his chance when Nick Price withdrew to be at the birth of his child and then the 6th, 7th and 8th alternates all declined the last place in the field. He grasped the opportunity with both hands, driving through the night from his home in Memphis, Tennessee, and then producing a performance that left the rest of the field spread-eagled in his wake.
I was present at Crooked Stick that hot and steamy week and I can still recall the huge sense of surprise that Daly’s performance engendered.
It was every bit as unexpected as both Francis Ouimet’s win in the 1913 US Open at the Country Club and Jack Fleck’s triumph over Ben Hogan in the same championship 42 years later and it was achieved in a swashbuckling style that sent shockwaves round the golfing world.
John Daly went from zero to hero that week and he did it by bludgeoning the ball in a manner that few of us had ever seen before.
He was rough, he was raw, but, by God, he was exciting, and arguably was the perfect antidote to the likes of previous winners Bob Tway, Larry Nelson, Jeff Sluman and Wayne Grady.
The Wild Thing hit drive after drive well over 300 yards but also displayed the touch of a surgeon around the greens. In one sense he was a breath of fresh air. In another, even then, you sensed he was an accident waiting to happen.
All week long, while Daly gripped it and ripped it, the media waited for him to implode but, somehow, it never happened. Indeed, just about the closest he came to experiencing a crisis came late on the Saturday evening when his caddie, Jeff “Squeaky” Medlin, Price’s usual bagman, was accused, then cleared, of contravening Rule 8-2b by resting the flagstick on the extension of the line of one of Daly’s putts.
The next day, the American opened with a bogey on the easiest hole on the course but then carded birdies on the 2nd, 5th, 13th and the 15th to finish three shots ahead of Bruce Lietzke. The world was his oyster, or so we thought at the time.
It is difficult to under-estimate just what Daly achieved that week at Crooked Stick. In just four days he captured the imagination, not just of golfers, but non-golfers as well.
He was rough, he was raw, but, by God, he was exciting, and arguably was the perfect antidote to the likes of Bob Tway, Larry Nelson, Jeff Sluman and Wayne Grady, who had all preceded him to the PGA crown. Sadly, he was also flawed, as we were soon to find out.
Two decades on, Daly is but a pale imitation of the golfer he looked like becoming. Nowadays, it is not his golf, but his ruinous lifestyle, we talk about, although his performance statistics do offer a stark illustration of how far he has fallen.
After his triumph at Crooked Stick, the American did claim one further Major, the 1995 Open at St Andrews, but his last victory of any type came in 2004 and, since the start of 2006, he has missed the cut or has chosen to withdraw from 58 of the last 99 PGA Tour events he has entered.
In gambling terms, Daly is a busted flush. He’s arguably the game’s greatest under-achiever, and that’s sad because, despite all his inner demons, he is undoubtedly a decent bloke, someone who cares deeply for the game he has sometimes illuminated and just as often besmirched.
I remember talking to the American just after he carded closing rounds of 80 and 75 in his first appearance in the Open at Muirfield back in 1992 and recall being impressed at the determination he exuded while stating he would be back and would master the vagaries of British links golf.
True to his word, a few years later he did, albeit for far too fleeting a moment for those of us who at one point had expected so much more.