Our editor and deputy editor argue about the enduring appeal of the 'Wild Thing'
YES says Dan Murphy, who continues to love Daly’s all-action style
IT is half past five in the morning on the Friday of the Open Championship at Royal Troon in 2004 and my alarm is going off.
I wonder what on earth I am doing – then I remember. In an hour or so, John Daly begins his second round and I’m going to be alongside him as he takes advantage of the benign early conditions.
As we arrive at the course we can see an unmistakable figure striding down the 1st, can of Diet Coke in hand.
Always an addictive figure, seemingly to everyone and everything he comes into contact with, Daly is currently satisfying his sugar cravings with fizzy drinks. A conservative estimate on this day is one can per hole.
Nearly every hole on the front nine offers a birdie opportunity; sadly Daly fails to take any of them. What we are treated to is a masterclass of power hitting and deft, instinctive wedge play.
I love the way he plays the game – the driver comes out at every opportunity and the ball explodes off the face, hanging in the air for longer than seems possible before turning over gently and falling out of orbit.
The swing is smooth and his flexibility has me shaking my head in amazement.
Eventually, he launches one out of bounds at the 15th and runs up a seven – his Open is over for another year. It makes me sad, though he seems unconcerned.
I will never forget the week when he won the PGA at Crooked Stick in 1991. The swing, the attitude, the beers between holes – everything he did was the antithesis of a modern tour pro.
And as a teenager, I loved it.
But Daly wasn’t just strong – he was talented, and blessed with a great touch. He was also fearless.
I am pleased, in one sense, that he never played in the Ryder Cup – I would have found it so hard to root against him.
Even now, his game a shadow of what it was, I still look out for his scores. I love the fact that, as a past champion, I get to see him every year in the Open. Who knows, one day he may even contend again. You wouldn’t put it past this supreme talent.
I don’t condone the way he’s lived his life and I cringe at many of his antics.
But I still maintain that any tournament he plays in is that much more interesting as a result. And I cling on to the hope that, one day, he’ll win again on tour.
“John Daly is longer than War and Peace. The way he plays is the fantasy of every hacker on earth.”
– Bob Verdi, 1991, Chicago Tribune
To get me off my backside it has to be something special and Daly falls a long way short of that.
NO says Mark Townsend
I MISSED John Daly winning at Crooked Stick 20 years ago. At the time I was in the back of a transit van driving back from some island hopping in Greece.
Every day we would buy a paper to catch up on what was going on in the PGA. All the headlines were dominated by some unknown American who, supposedly, hit the ball a mile.
Therefore I never enjoyed that initial connection with Daly. I’ve seen plenty on TV over the years, enjoyed his win at St Andrews (if I’m honest I was pulling for Rocca) and particularly loved the way he played his handsy little half shots and then putted without taking an age to do so.
At Royal Birkdale in 2008 I interviewed him on the eve of the Open Championship and he was as you would expect – funny, self-deprecating, down-to-earth and alarmingly honest, even to the point of explaining a recent haemorrhoid problem.
For the next two days, I religiously followed Daly, Richard Finch and Heath Slocum.
Day one was miserable, the players teed off in sleeting rain while spectators were unable to feel their fingers within minutes of trying to negotiate their umbrellas. Nobody wanted to be there.
Except it was the Open and the same for everyone. But it was very obvious that one player really had no interest in any of this.
The hangdog expression was visible throughout, the interaction with the ever-supportive galleries minimal, bordering on non-existent, and, slowly but surely, the crowds who had singled out Daly were drifting away.
On these two days nobody would have been much fun to watch – the ball was going nowhere, it was dark and gloomy and it felt more like November than the middle of July.
Yet Finch and Slocum ground it, made the cut and never stopped trying.
Daly didn’t. Like you or I occasionally, when the medal hopes have gone south, he gave up. He shot 80-89. On Friday he was again birdie free, had three doubles and a quintuple-bogey nine before signing an autograph left-handed and diving straight into the back of a courtesy car.
At tournaments I am generally lazy, parking up at a particular spot in the sunshine and not moving for the next couple of hours. To get me off my backside it has to be something special and Daly falls a long way short of that.
“We only wish he put more time into his game. He would be a draw card, not just a freak card, because he’s so gifted it’s a joke.” - Stuart Appleby