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One for the die hards

Sticking with John Daly could finally pay off

July 23, 2011
B.J. LISKO - Salem News Sports Editor (bjlisko@salemnews.net) , Salem News

Rooting for John Daly is an agonizing proposition.

It's probably why so many fair-weather fans have abandoned him. It's tantamount to insanity in stretches. You know you're going to get hurt, but you just keep doing it over and over again. You can't help yourself. You want to see him do well, because he's so human it hurts.

Daly has frequently carded double-digit numbers on single holes - he had a 13 just three weeks ago. He's shot in the 80s more times than golfers who play twice as much, and his appearance, now a lean 185 pounds, is bigger and more attention-grabbing than ever.

Since Daly's last top-10 in 2005 when he lost in a playoff to Tiger Woods, he has missed 45 cuts and withdrawn from events 17 times.

When he puts together a good round or even stretches of good golf, it's almost always inevitable that the blow-up is just around the bend.

So it wasn't surprising on the last hole of his second round, two shots off the lead at the time, Daly promptly four-putted for a triple bogey heading into the weekend.

Typically, despite making the cut, that meant playing for "rabbit food" as PGA players call it, and cueing the ride home for early Sunday afternoon.

When Daly bogeyed his first hole of round 3, it seemed all too familiar for us die hard fans. He parred his next five holes, then birdied the par-5 seventh before a bogey on the eighth and a par on the ninth put him at 2-over for the tournament.

But then he birdied four of the next six holes, got out with par on the final three and is sitting in the third-to-last pairing and very much in contention at the extremely difficult Shaughnessy Golf and Country Club in the Canadian Open.

Could it finally be Daly's time to shine again?

Two years ago, I wrote then-ESPN golf columnist, now Golf Channel contributor, Jason Sobel. I had just penned a column called "An Open Letter to John Daly" where I said that even though I was a huge fan and had always defended his every move, I simply couldn't do it anymore. "You are hating yourself to death," I wrote. I closed the column wishing him the best and said I would never stop watching, but the agony of seeing my favorite golfer making questionable choices again and again was too much.

I couldn't defend Daly hurting himself anymore. I wanted to gauge what a writer who saw Daly a lot more in person thought.

Sobel responded. He said although he didn't expect Daly to win anytime soon, he wouldn't be shocked if it happened. He said Daly has "always been the type of guy who can miss the cut 19 times in a row then win the tourney is his 20th. He can play his best golf when it's least expected."

It's exactly what's happening.

Daly has played in three straight events, and despite playing reasonably well the last few weeks, this is the first he has made the cut. He is driving the ball long and just straight enough that he has been able to recover and hit greens, and his ball-striking is top notch.

Since I wrote that column (and I still liked the guy so much I couldn't help but write about Daly whenever the opportunity or his game presented itself for it) Daly has changed a great deal.

While he has struggled mightily on the course, his life has been very promising and fulfilling off of it.

Gone are the multiple daily trips to McDonald's. Gone is the whiskey and beer. Gone is his weight thanks to lap-band surgery and a new diet.

The only vices Daly has kept are cigarettes and Diet Coke. Those and his new girlfriend, Anna Cladakis, a Hooters promotional director, who for maybe the first time in Daly's personal life, knew what she was getting in for.

Cladakis has been nothing but supportive and with Daly every step of the way during the lowest point of his professional career.

In the meantime, Daly has pleaded with every tournament director for an exemption, and garnered whatever sponsor he can. He wears pants so flashy they make Ian Poulter blush. His bag is donned with a giant All-Sport logo and features an embedded television screen that flashes advertisements. There's no Callaway or Taylor Made or Titlest or Bridgestone. There's Loudmouth, Big Red, Blue Collar Golf, Pilot Travel Centers, Hathaway's Blood Mary Mix and John Daly Pizza.

He very publicly said he was done after a round in 2010. It was even captured on camera for his television show "Being John Daly." Many wondered if it was all a publicity stunt. Daly denied it was, but regardless, it showed once again that the biggest enemy of John Daly, was still John Daly.

He can't get out of his own head. When things start going poorly, all the insecurities and bad memories come rushing back. But as his caddie Peter Van Derriet said after his first round, "With him, it's all confidence. If he can get on a roll ..."

Don't look now, but Daly is rolling.

Maybe we've been right rooting for him all along.

E-mail B.J. Lisko at bjlisko@salemnews.net

 
 

 

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