Daly devotion

EVEN if you’re not a golf fan, chances are you know who John Daly is. At least you think you do. Michael Moynihan met the golf legend to separate myth from reality.

JOHN DALY. The Wild Thing. The Lion. Mr Grip it and Rip it himself. All the exes have Rolexes. The booming drives, the booming waistline. The mullet. Battles with the bottle, run-ins with authority. All things considered, the kind of sportsman you’d view with a few preconceptions.

Pity so few of them seem to fit. The John Daly sitting in a Cork hotel earlier this week was polite, drank Diet Coke and spoke in measured tones. The East German footballer’s haircut was gone as well - the blond thatch is as thick as ever, just less wayward - while the word ‘redneck’ stitched onto the collar of his shirt looked like a designer’s flourish rather than a representation of the wearer’s identification with the Deep South.

Even those unflattering photographs, most of them taken with an eye to emphasising expansion in the midsection, are pretty deceptive. Smaller than expected, with some clearance between his haircut and six feet, Daly carries some ballast - he was unlikely to be mistaken in silhouette for any of the Liverpool FC development squad who were roaming the hotel lobby - but he’s certainly not vastly overweight.

We spoke in the wake of the Open, during which Daly had attracted attention for passing up the formal dinner, an incident he said was “blown out of proportion.”

“What happened was, this lady handed me the invitation and I said, ‘I don’t have a coat and tie, I don’t ever travel with one and I don’t usually go to the dinners.’ She said she’d let the R&A know I wouldn’t be there.

“Then it started - people saying ‘you have to go’, but I just don’t enjoy them. For one thing, the wives can’t go to the dinners and it’s not my kind of thing.

“If I ever make the Ryder Cup or the President’s Cup then that’s different, you have to. Then I’d choke myself with a tie. I’m just not big on those dinners like some of the guys might be.”

There were other events worth noting at the Open, in any case. Daly paid due tribute to the man who said farewell to St Andrew’s, the legendary Jack Nicklaus.

“Friday was a very emotional day even for guys that weren’t around or who played early. We all knew it was Jack’s last go-around in Britain and it was a sad day for just about everyone in the field. I’d say that about 95% of the people that were there were playing because of Jack.

“1995 was a very emotional time for me (when Daly won the Open) because Arnold (Palmer) had left that year, those are two of the greatest names in golf. It was a sad, sad day because we want to see them competing.”

Conceding that a break in the weather was the only way he and the rest of the field could have reeled in eventual winner Tiger Woods, he was satisfied with his game, which left him five under, tying with seven others for 15th.

“I’m really happy with my game at present, when you’re hitting the ball good you get more confidence. I hit a lot of greens last week and I love the way I’m hitting the ball, I just got to work on my speed and my putts; my line’s good, but my putting is horrendous.

“Ball-striking, it was one of the best three-four days I’ve ever had. I hit the ball great, I just putted really badly on the last day. It was the highest number of putts I’ve ever had in my career, I had 39 putts. I drove five par-4s which were 100-130 feet away, which made it a little tough, but I just putted awful. I was one under going in on the last day and it was the same, giving away shots I shouldn’t have.”

Designing courses is another outlet for Daly’s love of the game, which is where his involvement with the Blarney Golf Resort, due to open next year, comes in.

“The people in Blarney were interested in doing a golf course and I said let’s do it.

“It’s great, look at all the names of guys who are doing golf courses. The course will be there forever, when I’m dead and gone. I feel honoured to be able to design one in Ireland. It’s a beautiful piece of property, and the last time I was here it was all grass and farmland, basically, and now it’s turned into a golf course. I’m opening a golf course on the Canada side of Niagara Falls next month and I’ll be doing three or four more soon.”

This laid-back citizen isn’t quite what I expected, I tell him.

“Well, my life’s been pretty mellow for the last few years. The controversies ... people like to make stuff up. I like playing and I like designing, and I have four kids now. John junior is two, so he’s a handful, and my eldest daughter is a teenager, so ... things are changing in her life pretty rapidly.

“I have other interests now. I love college football - Arizona Razorbacks, mostly - basketball. I started collecting guitars around 1994 and I got about 80 of them now, so I play music as well.”

What kind of music is on the Daly sound system?

“Mmm. My own kind, I guess. I had a CD out last year, My Life, and we’re going to recut that later this summer. It’s got one song called Long Ball Rebel With A Cause and we’re going to bring out a video out for that in October.

“The game’s given me a chance to meet some incredible people - I’ve met Hootie and the Blowfish, they’re good friends, country singer Johnny Lee and Alice Cooper. Alice is pretty good - 7 or 8 handicap.”

Strolling out of the hotel to look over the Lee, we’re interrupted by a couple of the Liverpool players, who want a photograph. Daly agrees, and there’s affable kidding around, the deep southern drawl and chirruping Scouse. Daly is given a red jersey as a souvenir.

“Thanks, you guys,” he says. “I guess I’ll have to lose a little weight to wear this.”

Then a wink.

“Good thing I missed that dinner.”

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