John Daly Now Beyond Benefit of the Doubt

The number that best defines John Daly’s career depends largely upon whom you ask. His many fans might offer “302” – Daly’s average driving distance in 1997, when he became the first man on the PGA Tour to break that now quaint 300-yard barrier. Or “5,” for his Tour wins, a meager tally given his enormous talent. Perhaps even “2,” for the major victories that place him in rarified company.

For me, the telling number is “48.” That’s how many times Daly has withdrawn from PGA Tour-sanctioned events during his uneven career.

Screen Shot 2018-10-31 at 4.07.58 PM

Check that.

It’s now “49” after his sulky exit from last week’s U.S. Senior Open. That figure omits the eight DQ’s he’s racked up, or his consistently dominating performance in the strokes gained half-hearted effort category.

It’s not easy to keep an accurate count of the episodes that have earned Daly a reputation for unprofessionalism. Or perhaps it’s just a coincidence that he’s the only eligible two-time major winner never to have been selected for a Ryder Cup team (and both of his major wins came in Cup years).

Daly bolted from the Senior Open when the U.S. Golf Association denied his request to use a cart during play. He’d asked for wheels owing to a knee injury he suffered while dodging a car that struck his RV in the parking lot of an Augusta Hooters, where he was hawking merchandise during the Masters, a tournament he hasn’t actually played in a dozen years.

He wasn’t alone in appealing for a cart under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Scott Verplank submitted paperwork, too, and was successful in getting a waiver of the walking condition.

“We offered Mr. Daly the opportunity to provide additional information to support his request for a cart,” the USGA said in a statement. “He informed us (Monday) morning that he decided to withdraw.”

Publicly, Daly was peevish. “The USGA just seems to defend themselves after the fact,’’ he groused to USA Today Sports, alluding to last month’s setup controversy at Shinnecock Hills. “It just seems like something happens every year they host an event that looks bad on them. They just never seem to learn from their mistakes.”

Read his last comment again.

There is truly nothing left for satire.

“It’s my career they’re screwing around with here,” Daly continued, flaunting a commendable capacity for selective amnesia.

Daly subsequently announced he’ll never play in another USGA tournament, a declaration that stunned the blazer brigade, who thought he had long ago stopped competing in their events. After all, Daly also WD’d from last year’s Senior Open with a shoulder injury.  He did play in 2016, his 70-81 being the first rounds he’s played in a USGA tournament since 2005. He’s signed for just 11 rounds in USGA competition this century.

Why the odd number? U.S. Open, Pebble Beach, 2000, 83, WD.

The USGA ought to ask Daly to guarantee his threat in writing, merely certifying his status as golf’s most dependable no-show.

For a time, Daly was an easy guy to root for among the khaki clones that populate the PGA Tour, a mullet-sporting, beer-bellied, working-class guy upending a country club world. His many struggles with addiction – which he hid from no one – earned him tremendous support from fans and more than a few passes for conduct unbecoming.

But the Daly Show has long since become tediously repetitive viewing.

He’s 52 now, but maturity seems no nearer at hand. It’s easy to understand why tournament organizers have bestowed so many sponsor’s invites on a man who hasn’t had playing status for years. When he pitches up at events, TV announcers still serve up the old chestnuts: Folks love to see him, he draws a crowd, he generates the oohs and aahs. That’s all true, of course, but it’s also true of police car chases. And people watch both hoping for a crash.

Daly regularly gives those few fans what they want – clubs tossed into the water, a fan’s camera smashed – but seldom what most fans deserve: professionalism, courtesy, a simple bloody effort to justify their ticket price.

Perhaps Daly did need a cart at the U.S. Senior Open, and maybe the USGA could have been more proactive in encouraging him to work through the paperwork. But the casual disregard with which Daly has WD’d or mailed in a pitiful effort in the 23 summers since he won the British Open has ensured he has few advocates willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

“Just not worth it,” he wrote in a text to a USA Today reporter about his vow to skip all future USGA events. It might be the only thing on which he and the USGA agree.

Golfweek, July 1, 2018.

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