It was a glistening, 420-horsepower Cadillac Escalade that ferried John Daly to the distant 10th tee at Bethpage Black Thursday afternoon, and a mud-spattered, 3.3 horsepower electric cart that he pointed down the fairway to begin his opening round in the 101st PGA Championship. His ride, like his career, a faded carbon of what it once was.
A man who quickly swaps vehicles deep in the Long Island woods might fall under suspicion of doing something illegal, but in the case of Daly it was merely something unsporting. And unsurprising.
Golf has marketed the virtue of its players for so long that you’d be forgiven for assuming PGA Tour cards come with certificates of moral rectitude.
Until we recently began living under par, “These Guys Are Good” was recited with an almost evangelical fervor. The slogan wasn’t intended to refer only to the quality of play evident on Tour, but also to the not so readily apparent qualities of its members: sportsmanship, humanitarianism, charity.
That branding has two potential snares: Even a trivial divergence from the righteous narrative is magnified, and it denies golf fans the manufactured hatred that thrives in other sports. After all, it’s tough to hate a guy when you only hear about his decency and kindness to puppies.
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 That’s how many times Daly has withdrawn from PGA Tour-sanctioned events during his uneven career.
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.