John Daly Debuts on PGA Champions Tour
One of the game’s most popular, albeit controversial players, John Daly started a new chapter in his golf career at the PGA’s Champions Tour Insperity Invitational in early May. Daly did something he hasn’t done in a while in the U.S. – he won $27,900 after tying for 17th place. A triple-bogey 7 on the 71st hole of the tournament prevented Daly from having an even bigger pay day.
Daly turned 50 in late April. Still long enough for the regular tour, Daly’s booming tee-shots (he led the PGA Tour in driving distance his first ten years on tour) and underrated short game should serve him well on the shorter senior circuit. Another advantage for Daly, who struggled with consistency throughout his career, is the Champion Tour’s 54-hole (three rounds) format.
While many people focus on the suspensions, the fines and some of the big numbers Daly has put up on individual golf holes, not enough attention is paid to the fact that Daly is a two-time major champion. To put it another way, Daly has won twice as many majors as fellow Americans Fred Couples, Davis Love III and Jim Furyk.
Daly’s first major, the 1991 PGA Championship, reads like a cheesy Hollywood script. Daly was the 9th alternate to get in the tournament, but a combination of factors led him to drive all night from native Arkansas to grab the final spot in the field at Crooked Stick Golf Club outside of Indianapolis, Indiana. Using Nick Price’s caddy (Price skipped the tournament to witness the birth of his child), Daly shot 69 in the first round. Daly continued to pound the driver the rest of the tournament, oftentimes hitting his ball over hazards that gobbled up the rest of the field’s tee shots. When Daly closed out the tournament with relative ease, he became an overnight sensation.
Daly struggled with a multitude of personal issues during his time on the PGA Tour, but through it all he remained a favorite of galleries and tournament sponsors who realized his enormous appeal would sell tickets.
Daly proved his PGA Championship was no fluke when he won the Open Championship at St. Andrews in 1995. Daly was again able to bomb massive drives off of the tee that simply carried many of the diabolical pot bunkers that are sprinkled throughout the Old Course. This victory was more dramatic than his win at Crooked Stick. Daly watched in disbelief as Constantino Rocca made a 65-foot putt from the bottom of the valley of sin on St. Andrew’s 18th green. Rocca’s unlikely putt, which he holed after a flubbed chip that rolled back to his feet, forced a four-hole playoff with Daly for the Claret Jug. Daly was four shots off the lead and two behind Rocca entering the final round. He shot 71 in the final round under extremely difficult conditions. Daly outlasted Rocca in the four-hole playoff to secure his second major.
Now, Daly comes to another crossroads in his sometimes star-crossed career. When you consider the fact that the Champions Tour leading money winner usually averages somewhere around $2.5 million a year, there is a real opportunity for Daly to make a more-than-nice living and set himself up for the rest of his life. The fact is, there is real money to be made on the Champions Tour. Bernhard Langer has made over $15 million since joining the senior circuit. While Daly’s game lacks the consistency of Langer’s, the fact remains that an incredible opportunity is there for Daly if he is able to properly channel himself and focus on this last stage of his professional golf career.
Daly’s fans certainly hope this happens and hopefully, the golf gods will smile on the almost folk-hero from Arkansas several more times before the passage of time takes away Daly’s ability to perform the job that has seen him to the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.