Published: March 27, 2011 12:33 AM
By BY MARK HERRMANN
Photo credit: John Dunn | Pro golfer John Daly made an appearance, Saturday, at the Long Island Golf Show at Suffolk Community College in Brentwood. Daly spoke and answered questions from the audience, and then signed autographs. Daly poses for a photograph with Cole Rappaport, 9, of Melville, during an autograph session. (Mar. 26, 2011)
There is much less to John Daly than there used to be, but at the same time maybe there is more. That was the feeling from a very receptive crowd yesterday at the Long Island Golf Show, where people received honest answers from Daly about his weight (way down to 185 from 310), his golf and his new shot at life.
The two-time major champion was candid enough to acknowledge the path that led him to be giving a pair of talks at the Brentwood campus of Suffolk Community College while the big guys on tour are playing at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. His excesses ate away at his talent, his marriages, his bank account, his career. But he insisted he will bounce back “and do it the right way,” adding that he hasn’t had a drink in two years.
One man in the crowd of nearly 500 jokingly invited him to a Hooters five exits away on the Long Island Expressway. “I wish I could go down there,” he said, good naturally. He added that he still has a good relationship with his former sponsors at Hooters and told the questioner, “I could go have a Diet Coke with you.”
Not really. Daly, 44, was too busy doing two separate question-and-answer sessions and signing for long lines of autograph-seekers (the show concludes today with Golf Channel’s Michael Breed). Sixteen years after winning his most recent major, the 1995 British Open, Daly still is a huge draw. He wowed the crowd without ever having hit a shot.
People got a kick when he said he still can hit it as long as he used to, but that his problem is putting because he no longer has anywhere to comfortably rest his right arm during the stroke. “I used to have a big old gut there,” he said (during an interview earlier in the week, Daly said he had the Lap-Band procedure largely as solidarity with his daughter, whose health and self confidence benefited from the slim-down surgery).
The public always has had an infatuation with Daly, considering him an Everyman and often viewing him as more charming than he really was (that’s the view, anyway, from one who has been around him at occasionally for 15 years). Now, though, the feeling seems to be earnest, both to and from the former star who has lost his Tour card. Fans see someone trying to climb from an abyss he dug for himself.
During the midweek interview, he didn’t argue the point from some observers that he was a better golfer when he was drinking. But he said that his friend, former Dallas Cowboys linebacker Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson, told him, “You’ll never know how good you are until you try to do it the right way.”
Meanwhile, Daly still has the old grip-it-and-rip-it philosophy — at least when it comes to sharing his thoughts.
On famed swing instructor Butch Harmon: “Butch fired me three years ago. He didn’t like me at all.”
On instructors in general: “Golf coaches are like AA meetings — if you don’t like one, go to another one.”
On Long Island’s most famous municipal course: “Bethpage is awesome.” He told of playing with Nick Faldo during the 2002 U.S. Open, when Faldo realized he couldn’t reach the 10th fairway from the tee. Faldo’s caddie, Fanny Sunneson, told him to aim for the narrow walkway that led through the rough, and the player did hit it there.
Daly, a former PGA champion, on Dustin Johnson being penalized on the final hole of the 2010 PGA because he grounded his club in what proved to be a bunker: “You’ve got 900 rakes out there and 1,400 bunkers. There were Doritos chips and beer cans and cigarettes in there. He got a raw deal. If you don’t have a rake by a bunker, it’s not a bunker. It was a disgrace, what happened to him.”
On the psychological aspect of winning in pro golf: “If you can putt, on any tour, that’s where the psychological part comes in.”
The crowd applauded when he told of his seven career holes-in-one and seven double eagles. It clapped some more when he spoke of having received custody of his seven-year-old son, whom he is home schooling.
People went home happy, having heard a once larger-than-life star admit to having been brought down to earth. “We all have problems,” he said. “I don’t like having them, but I don’t mind talking about them.”