Hello, 50! Daly excited to begin Champions chapter

By Rex HoggardApril 27, 2016, 12:15 pm

AUGUSTA , Ga. – It was quintessential John Daly, hair disheveled, at least a week removed from his last shave and chain-smoking Marlboros.

Just yards from the controlled chaos that is Washington Road during Masters week and the raucous revelry that is Hooters, JD is at home with the endless precession of guests – some more welcome than others.

“You know how this works, I’m looking for a place to cook some bacon and eggs,” announces comedian Ron White as he enters Daly’s RV, undeterred by multiple cameras and an ongoing interview with the two-time major champion.

Later that afternoon the crowds would come, they always do to get a glimpse of one of the game’s most iconoclastic players. They want autographs. By Tuesday of Masters week, Daly estimates he’s signed close to 5,000 items for fans.

“Somebody bought our merchandise banner for $300 and had him sign it,” says Anna Cladakis, Daly’s fiancée, sometimes-caddie and retail manager since 2007.

They buy Daly’s line of shirts, hats and head covers from sunrise to well past the nightcap hour, but this is more than just sports hero worship. His fans have been with JD through every peak and valley, vicariously celebrating his successes and enduring his many missteps every step of the way.

They want a piece of Daly, warts and all, like one fan who asked Cladakis for a specific signature.

“He said to sign it, ‘Bay Hill 18,’” she says. “I’m not sure what that means.”

The reference is to Daly’s misadventure on the sixth hole during the final round of the 1998 Bay Hill Invitational when he deposited six golf balls into a lake and signed for an 18 on the hole.

Daly signs the hat as requested, adding a “2” to the autograph.

“I made a birdie [2] on the next hole,” he says with a wink.

Good, bad and Daly: Timeline of John's career

The buzz around Daly’s RV is nonstop for eight consecutive days and, true to his man-of-the-people persona, he embraces every rowdy minute.

“Guys will roll out [of the Hooters] at 2 a.m., yelling for autographs,” Daly smiles.

Daly could limit his time among the masses. He could stay in a hotel and adhere to a more structured schedule, but that’s not JD’s style.

Daly’s RV is his home, a rolling condo with multiple TVs, a king-sized bed, shower and, yes, even a stove to cook White his bacon and eggs.

“I relate to the fans,” Daly says. “You know I’ve made them happy and I’ve pissed them off a lot, but they’ve been good to me all over the world.”

Throughout the rollercoaster that has been Daly’s life, the major championships, stardom, multiple divorces, injuries and gambling, it has been the fans – not the media and certainly not the PGA Tour – that has never left his side.

Daly figures it’s the way he’s lived his eventful life that has kept his fans loyal, the brutal honesty he’s displayed under the most unforgiving spotlight. Others say it’s JD’s flaws that have earned him unwavering support from the masses.

Whatever the reason, a dozen years removed from his last Tour title Daly, and his “lions head” brand, remains one of the most popular players in golf, which makes this time something of a seminal moment for both Daly and the PGA Tour Champions.

Daly turns 50 on April 28 and will make his debut on the over-50 circuit at next week’s Insperity Invitational in Texas.

“Two years ago, when I took this job, I was stunned at how many players were excited about John coming out,” said Greg McLaughlin, the PGA Tour Champions president. “They feel John will be good for the tour, and what’s good for the tour is good for all involved.”

Every player views the Champions circuit as a golden parachute, but for Daly 2.0 it’s the ultimate mulligan.

“The camaraderie is going to be great,” Daly said. “The guys are still great, they’re competitive as hell and we still think we want to win. We challenge ourselves every day no matter how old we get.”

In many ways, Daly is viewing this next chapter in a tome that at times has read like a Hunter S. Thompson fiction novel much like he viewed his early years on Tour in the 1990s when he was just “an old redneck, blue-collar boy winning the British Open.”

Although his hair is still golden blonde, the stubble on his face gives away his years of hard living. Even in his RV adjacent the Washington Road Hooters, Daly seems somehow more subdued than he was in the early 1990s.

He’s cut back on gambling, although in true Daly style he admits it’s more an acknowledgment of his diminished cash flow in recent years than a desire to separate himself from his rough-and-tumble past.

Photos: John Daly through the years

Don’t confuse necessity with maturity, however.

“I’ll never grow up,” Daly concedes when asked the difference between 25-year-old JD and the 50-year-old version. “I’m probably going to end up throwing clubs on the Champions Tour, I’m still gonna be me. There’s no telling what sort of things I can do, but all I know is I’m enjoying life right now and my kids are healthy and things are pretty good.”

There were certainly flashes of that familiar Daly fury at last year’s PGA Championship when he deposited three balls into Lake Michigan while playing the par-3 seventh hole during the second round and sent the offending iron into the azure-colored abyss moments later.

Compared with previous meltdowns, the difference now is that those types of outburst aren’t followed by a hasty exit.

“I probably would have waited until the ninth hole when I got close to the clubhouse, but it doesn’t cross my mind like it used to back in days,” he admits.

Maybe it’s aging; maybe it’s fatherhood that has softened Daly’s rough edges in recent years.

During an extended interview, Daly’s mood darkens slightly when asked if he has any regrets. There are no shortage of vices to chose from, including gambling (in his 2006 autobiography “My Life In and Out of the Rough” he wrote that he owed $4 million in gambling debts when he arrived at the 1995 Open Championship, which he won) and hard drinking.

But for Daly his primary mea culpa is leading by explosive example.

“The funny thing is I see it in my son,” Daly says. “He’s 12 and what can I say if he’s not playing good? He likes to throw clubs, but how can I give him advice?

“'Don’t be like dad,’ and he sees me whipping one at the PGA. He just laughs about it and I say that’s not good. I shouldn’t have done that but it’s the mentality of how we played.”

Daly also concedes his son, John Jr., who is attending the Core Golf Academy in Orlando, Fla., inherited his dad’s interest in the occasional wager on the golf course, which has also led to some awkward conversations.

But overall his son’s interest in the family business has given Daly a renewed sense of energy. Getting to play alongside “Little John” at the PNC Father-Son Challenge in December is one of the things Daly is looking forward to the most this year, along with a full schedule of tournaments for the first time since 2014.

Although he still plans the occasional cameo on the PGA Tour – including his annual starts at the PGA Championship and Open Championship – it’s joining his friends and contemporaries on the Champions circuit that has inspired Daly again.

It’s made golf fun again, and that hasn’t been the case in a long time.

“It turns into a job when you’re playing bad,” he says. “There were times I wanted to throw in the towel and quit, but my mom talked me out of probably the most depressed I ever was in the game before she passed. She said, ‘Well, what else are you going to do, son?’”

Some five years after that pep talk from his mother, Lou, who died in November 2011, Daly’s renewed sense of competitive hope is undeniable, both in the five-time Tour winner and in the fans who largely have never given up on their flawed hero.

For all of his off-course troubles, Daly remains one of the game’s most unique talents. Last year in limited Tour starts he ranked 25th in driving distance with a 300-yard average, and fellow professionals will still stop and watch in awe if he’s working on a practice range.

It may have been his very real life off-course issues that kept his fans loyal, but it was his unique talents – effortless power coupled with reckless abandon – that drew them to him in the first place.

Daly explains that unlike when he broke onto the Tour in 1991 there are now at least a dozen players who can do what he does with the golf ball, but his home-made golf swing and freakish power still captivate even the game’s most accomplished players.

It was during the 2004 Target World Challenge and Daly had just completed the Wednesday pro-am with some friends and was in the clubhouse drinking and telling stories when Tiger Woods walked into the room.

“Tiger’s there in his workout clothes and I said, ‘Tiger come have a beer with us, man,’” Daly recalls.

Woods declined, explaining that he was bound for the gym and one of his ubiquitous workout sessions. Daly persisted, “I go, ‘Man, you don’t need to work out. You need to drink a little bit with us.’”

Woods’ answer is the stuff of legend.

“He said, ‘If I had your talent I’d be doing the same thing you’re doing,’” Daly says. “I’m looking at him thinking 'you’re crazy, man.'”

Some will contend Daly largely wasted that talent with his addictions, but the newly minted senior dismisses that type of armchair psychology with a shrug.

After a life fully lived he’s realized regret is a luxury he doesn’t have time for; there are still thousands of autographs to sign, a new career on a new tour and Ron White is waiting for his bacon and eggs.

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After Further Review: Tiger's return comes at perfect time

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 2:19 am

Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On the current state of golf as Tiger Woods returns to competition ...

Less than four days before Tiger Woods returns to official competitive golf for the first time in a year, Jon Rahm, the new second-ranked player in the world, won on the PGA Tour and Rory McIlroy made an impressive 2018 debut on the European Tour (T-3).

Not since Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus crossed paths at the 1960 U.S. Open has there been so many superstars all poised for big seasons, with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson having already won this year and Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas both coming off stellar seasons.

It’s a good time for golf. - Rex Hoggard

On Tommy Fleetwood's continued success ...

There have been scores of talented European players whose skills didn’t translate to the PGA Tour … and maybe, in a few years, Tommy Fleetwood will prove to be no different.

He sure looks like the real deal, though.  

His title defense in Abu Dhabi – on the strength of a back-nine 30 in windy conditions – was his third title in the past 12 months and 11th top-10 overall. A few of those have come in majors and World Golf Championship events, too, which led the reigning Race to Dubai champion to accept PGA Tour membership for this season.

Beginning at Riviera, he plans to play exclusively in the States through May, then reassess for the rest of the year. Hope he sticks, because he’s a fun personality with tons of game. - Ryan Lavner

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Rahm passes Spieth to become world No. 2

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:25 am

With his win Sunday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, Jon Rahm picked up his second PGA Tour victory and moved to No. 2 in the FedExCup points standings.

He picked up one more No. 2, too.

The 23-year-old Spaniard passed Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, behind only Dustin Johnson.

In 19 months, since June 2016, Rahm has rocketed from No. 776 in the world to No. 2, thanks in part to his low divisor, his number of events played.

Asked after his playoff victory over Andrew Landry to discuss his rapid ascent up the world rankings, Rahm was almost at a loss.

“It's hard to believe to be honest, passing Jordan Spieth,” he said. “That's a three-time major champion. I only have two wins. He's got 10-plus, right? It's again – I've said it many times – I never thought I was going to be at this point in my life right now.”

Rahm may only have two PGA Tour titles, but this is his fourth worldwide win in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. He also took the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the DP World Tour Championship on his way to claiming the European Tour’s 2017 Rookie of the Year Award.

Dating back to the start of last season on the PGA Tour, Rahm has racked up 12 top-10s, three runner-ups, and two wins.

He will head to Torrey Pines next week ready to defend for the first time.

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Brady compares self to Woods after winning AFC title

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 1:05 am

Tom Brady and Tiger Woods are two of the all-time greats in their respective sports ... a fact that is not lost on the five-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.

Fresh off leading the New England Patriots to a AFC Championship victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brady was asked about winning the game despite a cut on his throwing hand - which made national news heading into the matchup.

His response invoked the name of a certain 14-time major winner, something that would be tough to pull off, if not for the fact that he is, you know, Tom Brady.

“I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that," the 40-year-old told reporters after the game. "It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament."

Tiger Woods winning with his "C game" may be a distant memory for golf fans, but no matter what game he brings, his next chance to win comes next week at Torrey Pines during his official comeback to the PGA Tour.

Brady has a shot at his sixth Super Bowl title in two weeks. The Patriots would probably benefit from him bringing a little better than his "C game" as well.

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Rahm beats Landry in playoff to win CareerBuilder

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:00 am

Jon Rahm birdied the fourth extra hole Sunday to defeat Andrew Landry in a playoff, win the CareerBuilder Challenge and move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here’s how things played out in overtime at PGA West:

Leaderboard: Rahm (-22), Landry (-22), John Huh (-20), Adam Hadwin (-20), Martin Piller (-20), Kevin Chappell (-19), Scott Piercy (-19)

What it means: This is Rahm’s second PGA Tour win and his fourth worldwide victory in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. Rahm took the early lead Thursday with an opening 62 and after rounds of 67-70, he started the final round two back. On Sunday, he made five birdies without dropping a single shot on the intimidating Stadium Course. In the clubhouse at 22 under, Rahm watched as Landry made birdie on 18 to force a playoff.

Rahm missed birdie putts that would have ended the tournament on the final hole of regulation and on each playoff hole. Finally, on his fourth trip down 18 of the day, his birdie bid found the cup. With the victory, Rahm passes Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, trailing only Dustin Johnson. He enters next week at Torrey Pines looking to defend for the first time.

Best of the rest: A two-time Web.com winner playing his second full season on the PGA Tour, Landry shot 68 Sunday, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force extras. Once Rahm finally made birdie on the fourth playoff hole, Landry's putt to extend slid by on the right edge. This is Landry's best career finish on the PGA Tour. Had he won, he would have secured full Tour status through the 2019-20 season and earned invites to the Masters, Players, and PGA Championships.

Round of the day: Sam Saunders fired an 8-under 64 to register this best finish of the season, a tie for eighth at 18 under. The reigning Web.com Tour Championship winner was 9 under par through 12 holes before making bogey at 13 and parring his way into the clubhouse.

Biggest disappointment: Overnight leader Austin Cook was eyeing his second win of the season but never contended. The RSM champion carded two double bogeys Sunday en route to a 3-over 75, dropping him from the 54-hole lead to a tie for 14th.

Shot of the day: Rahm's putt to win:

Quote of the day: "One of us had to do it and either one of us would have been a well-deserving champion." - Rahm on his playoff victory over Landry