And now, quicker than you can say sudden death, he is back.
A magical, floating, rolling, long bunker shot on the first hole of a playoff at the Buick Invitational was enough to stop Luke Donald and Chris Riley in their tracks. Daly has now won for the first time since 1995 when he defeated Costantino Rocca at the Old Course in Scotland for the Open Championship. He hadnt won here in the United States since 1994.
We wondered, we waited and we agonized. And now our patience - OK, some of us werent so patient - has paid off: John Daly, the longest running soap opera in golf, has finally found a third act to a career that has been a simultaneous roller coaster testament to wretched excess and blessed talent.
Life always had a way of bringing out the best and the worst in Daly. At times it was hard to tell which was which. Dalys wild ride also managed to bring out the best and the worst in many of us as well.
At the core of all of this was a nerve Daly struck with a sizable portion of the American public from the moment he showed up for the PGA Championship at Crooked Stick in 1991 to win the first major in which he ever played. Hard to believe that was almost 13 years ago now.
His life since then has been littered with broken marriages, gambling binges and trials with alcohol. All of it has been very public. We dont mind imperfections in our heroes in America. And we whooped and hollered as John Daly championed that cause. He told us he was a Wal-Mart kind of guy. He was from Arkansas. He was long off the tee and short on social graces.
When someone asked him if he planned to play on the Champions Tour one day, he replied by saying his friend, Fuzzy Zoeller, had laid odds of 50-1 that he wouldnt even live to be 50 years old. Never was John Daly above poking fun at himself for all the troubles he brought down on his own head.
Dennis Paulson told us Saturday Daly had done a lot of things he probably wished he hadnt done. Paulson said he knew for sure Daly had done a few things that the image police at the PGA Tour wished he hadnt done. But, someone suggested, Daly had done a lot of things many of us had wished we had done.
Everywhere Daly went, people followed. Paulson said Daly was a hometown favorite all the time. Stewart Cink, a polar opposite of Daly in many ways, said Daly attracted a NASCAR crowd. But, said Cink - who played in Dalys group Saturday and Sunday at Torrey Pines - he enjoyed being part of it. Cink called it spine-tingling.
The imperfections in Daly were something all of us could identify with in at least one way shape or form. But there was more than that. And there was more than all those long drives that rented space in the sky and dropped on the grass like so many butterflies with sore feet.
There wasnt a mean bone in John Dalys body. And he had a way of conveying this instantly. You knew it the first time you saw him. Later we found out he had a heart that was even bigger than his game. So we wanted to forgive him when we heard the reports about the trashed hotel rooms and missed tee times and aborted rehabs.
And, by the way, it was easier to talk about Daly in the past tense than the present, future or pluperfect.
But now we have no choice. The present just caught up to the past. Only a power greater than all of us knows what the next chapter will bring for John Patrick Daly.
Hes 37 years old now. Where is the finish line? Whats the plan?
Fasten your seat belt and turn the page.
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