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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Four players vying for DJ's No. 1 ranking at Open

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 8:41 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Four players have an opportunity to overtake Dustin Johnson for world No. 1 this week.

According to Golf Channel world-rankings guru Alan Robinson, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm all can grab the top spot in the world ranking.

Thomas’ path is the easiest. He will return to No. 1 with either a win and Johnson finished worse than solo third, or even a solo runner-up finish as long as Johnson finishes worse than 49th.

Twenty years after his auspicious performance in The Open, Rose can get to No. 1 for the first time with a victory and Johnson finishing worse than a two-way tie for third.

Kopeka can rise to No. 1 if he wins consecutive majors, assuming that his good friend posts worse than a three-way tie for third.

And Rahm can claim the top spot with a win this week, a Johnson missed cut and a Thomas finish worse than solo second.   

Johnson’s 15-month reign as world No. 1 ended after The Players. He wasn’t behind Thomas for long, however: After a tie for eighth at the Memorial, Johnson blew away the field in Memphis and then finished third at the U.S. Open to solidify his position at the top.

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Punch shot: Predictions for the 147th Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 4:00 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In advance of the 147th Open Championship, GolfChannel.com writers sound off on burning questions as players ready for a fast and firm test at Carnoustie. Here’s what our writers think about myriad topics:

The Monday morning headline will be …

REX HOGGARD: “Survival.” This one is easy. It always is at Carnoustie, which is widely considered The Open’s most demanding major championship test. Monday’s headline will be that the champion - pick a champion, any one will do - “survived” another dramatic Open. You don’t dominate Carnoustie; you endure.

RYAN LAVNER: “DJ Bashes Way to Victory at Carnoustie.” If somehow a two-win season could be disappointing, it has been for DJ. He’s first in scoring average, birdie average, par-4 scoring, par-5 scoring, strokes gained: tee to green and proximity from the rough. Those last two stats are the most important, especially here at Carnoustie, with these dry conditions. The game’s preeminent long-and-straight driver, there’s a better-than-decent chance he rolls.

MERCER BAGGS: “Rahm Tough: Spaniard charges to Open victory.” Jon Rahm will claim him maiden major title this week by powering his way through the winds and fescue at Carnoustie.

JAY COFFIN: “Thomas wins second major, ascends to world No. 1 again.” Shortly after The Open last year, Thomas rolled through the end of the PGA Tour season. This is the time of year he likes best. Despite a poor Open record the last two years, he’s not remotely concerned. He’s a tad miffed he didn’t win in France two weeks ago and comes to Carnoustie refreshed, with a gameplan, and ready to pounce.

Who or what will be the biggest surprise?

HOGGARD: Style of play. Given Carnoustie’s reputation as a brute, the surprise will be how the champion arrives at his lofty perch. Unlike previous editions at Carnoustie, this week’s dry conditions will promote more aggressive play off the tee and the winner will defy the norm and power his way to victory.

LAVNER: Tiger Woods. This is Woods’ best chance to win a major this year, and here’s believing he contends. His greatest strengths are his iron game and scrambling, and both aspects will be tested to the extreme at Carnoustie, helping separate him from some of the pretenders. With even a little cooperation from his putter, he should be in the mix.

BAGGS: Padraig Harrington. He had a good opening round last week at the Scottish Open and has some good vibes being the 2007 Open champion at Carnoustie. He won’t contend for four rounds, but a few days in the mix would be a nice surprise.

COFFIN: Alex Noren. Perhaps someone ranked 11th in the world shouldn’t be a surprise, but with so much focus on some of the bigger, household names, don’t be surprised when Noren is in contention on Sunday. He hasn’t finished worse than 25th since early May and won two weeks ago in France. He also tied for sixth place last year at Royal Birkdale.

Who or what will be the biggest disappointment?

HOGGARD: Jordan Spieth. Although he was brilliant on his way to victory last year at Royal Birkdale, Spieth is not the same player for this week’s championship, the byproduct of a balky putter that has eroded his confidence. Spieth said giving back the claret jug this week was hard, but his finish will be even tougher.

LAVNER: Weather. This might sound a little sadistic, but one of the unique joys of covering this tournament is to watch the best in the world battle conditions they face only once a year – the bone-chilling cold, the sideways rain, the howling wind. It doesn’t appear as though that’ll happen this year. With only a few hours of light rain expected, and no crazy winds in the forecast, the biggest challenge for these stars will be judging the bounces on the hard, baked-out turf.

BAGGS: Jordan Spieth. The defending champion is still trying to find his winning form and Carnoustie doesn’t seem the place to do that. As much as he says he loves playing in strong winds, there should be enough danger around here to frustrate Spieth into a missed cut.

COFFIN: Rory McIlroy. I hope I’m wrong on this, because the game is better when Rory is in contention at majors. Putting always has been his issue and seemingly always will be. While there isn’t as much of a premium placed on putting this week because of slower greens, he may still have to hit it close. Super close.

What will be the winning score?

HOGGARD: 10 under. The last two Opens played at Carnoustie were won with 7-under and 6-over totals, but this week’s conditions will favor more aggressive play and lower scores. Expect to see plenty of birdies, but the great equalizer will come on Sunday when wind gusts are forecast to reach 25 mph.

LAVNER: 15 under. An Open at Carnoustie has never produced a winner lower than 9 under (Tom Watson in 1975), but never have the conditions been this susceptible to low scores. Sure, the fairway bunkers are still a one-shot penalty, but today’s big hitters can fly them. The thin, wispy rough isn’t much of a deterrent. And the wind isn’t expected to really whip until the final day.

BAGGS: 12 under. We aren’t going to see the same kind of weather we have previously witnessed at Carnoustie, and that’s a shame. Any players who catch relatively benign conditions should be able to go low, as long as they can properly navigate the fairway rollout.

COFFIN: 14 under. Walked into a local golf shop in the town of Carnoustie wearing a Golf Channel logo and the man behind the counter said, “It’ll take 14 under to win this week.” Well, he’s been here for years and seen Carnoustie host The Open twice before. He knows more about it than I do, so I’ll stick with his number.

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Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 3:16 pm

Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.

Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.

This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):

While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:

Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.

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McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.

Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.

“It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.

“Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”

He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.