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Stories from the Sony

HONOLULU – The Sony Open marks the first full-field event of the season – whenever it may officially begin. And with the start of a new year come plenty of new stories – not all from new players.


There was a time when the sun was up at the Sony.

It was Tuesday and it was warm and bright, though no brighter than the slacks John Daly sported. They were a yellow and black diamond print, an entire matching ensemble from the shoes right up to the bottle blond hair.

JD was in a good mood, which was nice to see because for so long his demeanor has seemed so flat.
John Daly
John Daly making a splash Tuesday at the Sony Open. (Getty Images)

“Greatest Christmas of my life,” he said. “I got custody of Little John.”  

John and girlfriend Ana Cladakis will homeschool 7-year-old Little John, suddenly conjuring up an unexpected vision of 'Little House on the Prairie.'

Father and teacher, John’s also a businessman and at that moment he was losing money.

“Jason’s killing us,” he said, referring to Jason Duffner, teaming with Roland Thatcher against John and Pat Perez.

And on cue, Duffner jammed home a downhill 30-footer for birdie at Waialae’s short par-4 12th.  

“Really?” asked Daly. “#@%* you, Rolie!” The players, caddies and this reporter lost it.

“I’m (ranked) third in the world on Tuesdays,” cracked Duffner.  

Daly answered by making an 18-footer for a half.

“I’m going back to my old stroke,” he explained. “I keep the right arm on my hip for an inside-out stroke. Everyone told me the opposite. Get over it more with my hands up but I started cutting everything.”

So there’s hope. It rolls in off the Pacific every January. But in golf, hope gets tempered quickly. When storms descended on Oahu, Round 1 was cancelled.

Thursday morning John stood outside a Denny’s on Waikiki smoking a cigarette, wondering what to do with the day ahead.

It was a slick little move, really, executed with Ricky Rubio flair. On the range, the caddie tossed the golf ball behind his back to the pro who nonchalantly caught it, teed it up and fired away.  

The caddie is 15-year-old Taylor Funk, and his boss is his father, Fred Funk, the 54-year-old former Players champion.    

Interestingly, this isn’t a one off, father-son experience. Taylor’s going to caddie upwards of 20 events this year between the PGA Tour and the Champions Tour.

He’s homeschooled and no stranger to tour life. “He already knows everybody because he’s kind of been everyone’s mascot out here since he was born,” said Fred.

Taylor’s not much bigger than the golf bag, but “He helps reads putts and really does it all,” said Fred, whose long-time caddie, Mark Long, determined he didn’t want to work full-time.

A 5 handicap, Taylor believes in his man, as caddies refer to their players. “I still think he can win out here on the right golf course,” Taylor said. “And Waialae’s the right course. The rough’s up and the fairways are tight.”

The boss hasn’t decided how he’s going to pay the caddie. “I know one thing,” said Fred. “The money might be in his account but he won’t see it.”

David Saka is an 18-year-old freshman at the University of Hawaii who qualifyied for the Sony through a local amateur event. His caddie/coach/instructor Kevin Ralbovsky knows Vijay Singh and set up a practice round earlier this week. Jim Furyk joined up.  

So there he was, all of 5’3” and 125 pounds, walking the fairways of Waialae with the 6’3” Hall of Fame member and the FedEx Cup champion.

His assessment of the experience was simple: “They’re very good.”  

He added, “Vijay drives it really far. He’s got me by like 75 yards.”

“Nobody climbs that mountain twice.”  

Paul Goydos, talking about Tiger Woods, is to us media chops what Wes Welker is to Tom Brady: Mr. Reliable.  

He doesn’t own Johnny Miller’s resume, but among current players, he’s most inclined to speak with Miller-like conviction.

On Tiger, while Goydos doesn’t believe he’ll ever be as good as he was 10 years ago, he does think he’ll be the best ever.

“Do I think he’ll be No. 1 again and hold onto it for a while? Yes,' he said. “He’ll win his 100 tournaments and beat Jack’s major record.'

“My goodness, he had a chance to win two majors last year – the Masters and the U.S. Open.'

Dustin Johnson also had a chance to win the U.S. Open until he blew a tire on Sunday.

“He showed me a lot,” Goydos said. “He came back from two heartbreaking losses to win the BMW.

“We’ve never had an athlete like this. He’s got game until the end of the world.”

Like so many, Goydos thinks this is an exciting time for golf with so many confident and capable young players. But he cautions that the Tiger-Phil era is by no means over.

“I wouldn’t be remotely surprised,” he said, “if over the next 10 years they combine to win 10 of the 40 majors played.”

Colleague Jerry Foltz knows the incoming class of PGA Tour rookies off his work on the Nationwide Tour and provided the following thumbnail sketches of a few notable players.

Kevin Chappell: “Has Pat Perez fire with maybe a bit more discipline. Not afraid to go low or occasionally slam a club.”

Daniel Summerhays: “Dynamic, old-school ball striker who likes to work the ball. Wouldn’t be surprised if he won.”

Jhonattan Vegas: “First Tour player from Venezuela. An absolute bomber who can bring a course to its knees.”

Keegan Bradley: “Nephew of LPGA great Pat Bradley. Hits it a country mile and an easy guy to root for.”

Jamie Lovemark: “Doesn’t really have a weakness.”

Tommy “Two Gloves” Gainey: “Been told his whole life he’s never going to succeed. Has the demeanor of a country boy, swing of a lumberjack and the mentality of a boxer.”