- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Pinehurst always will be synonymous with Donald Ross, Payne Stewart and the Putter Boy.

But one of the most compelling subplots of the 1999 U.S. Open was provided by the incomparably entertaining John Daly, the PGA Tour’s all-time leader in the self-destructive tragic hero department.

Daly created a storm in the sandhills both coming and going at the 1999 Open. His opening 68 put him within one of leaders Phil Mickelson and David Duval and galvanized galleries in a land where NASCAR is No.1.

His closing 83 was even more memorable, defined by a penalty-ridden 11 on No.8, where, furious after watching two approach putts roll back to his feet, Daly slapped his still-moving ball across the green in disgust.

He was predictably blustery after the debacle proclaiming, “This is my last U.S. Open — ever.”

He has, of course, broken that promise before, showing up for the USGA’s annual boot camp at Pebble Beach in 2000 (withdrew) and at Bethpage in 2002 (tied for 70th). And he’s back this week for a second helping of Pinehurst.

With the suspicion that more memorable chaos was in the offing, The Washington Times dedicated an entire day to Daly at last month’s Byron Nelson Classic in Irving, Texas. From the moment Daly pulled into the parking lot at Las Colinas in his Cadillac Escalade courtesy car until the moment he exited with the first-round tournament lead, he had a second shadow.

Here’s an account of that trunk-to-trunk, first cigarette-to-final-swing day with Daly.

• 7:39 a.m. — Long John arrives at the driving range, exactly 51 minutes before his first-round tee time at the easier of the Nelson’s two tracks, Cottonwood Valley (6,847 yards, par 70).

He wears straining black slacks embroidered with “Redneck,” his red-shafted line of Dunlop irons, and a gold shirt plastered with ads for 84 Lumber, Hooters, Dunlop, Loco and his distinctive lion-logo brand and commences with a comically unique warmup routine.

Marlboro dangling (his onsite smoke count eventually will total 23), Daly holds a wedge in his left hand, a supersized McDonald’s Diet Coke in his right and proceeds to loosen up by looping one-handed, half-swing shots into the practice ground.

Those around him, perhaps inured to this cavalier madness, seem not to notice as they go through extensive preshot routines before every pass at a practice ball.

• 9:04 — Playing with Rory Sabbatini and Mark Hensby, Daly kick-starts his round after a pair of ho-hum pars by holing a 70-foot sand shot for birdie at No.3.

“Yeah, we’ve been practicing that [stuff],” Daly says facetiously to his caddie, Peter Van Der Riet, after slamming home the shot from a downhill lie in a short-side bunker.

• 9:40 — Daly tells an incredulous marshal on the tee of the sixth hole he is waiting for the green to clear before hitting his drive.

“You realize this hole is 370 yards long, Mr. Daly?” the marshal asks.

“358 front, downwind,” responds Daly, who proceeds to pound the dimples off one.

A moment after Daly’s clout, Hensby quips, “Don’t forget to write. … You didn’t get any of that one did you, John?”

His drive lands just left of the green, pin-high, setting up a tap-in birdie. His initial gallery of 35, which includes best friend Jameson Blake and Daly’s sister Julia, begins to grow as his name hits the leader board at 2 under.

• 10:03 — Dead into a 15 mph wind, Daly, now 3 under, scalds a drive that never gets more than 20 feet off the ground. The wind-cheater results in a 294-yard drive.

Don’t let anyone say Daly is a one-trick, grip-it-and-rip-it golfer. Not only can he control his trajectory and shape it both ways with every club in the bag, he can make a wedge speak in tongues and can putt with anybody on the planet. His only weakness is a personality that features no damage control button.

c11:04 — Daly, now 4 under and leading the tournament, sticks his head into a tiny player refreshment tent on the 11th tee. He has sucked down three bottled waters (it is 82 degrees) and two Diet Cokes and is craving chocolate. A sunny marshal says, “What can I do you for, John? We’ve got granola bars, power bars, bananas, apples and oranges.”

Daly shakes his head and addresses his growing gallery: “Doesn’t he know I’ll go into shock if I eat that [stuff]?”

Mrs. Daly IV, the former Ms. Sherrie Miller, makes her first appearance. Sherrie, of course, was indicted in 2003 on federal drug and money laundering charges but copped a plea and was sentenced only to a brief period of house arrest. How the law applies to mobile home residents like Mr. and Mrs. Long John is another matter.

In any case, Sherrie looks none the worse for her incarceration. John introduces her as “My next Ex,” one of his favorite gags, to a chorus of forced chuckles.

Sherrie, who is wearing half of Tiffany’s (including a wedding ring the size of a catcher’s mitt), later explains that their relationship is “in a healthy phase.” Perhaps her gift of Little John (born in July 2003) has exonerated her in perpetuity of any past or future shortcomings.

When asked whether John is smoking less, as it seems, she responds, “Lord, no. He’s still up around four packs a day. You know John — 39 going on 60.”

Ah, yes, a healthy phase.

• 12:41 — Daly finishes his round in vintage JD style, pulling a 3-foot par putt for his lone bogey during an otherwise-brilliant 64, the best score of the day and his best of the season by two strokes. He eventually finishes the week tied for 48th, 12 strokes behind winner Ted Purdy.

But he’s glowing after Thursday’s 64, which was highlighted by two chip-ins, a mystifying 320-yard 2-iron dead-centered off the 13th tee and, for one writer, the acceptance of a Diet Coke (Daly runs out at No.11) en route to the 12th green.

“Thanks, bro. You’re my man,” Daly says, providing a glowing Joe Greene/Hey Kid moment.

• 1:11 — Daly sits in the media interview room, entertaining the scribes with comments like the fact that it takes $450 to fill up his massive mobile home. Then, Pinehurst comes up.

“If I would have hit crappy shots on that hole, I wouldn’t have been so mad,” says Daly, recounting his 11 on the 8th hole at the 1999 Open. “Pinehurst is a great golf course, but it’s not made for the rough or the fringe to be shaved down. … I just want the USGA to settle down a little bit and give us a chance, so if you hit good shots you are rewarded for them.”

• 1:22 — A handful of reporters follow Daly to the parking lot. He has decided not to practice and is packing up for the day.

One reporter, having seen the sometime musician performing at a nearby restaurant the night before with Grammy nominee Johnny Lee and his band, asks Daly about his musical career.

“Aw, man, I’m about a 20-handicapper with a guitar,” Daly says. “I can only play three songs on my own album. I did the lyrics, not the music. Johnny and his guys make me look like I know what I’m doing, but I don’t. I’ll never be any good either, because I can’t practice. You can’t practice when you travel with two little boys [Little John and 6-year-old Austin, Miller’s son from a previous relationship]. Little John just wants to destroy the guitar.”

As Daly opens the door to the SUV, one reporter asks the inevitable alcohol-related question, having seen Daly drinking a beer during his performance with Lee.

“Hey, it’s not bad to have a couple,” says Daly, tumbling into the driver’s seat, shutting the door and leaving the golf world behind.

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