KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. — John Daly will prove that Thursday’s 4-under 68 is no fluke by contending this weekend at the PGA Championship.
There. I said it.
It’s not only what most of the crowd here at the Ocean Course wants. There’s plenty of sound golf logic behind it, despite the fact he hasn't been a steady member of the PGA Tour since 2007 and currently ranks 219th in the world.
The wind and the course conditions are such in the South Carolina Lowcountry that it will take a fearless hitter to keep the scores steady. The kind of guy who has beaten himself up more than any one bad swing or weather forecast ever could.
There's no one on tour that meets those qualifications like Daly, both in his resolve and the long ball to contend with Kiawah Island's brutal length.
“The long par-4s at least give you a risk-reward,” he told reporters Thursday after his dream of an opening round. “If you’re long, you can take it on with a driver and take the chance, but if you hit a fairway–I hit a 9-iron I think it was 12 or 13 today, which in a practice round when you hit 2-iron or 3-wood off the tee, I was hitting 4-wood in there. It’s just a course that I feel like I’ve got to take it on.”
That’s the approach that creates a commonality among his diverse legion of fans. A fraternity crew leader from nearby College of Charleston was stalking him on the practice green Friday because he loves the reckless abandon that makes Daly try this with David Feherty.
The frat guy was chatting up a father of five who took advantage of the PGA’s new family-friendly, 17-and-under-get-in-free policy to catch a glimpse of his hero. He watched the full “Feherty” interview, not just what went viral, and for him, the courage to be blunt about all his warts is what has and continues to grow his legend status.
“He’s so damned honest and just keeps battling,” the father said. “For everything about him I don’t want my kids to know about, the will and the never-say-die fight, I want my kids to see it.”
And he was equally eager to get his kids to the driving range to see Daly bomb his drives in neon-polka-dotted black pants, sandwiched between a sea of khakis.
“I want my kids to be who they are, find who they are and then own it,” he said. “Seeing him in those pants, that’s an image words can’t convey.”
It makes him a joke to many, who feel he’s closer to the days when he pawned memorabilia in his RV at the Augusta Hooters than to actually contending in a major.
To those, he’s the Rickey Henderson of golf, a guy so far past his prime who may not know when to stop swinging but is just grinding out qualifying rounds for the love of the game. Many golf pundits see his lifetime presence at the PGA and just cackle.
Keep laughing. When you don’t pay attention to his game, that’s when even the most boisterous, outspoken guy on tour can sneak up on a leaderboard.
“I played solid in Canada except for one hole. I played my best ball-striking rounds at the British Open this year but couldn’t get any breaks,” Daly said. “Then starting in Qatar, I finished fourth, just gave me a little confidence. The grinding, get on a little run six, seven, eight weeks in a row, I’m getting a lot of confidence.”
Beyond the confidence in his swing and his short game, there’s a will that goes beyond just wanting to be happy to be at a tournament. He’ll play in Europe, he’ll play on the Web.com tour, whatever it takes to getting back to being a regular contender on the PGA Tour.
“None of us are very far from being top 50 guys,” he said. “You have to adapt. I just believe if I keep telling myself, I’ll get where I want to be instead of being negative. That’s really all you can do.”
His leaderboard swings could be violent this weekend—he bogeyed the first three holes of his second round Friday. But I'm sticking with him.
It’s that battle to fight through those ebbs and flows that makes him so relevant to the fans and a guy that once he sniffs the leaderboard, we’d be silly to count out.
“It’s just like my golf game,” he said. “It is up and down, but so is my life, and everybody’s life is up and down. It’s how we battle to get through it, and I think people relate to that.”
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