You won’t see John Daly lumbering after one of his mammoth drives at the 2019 PGA Championship at Bethpage Black next week. Instead, you’ll see him propelled by a motorized vehicle as Daly has received approval from the PGA of America to use a cart to scoot around the massive three-time major host in New York.
Daly, who won the 1991 PGA Championship and is exempt for the rest of his playing career, has a bum knee, and Bethpage is no place for a bum knee.
“I hope I don’t get a lot of grief from the fans,” Daly told the AP. “My knee is screwed. I had the meniscus cut out. I have osteoarthritis so bad … I can walk up a hill, I just can’t walk down one.”
There is major championship precedent here, although not for Daly and not at a PGA Championship. Casey Martin famously used a cart in multiple U.S. Opens in his career. Daly has also used a cart but not at a major and not on the PGA Tour at all.
The PGA of America said Daly applied to use a cart through its Americans with Disabilities Act policy and provided “the requisite information to allow for a review of his request by the PGA’s medical team.”
“The request was reviewed and approved,” the PGA said in a statement.
I am in head over heels love with every word of this story. Unless you walk around with a Louisville Slugger stuck up your ass, you love John Daly. He hits it hard. He owns his vices. Drinking, smoking, chocolate, Diet Coke, all things that have had a stranglehold on John. The beauty of him though, is that he owns it. He recently said on a podcast with Barstool Sports’ Foreplay, “I don’t have any skeletons in my closet.” He went on to say that he’s a complete open book and it’s the truth. It seems that on a monthly basis, we find out about another tour pro who has either failed a drug test or is seeking treatment for alcohol. Of course, these stories are often diluted in comparison to the ‘tell-all’ media culture of the NFL, NBA, and MLB because PGA players aren’t unionized like other athletes are, but it may seem like these cases are indicative of a culture problem. Maybe it’s too commonplace for golfers to party. But really, that’s not the case.
The more I meet professional and high level amateurs of all levels, the more I realize that you have to truly be a fucking nutcase to be a pro. I’ve said it before, but to have what it takes to be in the top 250 or so golfers in the world and play on the PGA Tour, you need to be willing to practice, play, and prepare more than anyone is willing to do literally anything. And really, there’s no true roadmap to getting there. Sure, you have Q-School and play-in tours like the Web, the MacKenzie, and the PGALA, but you are totally responsible for yourself and growing a team to get you there. Then once you arrive, you have a group of employees who rely on you to play well for a paycheck. Coaches, agents, caddies, trainers, managers; and for bigger players, teams to run foundations, psychologists, and even chiropractors. The pressure is absolutely insurmountable.
So to have that level of neuroticism, you sometimes become a powder keg. Most guys internalize it until you hear about unfortunate situations like Tiger Woods, Lucas Glover’s wife, the rumors swirling around Dustin Johnson with players wives, cocaine, and what actually happened with the fall that sidelined him at Augusta. The difference between John Daly and those guys is that he embraces it and sees no shame in his demons. He’s one of the most likable guys to ever play the game, despite his rough around the edges philosophy.
I met him at the Augusta Hooters during the Masters in 2018 and he was parked out front like always with his RV. He had a table where he sold caddie bibs, tournament used gloves, balls, and clothing. I picked up one of his rain jackets and he came over and said, “Damn, I haven’t worn that thing in years. That’s back when I was really skinny. I’ll never be that size again.” I checked the tag. It was a size XXL.
Even for those who aren’t fans of his, there’s no denying that he’s intriguing. In terms of actual golf, it seems his philosophy is almost spiritual. He’s famously said of his pre-game routine, “I’ll hit balls for about twenty minutes, smoke four or five cigarettes, have two or three Diet Cokes, then go to the first tee.” Then when he plays, either he’s on or he isn’t. The same guy who won a PGA Championship and a British Open also shot an 88 at Bay Hill in 1998. When he plays poorly, he has no shame in withdrawing, which is often a total embarrassment for many tour pros.
What really makes me believe in him this week is a few things. Inside of that huge frame of his, beyond the lifetime of Miller Lites, Cigarettes, and interesting choices of cuisine, is a powerful golfer with great touch. He once said something to the effect of “Golf is too long. Golf is 18 holes because that’s how long the Scots took to drink a bottle of whiskey. If the Scots could drink faster and tournaments were shorter, I’d have 20 majors.” That’s the best shot at it from my memory and I can’t seem to find it, but it’s true. He’s in no shape to compete from a physical fitness standpoint, but if he were to go completely clean and cut weight, you have to wonder if he would lose what makes his game so great. Maybe embracing his demons is what allows him to play truly great golf, even if on the rarest of occasions.
What also gives me hope for him at the PGA is that I believe Majors are won by players who are doing something different than the rest of the field. When Jordan Spieth won the US Open in 2015, the rest of the field struggled with tough greens at Chambers Bay, but he was able to play creatively and outlast everyone. Tiger didn’t play spectacularly
on Thursday at the Masters this year, but when the rest of the field trended down in a similar manner, he rose.
I think if John goes in with the confidence that he won’t be totally gassed or that he’ll exacerbate his injury, he’ll have no problem stringing together some interesting golf. Is it my wildest take that John Daly, a guy riddled with arthritis may actually ride in a golf cart to the 18th green to sink a putt to win the 2019 PGA Championship? Absolutely. But you can’t tell me it’s any more impossible than Tiger’s comeback.