The headline read like an obituary: JOHN DALY DROPPED BY
CALLAWAY. At the very least it appeared to be the sad coda of a
self-destructive career, because if ever a pro athlete had a
guardian angel, Daly had one in Ely Callaway. In 1997, when Daly
emerged from the Betty Ford Clinic to learn that his third wife
had filed for divorce and that Wilson had terminated his
endorsement contract, Callaway not only threw him a financial
life preserver worth an estimated $8 million over four years,
but he also paid off Daly's gambling debt of $1.8 million. The
new contract did not require that Daly play well or drive the
ball a long way. It only required that he neither drink nor
gamble, and if he did, that he seek help to stop.
On Sept. 14 Daly violated that final condition. After admitting
to Callaway that he had been drinking and gambling in Las Vegas
last month, Daly, at the company's insistence, drove to a
California rehab center. But after spending the night there, he
called the 80-year-old Callaway from his car phone to tell him
that he had left.
"Turn around, John," implored Callaway.
"I can't do it, Mr. C.," Daly said. "That place just isn't for me.
"Turn around, John," Callaway repeated. Silence followed, then
the line went dead. Two days later, Callaway officials say, Daly
was spotted on a riverboat casino in Tunica, Miss., playing $100
slots and drinking heavily.
At 33, Daly has massive financial responsibilities, including a
$35,000 monthly nut for alimony, child support and mortgages. He
is playing the worst golf of his career, has no endorsements, is
woefully overweight and needs (but doesn't always take)
medication for depression. As dark as this picture is, one gets
the feeling that the worst is yet to come.
"Golf inflicts more pain than any other sport," says James E.
Loehr, a sports psychologist who has worked with Daly. "If
you're the sort of person whose self-worth is tied up in how you
play, golf will cut right to the core of who you are. When a
person like that performs poorly, it's another indication to him
that he's a bum."
Daly has been a person like that ever since he was an awkward
kid who found refuge at the golf course. The pressure of playing
for his well-being is enormous, and without alcohol to deaden
his feelings, he hasn't been able to cope. That's why his good
rounds, like his opening 66 in the '97 PGA and the first-round
68 in this year's U.S. Open, have been followed by quick fades
and embarrassing incidents. That's why in 19 tournaments this
season Daly has withdrawn three times, missed seven cuts and
finished in the top 50 on only four occasions. Some of the
frustration has been vented off the tee, as he leads the Tour
with an alltime-high driving average of 306 yards, 10 yards
longer than anyone else.
By giving up on rehab and Callaway, Daly is temporarily
lessening his pain. He has convinced himself that his own
program of AA meetings and substitute addictions is enough to
improve his golf and his life. He told Callaway that he
considered the rehab center a prison, but until Daly surrenders
to the process of exploring and understanding who he is, he will
remain a prisoner of his addictions. "John keeps thinking he can
do it on his own, but his own does not work," Callaway says. "He
is a very practiced manipulator, but I don't think he realizes
that the person he most manipulates is himself."
Daly has always had a hard time accepting help. At the 1991
Skins Game, his idol, Jack Nicklaus, made a point of introducing
himself to Daly's parents and inviting John to spend a week at
his home in North Palm Beach. Although moved to tears at the
time, Daly never called Nicklaus. Surely that has something to
do with the paralyzing feelings of shame that have dogged Daly.
"I have a tough time looking at the fans because of the things
I've done," he said at the Open. "I don't look at myself as
being good enough to talk to them." With his renunciation of
Callaway, that shame will only grow.
Daly is alone now, and no one knows what lies ahead. "I'm scared
of the phone ringing in the middle of the night," says Donnie
Crabtree, Daly's closest friend. Nevertheless, it's not too late.
Daly needs to hear this: Call Ely now. The old man may be a
pragmatist, but he's still your guardian angel. Then go back to
rehab. You'll be admired for your courage. There's nothing to be
ashamed of. Turn around, John.
COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK
"[Daly] is a very practiced manipulator," says Callaway,
"but...the person he most manipulates is himself."