DOTTIE PEPPER TheCourage of Ian Baker-Finch
MY SHOT Advicefor Amy and Phil Mickelson
I'm going to beplayin' Memphis, been reinstated from the PGA—John Daly, via Twitter, May 26,5:50 a.m. EDT ¬∂ As those 11 words, sent from John Daly's computer in thelate-morning hours in Kent, England, hurtled through cyberspace last week, PhilCannon, tournament director of next week's St. Jude Championship in Memphis,was already preparing for the coming storm. ¬∂ It was Cannon's sponsor'sexemption that officially ended Daly's exile from the PGA Tour, a six-monthsuspension following a spate of incidents in 2008, including a night spent in aNorth Carolina jail after an evening of drinking. Daly, the prodigal son ofprofessional golf, would soon be walking in Memphis.
Cannon's phonesat St. Jude Championship headquarters were beginning to ring off the hook, withfolks calling to confirm the reports about Daly's imminent return and, ofcourse, to scoop up tickets for the tournament. "I call them Daly'sdailies," Cannon says. "They're the people who buy a daily ticket justto watch him play."
Cannon says hefelt no queasiness about giving Daly a precious sponsor's exemption, hisoff-the-course combustibility notwithstanding. One year during the Memphistournament, Daly arrived at TPC Southwind with what appeared to be fingernailscratches on both sides of his face. He said Sherrie, his fourth wife, hadtried to stab him with a steak knife the night before. Despite that incidentand other odd behavior over the years, Cannon prefers to highlight the positivewhen it comes to Daly and his support of the Memphis Tour stop.
In a year inwhich the St. Jude Championship lost its title sponsor, Stanford Financial, dueto an alleged fraud scandal, Daly provides a crackling story line, whether hewreaks havoc or not. "I don't want to get too hyperbolic," Cannon says,"but there was another Memphian named Elvis Presley whose popularity wasalso hard to quantify."
Just weighed inat 225, LOST 55 POUNDS!! That's AMAZING!—Daly, via Twitter, May 17, 5:06 a.m.EDT
Like Elvis, Dalyhas also gone through huge weight swings, starting as the fit and mustachioedninth alternate who won the 1991 PGA Championship, becoming the pleasantlyplump bomber who won the '95 British Open, and ballooning into the obese,sweat-stained golfer who let himself go in the new millennium.
This spring, thepictures beamed across the Atlantic to the U.S. have shown a trimmed-down Daly,thanks to lap-band surgery on his stomach in February. The weight loss (hewants to get to 190 pounds), a new girlfriend (former Hooters promotionaldirector Anna Cladakis), a new swing guru (Phil Mickelson's old coach RickSmith) and a new habit (Twitter) have given Daly a new sheen.
But what will theTour be getting when Daly plays in Memphis, attempts to qualify for the U.S.Open and then tees it up on another sponsor's exemption at the Buick Open inlate July? Is this a new John Daly?
"I saw him onTV. He has a few more pounds to lose, but don't we all," says Jeff Maggert,who has known Daly since they competed against each other in college (Daly atArkansas, Maggert at Texas A&M). "From my perspective it's not abouthim coming back and playing golf. It's about getting his life in order. Youdon't want to pick up the newspaper and read that something bad has happened.That's the road he's been on."
At the CrownePlaza Invitational at Colonial, won by Steve Stricker (page G6), the emotionand focus of the week centered on Amy Mickelson's breast cancer, but Daly'sreturn was also a topic of conversation. If Daly's Tour brethren have growntired of his stops and starts and endless incarnations, they aren't saying so.Instead, they're softly cheering for a 43-year-old golfer entering perhaps hisfinal act as a professional.
"He's thesweetest guy. He's always so kind to everyone he's around," says Ben Crane."Well documented are his struggles. We simply want him to goforward."
Says Gary McCord,the Champions tour pro and CBS announcer, "Hopefully he gets a littlewiser. He needs to focus and have something to do. If he's tending to hisbusiness and doing his job, it helps himself and the Tour. If he's cast adrift,who knows what's going to happen?"
MISS YOU BUB gotyour message!! Bad luck of the draw in Ireland w/weather but stayin focussed& workin hard practicin'—Daly, via Twitter, replies to Rick Smith, May 16,10:15 a.m. EDT
Daly has playedin seven European tour events since his suspension, interspersing competitiverounds and practice days with a strong embrace of the European life. If he isnot the rock star overseas that he is in the U.S., Daly's baseline forpopularity is his Open triumph at St. Andrews, the kind of cachet that neverexpires.
Last month Dalytied for second in the Italian Open while wearing yellow pants, one of manysartorial choices that squares nicely with the splashier golf outfits inEurope. (Daly recently signed an apparel deal with Loudmouth Golf, a Californiacompany whose celebrity roster includes former Chicago Bears quarterback JimMcMahon and rocker Alice Cooper.) And though he missed the cut at the IrishOpen at Baltray, Daly used the occasion to buy an Irish wolfhound at NutstownKennels near Dublin. (He named the dog Greg.)
Without status onthe PGA Tour and unsure of how many sponsor's exemptions he will receive (themaximum allowed is seven), Daly is instead chasing a spot in the Europeantour's Race for Dubai, in which the top 60 on the money list compete in the $20million Dubai World Championship in November. Daly is 100th in earnings. Butwith Tiger Woods still a question mark and with Mickelson out indefinitely,Daly's wattage would provide an instant boost to the Tour. Says McCord,"[Daly] is still one of the biggest draws out here—him or Freddy[Couples]."
Says Tour veteranBart Bryant, "It does nothing but help our Tour when John shows up andplays well. The fans know it." Problem is, Daly hasn't shown up or playedwell for most of the last decade, save for an out-of-nowhere win at TorreyPines in 2004 and a stirring playoff loss to Woods at the '05 American ExpressChampionship at San Francisco's Harding Park.
If Daly canrefrain from becoming an Internet sensation—hitting tee shots off beer cans,playing shirtless and shoeless (as he did in Missouri) while doing a televisioninterview, drinking heavily and ending up with a mug shot in an orangejumpsuit—he might last a little longer in his return from his Europeanadventure.
After missing thecut at last week's European Open, Daly made plans to fly back to the U.S.,where the PGA Tour was awaiting him. He was a new man, or at least he lookedlike one.
We'll have therest of the year to see if looks can be deceiving.
It's nice to knowI weigh less than my luggage now! Lol —Daly, via Twitter, May 17, 8:31 a.m.EDT
J.D. in Exile
Since his lastappearance on the PGA Tour (Justin Timerberlake Shriners Hospitals for ChildrenOpen, last October), John Daly has teed it up seven times in European tourevents.
[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]
Hong Kong Open
Open de Espa√±a
For timely insights and opinions from SI Golf Group writers and editors, checkout PGA Tour Confidential at GOLF.com/confidential
"You don't want to pick up a paper and read thatsomething bad has happened," says Maggert.
BONUS SECTION | GOLF.COM
Get a Load Off
While Steve Stricker finally closed the deal,star-crossed Tim Clark simply came close yet again
Minutes after Steve Stricker rolled in a short birdieputt for his first PGA Tour win in almost two years, Stricker's caddie, JimmyJohnson, walked into the darkened restaurant at Colonial Country Club in searchof a cold one. It had been almost a year since Johnson picked up Stricker'sbag, a period marked by the high of the Ryder Cup and the low of seeing abushel of tournaments slip through their fingers.
"He needed it," Johnson said of Stricker'sfifth Tour victory, during which he victimized winless Tim Clark and SteveMarino on the second playoff hole of the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial."It's like a monkey off his back."
If Stricker was trying to shed a monkey, Clark wascarrying the whole zoo. The diminutive South African entered Colonial with zerowins in 183 PGA Tour starts and had a two-shot lead with five holes to play ata revamped but still quaint Colonial.
Clark bogeyed the 14th hole and, with a chance to winon the 18th, left his 12-foot par putt short. Things unraveled from there. Heyanked a seven-footer for birdie and the win on the first playoff hole, the18th, and haplessly watched his approach shot hit the flagstick and roll 25feet away on the second playoff hole, the 17th.
"I can't take anything positive from today,"Clark, who declined to be interviewed, said in a statement. "I have a lotof work to do when it comes to closing out golf tournaments."
Stricker knows the feeling. He entered the week withfive top 10s this season—good paydays all of them—but no wins. In January atthe Bob Hope Classic, seemingly in control of the tournament, he made a triplebogey and a quadruple in the span of four holes. When he missed a short parputt on 16 at Colonial, Stricker appeared to be finished again. Instead, heholed a pitch shot for birdie on 17 and, upon returning to the hole during theplayoff, stuck an eight-iron to four feet.
"I've been maintaining a positive attitude,"said Stricker, whose winning total was a 17-under 263. "At first [it]stung, not winning, but I realize I did a lot of good things to get myself [incontention]. You've just got to keep moving forward."
Said Johnson, "We knew we were doing the rightthings."
Stricker, a friendly Wisconsinite who lost his Tourcard in 2004, now enters the heart of the season as an intriguingmajor-championship contender. (He finished 16th at the U.S. Open at Bethpage in2002.) On Sunday, as he recalled receiving a sponsor's exemption into Colonialin 2005, his voice cracked and his eyes watered.
"I haven't forgotten it," said Stricker, whowon't need an exemption at Colonial ever again. His name will be added to theWall of Champions by the 1st tee, engraved in marble, steps from a statue ofBen Hogan.
Photograph by PAUL CHILDS ACTION IMAGES/ZUMA PRESS
PANTING TO PLAY So far, Daly is a go for Memphis, will attempt to qualify for the U.S. Open and then, later in the summer, tee it up in the Buick Open.
STUART FRANKLIN/GETTY IMAGES
GOAL TO GO Currently 100th on the European tour money list, Daly must crack the top 60 to get a spot in the $20 million Race to Dubai final.
DAVID CANNON/GETTY IMAGES (DALY)
DOG DAYS Daly missed the cut at the weather-plagued Irish Open but brought home a wolfhound, which he named Greg.
HUNTER MARTIN/GETTY IMAGES (STRICKER)
HOGAN'S HERO Stricker is eighth in the World Ranking and leads the Tour in scoring (69.46).