John Daly

I was searching around for something interesting to write about last night when I came across this post by Joe Posnanski from Sports Illustrated writing at Golf.com: “Love him or loathe him, John Daly has been vital to the game.”

It attracted my attention because of the sentence Daly managed to garner in my Monday post about the Canadian Open results, “Satisfying Endings.” I had noted his T9 finish and the fact that that gets him into the Greenbriar this week. I had asserted that he was “ever so slowly redeeming his career…”

So that caused me to read Posnanski’s post and what I discovered was a personal, sympathetic reminiscence of the writer’s interactions with Daly.

I have personally grown weary of Daly’s drama. But perhaps he has too. What struck me about him over this past weekend is how beaten down he appeared. Yes he is finally fit again; physically he actually looked trim. He had lap-band surgery in early 2009 and lost 115 pounds by the end of that year. And he appears to have kept it off.

But all the effort to make a life for himself seems to have sucked the life out of him: on the course he seemed joyless and in his post-round interview subdued.

So to make the case that he might be redeeming his career, I took a look at his earnings and performance over his career. And what I found shocked me.

First of all, Daly is a perennial presence, but I think we may have lost sight of how long he’s been around. Most of us became aware of him when he burst onto the scene with his improbable victory in the PGA Championship. Everybody knows that. But can you remember the year? It was 1991, twenty years ago in just two weeks. It was so long ago that he only made $230,000 for his victory.

But he was getting into events as far back as 1989 when he made $14,689 in the 3 cuts he made in the 6 events he entered. He went 2 for 3 in 1990 for $10,000 plus another $65,000 on the Ben Hogan Tour (now the Nationwide Tour) where he won once. All of this before we ever heard of him. And we think of him as an overnight success.

So I started going through each year since then and was amazed at what I discovered: relative to his talent, how little he made in most years and how many cuts he missed. All of that was masked by the ten-year exemptions he earned with his PGA Championship win and his 1995 British Open win. But the British was also “before Tiger money” and he only earned $199,375 for that one.

In fact, Daly didn’t make any real money until 2004 when he first managed to win over a million dollars. He won in La Jolla and made $2.4 million on the year. And he followed that up with $1.8 million in 2005. Arguably, 2001 and 2002 were pretty good years with $829,000 and $594,000, but nowhere near what his talent might have garnered if it hadn’t been for his “troubles:” the drinking, the gluttony and the ex-wives.

So when you know what his talent is capable of and you look at all of the meager years strewn among the few validating ones, perhaps his seemingly perpetual sadness—or perhaps caution, “don’t expect too much!”—is a little more understandable. He always used to bemoan that he wasn’t playing “any good.” I had just never realized that he was right.

But I found that Posnanski’s post took the edge off of my impatience with Daly. When you know what he could have been, it doesn’t make watching the train wreck of his life any easier. But perhaps it makes the case that it will one day be redeemable. At least he seems to still be trying.

If he could just…get a little joy back in his life.

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