You never hear the words “John Daly” and “renaissance man” uttered in the same sentence. But Daly, who celebrates his 50th birthday Thursday, has packed a surprising variety of accomplishments into his 25 years on the PGA Tour. Many fans like Daly because he hits the ball an astonishingly long way and doesn’t sugarcoat who he is to conform to golf’s country club norms. Beyond that? How many other PGA Tour stars can say they’ve won two majors, written a book, released two music albums, starred in their own reality show, issued wine on their own label and had lap-band surgery that did, didn’t, did, didn’t work? Zero — that’s how many.
In honor of Daly confirming that he intends to play on the PGA Tour Champions, which he is eligible to join now that he’s 50, we look back at 10 of the most outrageous and entertaining things from his fascinating career and life:
1. A legend arrives — with a mullet
Daly taught himself to play golf as a kid, never won a college tournament before dropping out of the University of Arkansas and constantly resisted coaches who’d wanted him to change this remarkably powerful swing by the time he drove all night from Memphis, Tennessee, to Carmel, Indiana, on the off chance he might get into the 1991 PGA Championship as the ninth alternate. A spot did open up when Nick Price withdrew to be with his wife, who was about to have their first baby. Using Price’s caddy, Daly shot a 69 in the opening round at Crooked Stick despite never having seen the course. The initial reaction: Who’s the guy with the mullet? He went on to shock the golf world by shooting 12-under 276 and winning his first major in his first try.
“This is like a miracle,” Daly said.
2. To reach the unreachable green
Daly’s grip-it-and-rip-it style and 300-plus-yard drives have always been a huge part of his fame. But it also seems to leave him a little conflicted: Does he like being known as the man who smashes the ball farther than anyone else, or does padding his career total of five PGA Tour wins come first? When Daly arrived at the 1993 U.S. Open at Baltusrol, he was keenly aware no golfer had ever reached the green of the 630-yard, uphill 17th hole in two shots. “That’s the only goal I had this week,” Daly told the New York Times after the second round, in which he smoked a 325-yard tee shot, then pulled a 1-iron from his bag and drilled a shot that bounced past the cup before coming to rest on the green. Mission accomplished. “I told my caddy, Greg Rita, ‘We may not play good, but at least we’ll make history,’ ” Daly said.
3. Outlaw country
“All My Ex’s Wear Rolexes” is the classic track on Daly’s first country music album, “My Life,” which came out in 2002 and included guest vocals by pals Willie Nelson, Darius Rucker and Johnny Lee. In 2010, Daly dropped his second album, “I Only Know One Way.” He also has recorded with a former pro-am playing partner Kid Rock. One of Daly’s songs, “Hit it Hard,” moved an online reviewer to admit he actually kinda sorta liked Daly’s singing because, “He’s a little country. He’s a little rock.” With lyrics like this — “I hit it hard, man/So far, man/No laying up, no holding back/Ain’t afraid of nothin’, it’s a natural fact!” — you know you want to hear it.
4. He’s quadruple-bogeyed marriage
Daly has been married four times. But as his December 2014 proposal to prospective wife No. 5, Anna Cladakis, suggests, he is determined to get it right. Daly was arrested in 1992 for allegedly throwing his first wife against a wall and pulling her hair. Daly’s fourth wife, Sherrie Allison Miller, pleaded guilty to money laundering and served time in prison before he divorced her in 2010. When they were still married, Daly showed up at a 2007 tournament with scratch marks down his face and claimed his wife had tried to stab him with a steak knife.
5. Some of the most epic golf blowups
The tumult in Daly’s life has often shown up on the course. As of 2015, Daly had posted double-digit scores on a hole at PGA Tour-sanctioned events 17 times. Robert Gamez, the next closest active player to him, has only five. Daly and water hazards especially don’t get along.
Daly shot an 18 on the par-5 sixth hole in the final round of the 1998 Bay Hill Invitational after hitting six balls into the water. In the 2000 U.S. Open, Daly lined three balls into the Pacific Ocean en route to a 14 on the par-5 18th hole and withdrew after an opening-round 83. In 2002, after making a triple-bogey 7 on his last hole at the Coolum course in Australia, Daly threw his putter and ball into a pond and was disqualified for failing to sign his scorecard.
Still, the piece de resistance might’ve been when Daly scored a septuple-bogey (that’s 7 over par, if you’re counting) in the second round of the 2015 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits. Daly was 1-over par and in position to make the cut when he splashed three consecutive tee shots into Lake Michigan at the par-3 seventh hole. After his fourth attempt stayed dry, Daly was so angry he sent his offending club helicoptering into the water, where, wrote ESPN’s Jason Sobel, “It was soon recovered by a young man in a boat, who held it aloft triumphantly.”
Daly’s take: “I’ve always said throwing a club shows you care.”
6. He pulled it together to win the ’95 British Open
True to his go-big-or-go-home style, two of Daly’s tournament titles are majors. In addition to the 1991 PGA Championship, he won the 1995 British Open in a four-hole playoff against Italy’s Costantino Rocca at historic St. Andrews, the so-called Home of Golf. Earlier, when asked what he might do if he won and was invited to join the venerable Royal and Ancient Golf Club, Daly said: “I ain’t joining if there’s rules and crap.” But he also added, “There’s just something about this course that I just love.”
7. He’s got the trick shots down, too
Daly got a letter from the PGA Tour commissioner’s office after he teed up his ball on a beer can that Kid Rock offered him and then smashed a drive down the fairway during pro-am round at the 2008 Buick Open as beer flew everywhere.
But he is probably better known for another stunt that went viral in 2014 for being a different kind of crazy. Daly had a friend, Katherine Michelle, lie on her back and placed a ball on a tee clenched between her teeth; then he brought his driver whizzing around and walloped a shot that carried a very, very long way. When reached by TMZ, Michelle said it was all in fun: “J.D. has loads of talent and he’s one of my best friends. I’d trust him with my life.”
8. No $5 Nassau bets here
When Daly published his autobiography in 2006, he revealed that in addition to his lifelong battle with alcohol, chain smoking and food, he also struggled with a severe gambling problem. He claimed to have blown somewhere between $50 million and $60 million by then, including $1.5 million in one night at Wynn Casino in Las Vegas, mostly by playing a $5,000-per-pull slot machine after he won the WGC-American Express tournament.
9. The PGA Tour has not always been amused
The public got an unprecedented look into Daly’s life when his confidential 456-page PGA Tour personnel file became public in 2010 as part of a lawsuit he was involved in against Morris Publishing. Among the revelations:
By the fall of 2008, Daly had been fined nearly $100,000. The PGA Tour ordered Daly to undergo counseling or enter alcohol rehabilitation centers seven times, suspended him from the Tour five times, placed him on probation six times during Tour events, and cited him 21 times for “failure to give best efforts.”
Daly was also upbraided for stunts such as drilling golf balls over the heads of spectators sitting in the bleachers at a 1993 golf clinic and giving a TV interview at the opening of a Missouri course while wearing no shoes and no shirt.
He was suspended for six months after passing out at a North Carolina Hooters and then having to spend the night in jail to sober up. Daly said the 2008 incident was a misunderstanding: “The bus driver called 911 because my eyes were open. … He said, ‘We thought you were dead.’ ” Missed read, according to Daly, who explained, “Anybody who knows me … when I’m tired, I sleep with my eyes open.”
10. Fans love him, foibles and all
Deadspin reported that an overwhelming 84 percent of readers who responded to CNBC.com poll said Hooters shouldn’t dump Daly as an endorser after that North Carolina incident. He hasn’t won on the PGA Tour since 2004 and now plays most events on sponsor’s exemptions. Yet he continues to draw huge galleries whenever he competes, and Bernhard Langer predicted in recent TV interview that Daly’s popularity is likely to continue when he moves to the Champions Tour.
Daly has been asked many times to explain his fan appeal, and he once said: “I’ve been honest with a lot of the problems I’ve had in life. Everybody has problems. They can relate to that.”
People like to say Daly is an Everyman. But it’s more accurate to say he’s his Own Man. He’s one of a kind.