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The Daly Show
  • May 13, 2011 : 20:05
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The fog was thick at Kohler, Wisconsin’s famed Whistling Straits Golf Course. San Francisco thick. It made it impossible to see down the fairway of the first hole. The green 408 yards away was not visible, nor was the lake just beyond it. There were no spectators, marshals or other golfers in sight. John Daly’s golf partner for the day, Rickie Fowler, joked that visibility was at three feet. Daly’s caddy wasn’t quite as affable about the weather, acknowledging under his breath that if this was a game day and not just a practice round, the PGA would enforce a fog delay. But Daly said nothing. He was perhaps assessing how to tee off into the unknown. Or he was thinking that even if he golfed his worst golf, it wouldn’t be his fault.

Daly has a knack for thinking things aren’t his fault. Three stops in rehab and some ongoing therapy with a psychologist in Florida have given Daly a definite mantra, which he pulls out of thin air when need be, saying, in effect, “It’s not all my fault. I’m a good person. I have a good heart. I care about people. I’m not a bad guy.” But not everyone agrees.

By tee time, seven a.m., Daly was just a silhouette against that fog. He looked like any other professional golfer on the course at that hour, except for the bold black pants with a neon kaleidoscope pattern and the ubiquitous cigarette dangling from his lips. At 45 he was a beacon of unconventionality in a sea of peers dressed uniformly in basic solids.

Had Daly slipped into a pair of flat-front khakis, though, he would still have been nothing like the others. His square-peg-round-hole routine has always defined him. He put in a special order for Diet Coke at the Pepsi-­sponsored event, just to goad his hosts. He tells endless pussy, beaver and tit jokes no matter who can hear. He requested steak and mashed potatoes during the PGA Past Champions four-course Korean barbecue dinner. And while other pros traveled the rugged links-style course respectfully, Daly tossed lit cigarette butts wherever he damn well pleased—on the contoured fairways, in the fescue grasses that flank them and in bunkers that litter the course. The world is his ashtray.

Daly’s demeanor continued to reveal itself hole after hole, so that by the time he’d finished up on the 18th green and ascended the cobblestone stairway off the course to have lunch with his oldest daughter, Shynah, it was fitting that he barely said hello to her. There may have been a nod or a hushed “Hey,” but Daly was not about to fall all over himself for anyone. That’s just not in his nature. He keeps to himself when he is surrounded by others, even at lunch in the players’ clubhouse. His daughter to his right, his girlfriend and her daughter to his left. He gave more attention to his hamburger patties.

If Daly is aloof around his daughter, it’s not without precedent. His father was the same. “If I did something good, it wasn’t good enough,” Daly recalls. “We’re just not real close like a father and son should be.”

His upbringing was straight out of some old-school country song. Born in California, Daly and his family moved when he was four to a log cabin in Dardanelle, a tiny town in Yell County, in the middle of Arkansas. It was the ­epitome of redneck life, one in which his mother made chocolate gravy and biscuits in the kitchen and homemade shirts on her sewing machine. He and his brother Jamie would drag a trampoline up to the house so they could jump off the roof onto it, just for kicks. Their father made his own muscadine wine and stored it in mason jars. All the Daly kids risked a belt whupping when trouble came around. “I got beaten so many times by hoses, sticks and belt buckles,” he says. Now that he has three kids of his own, plus a stepson, Daly says he’s never going to be the kind of father his father was.

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