Last to make field realizes PGA dream

August 12, 1991|By Jack Saylor | Jack Saylor,Knight-Ridder

CARMEL, Ind. -- With his muscular build and mop of beach-blond hair, John Patrick Daly would look more at home on water skis or surfboard than on a golf course.

But the soft-spoken, down-home Arkansas guy's game is golf -- and he has used his suborbital tee shots to write what has become one of sport's greatest rags-to-riches tales.

Shedding pressure with the same ease in which he shunted his rivals and Crooked Stick's immense yardage, the 25-year-old Daly won the PGA Championship yesterday by a comfortable three shots.

"I had chills on my body walking up the 18th fairway," said Daly, beaming. "This is the greatest feeling in the world."

The 5-foot-11, 190-pound rookie, who started as ninth alternate and was the last golfer to make the 151-man field, won it with a closing round of 71.

His 72-hole total of 276 was 12-under-par. Bruce Lietzke was runner-up at 279 after a final-round 70.

Hoosier Jim Gallagher shot a final-round 67 to finish third at 281, a shot ahead of Kenny Knox.

Daly built such a cushion, his victory wasn't even endangered by a double-bogey at the 17th hole.

"He had control of this golf course all week," Lietzke said. "This being a major, his being the ninth alternate and the kid not having made a name for himself on tour, he could be the longest shot that has ever won."

Daly agrees.

"Everyone knows it's a Cinderella story," he said. "But this golf course is perfect for my game so I just hung in there.

"I can't remember hitting the ball this straight over four days. On a course this difficult, it's unbelievable."

So are Daly's perks.

In addition to a big, shiny trophy, he also receives a 10-year exemption on the PGA Tour, a $230,000 check and invitations to such gatherings as The Masters and U.S. Open for at least five years.

"I think the fans won this tournament for me," said Daly, who waved and high-fived his way through the huge crowds.

Daly is a refreshing switch from the usual tour pro. He has no sports psychologist, no teaching guru and no books or video tapes on the market (at least not yet).

His only brush with celebrity has been to lead the driving distance column of the tour's weekly stat sheet at 286 yards.

He is the first rookie to win a major since Jerry Pate at the 1976 U.S. Open. Still, Pate had a prominent U.S. Amateur title-winning background.

He marauded the par-5 holes on Pete Dye's 7,289-yard course, playing them in 12-under.

"That means I played the other holes in even par and they are tough holes," Daly said.

And despite the double-bogey at the 17th, Daly was 9-under for the week on Crooked Stick's back side, considered the tougher of the two nines.

Daly's driver is his trump club. Despite a history of wildness, he kept flailing.

"I kept telling myself this was just another tournament," said Daly, who bogeyed the first hole, then sprinkled four birdies in accumulating a five-shot lead.

"But by the time I got to the 16th hole, I couldn't do that anymore -- I knew it was a major."

That came at the par-3 17th, where he bunkered his tee shot, then three-putted from 15 feet. But he miscue was too little and far too late for those who started with any chance -- Knox, Craig Stadler and Lietzke.

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