Daly drives Augusta fans crazy with joy as Masters' Pied Piper

John Steadman

April 10, 1992|By John Steadman

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- All those power-conscious spectators, enthralled with men who can make a golf ball travel long distances, follow around after John Daly as if he's an authentic Pied Piper. He has a crowd appeal that is magnetic, considering the fascination that goes with seeing shots that more befit the Aberdeen Proving Ground, where the military tests explosives, than the sedate setting of the Masters tournament.

When Daly puts the face of a Whale Driver against a Maxfli golf ball, there's a cracking detonation and then you follow a speck in the sky that threatens to accelerate into orbit.

Mass producing 300-yard-plus drives, the burly 25-year-old accounted for an opening score of 1-under-par 71, highly respectable, considering this was the first time he played an official round at the Augusta National Club.

Personally, Daly is uncomplicated and doesn't show the slightest touch of sophistication, which was the way of old-time athletes. He has a warmth that is ingratiating and refreshing. He has only one wood in his bag and that, of course, is a 1-wood, or driver.

This has to be the only time in the 56-year history of the Masters that any player carried one wood. But at the other end of the spectrum, he has three different styled wedges in his bag.

From almost the same position on the eighth hole, partner Fuzzy Zoeller used a 3-wood and Daly was close to reaching the green with a contrasting 3-iron. On the next fairway, he touched off a booming effort that a gallery official stepped off and called 330 yards.

To provide a personal vignette of Daly, we take you to the practice green where he was getting some post-round help from teacher Dave Ledbetter. After he stroked several putts, he came to the ropes and talked to two sports writers who wanted to ask him about receiving some type of legal summons involving paternity charges from a woman who was once his fiancee.

But, instead of being worried, he didn't seem overly concerned. It turned out, according to Daly, he never even opened the envelope to see what it was. Then he explained his reaction.

"Look, nothing is going to hurt me this week," Daly said. "Some little weasel gave the papers to me. To tell you the truth, I didn't know what it was and won't know until next week, after the tournament is over."

Imagine calling a process-server a weasel. Recipients of similar requisitions, in all types of legal actions, might consider the couriers as annoying weasels, but don't dare say it. Daly is different.

"For all I know it could have been a love note." That's hardly the case, but Daly handed the judgment or summons, whatever, to his lawyer, Charley Hill, and its contents will be addressed at a later date.

The booming blasts of Daly on the golf course make for great theater. He is a colorful figure who could do much for the game but if he's to sustain popularity is going to have to do more than win a single tournament, even if it was the PGA Championship.

For stretching it out over a parcel of real estate, the pro tour has never seen anything quite like him. On the 465-yard 13th hole, he was 80 yards in front of Zoeller, 35 yards past the third pine tree on the right for a drive that covered 335 yards.

Applause accompanies his quick-moving strides as he goes from tee-to-green, never failing to acknowledge the cheers with a nod and a wave of the hand. He's a golfer who others might like to identify with, but, in truth, they can't.

Still, there's a profound fondness for Daly among those in the crowd. "To me, he means excitement because he takes the challenge and never plays it safe," said Harold Fold, a loan officer with the Trust Co. Bank of Atlanta.

Julia Davis, of Columbia, S.C., remarked, "He's fun to watch and, besides, he's good looking. When he hits the ball, it's breathtaking." Another female fan, Rosie Crumpler of Raleigh, N.C., offered the thought "he draws a lot of young people to watch him because he has youth on his side."

Jerry Coleman, a packaging executive from Los Angeles, shook his head in wonderment and exclaimed, "I would love to see him do well and I wish him the best. He's great for golf. But I'd also like to see him grow up."

Perhaps the most incisive comment came from Jim Ingram, a golf equipment sales representative from Tulsa, who first met Daly five years ago. "It was a pro-am in a little-bitty town of Duncan, Okla.," he recalled. "John is just like he appears. A simple kind of fellow. It's hard to maintain any normalcy to your life when so much attention is coming your way."

Any other thoughts about the heroic Arkansas slugger? "Back then he could just stand around and drink that beer. Not hard stuff, just beer, but a lot of it. I also believe when he hit the ball five years ago he made a bigger turn and got a bigger draw."

There's no shortage of Daly followers. He walks fast, smokes more than he should and shows some nervous, almost hyper tendencies, especially if he has to stand around before he hits his next shot.

John Daly, importantly, didn't take a pratfall on the stage that is Augusta National. His future, like his stroke, is powerful.

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