Daly eager to resume winning

March 10, 1994|By Vic Ziegel | Vic Ziegel,New York Daily News

FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA — FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- John Daly is talking about M&Ms and Diet Coke and Marlboros and Jack Daniel's. For him, three out of four ain't bad, might make him rich, might even keep him alive.

No, he doesn't know exactly how much he poured down his throat when he was really drinking, which he isn't doing now, he says. Not one drop in 14 months, he says.

His girlfriend, Paulette Dean, remembers a room-service meal in Hawaii last year, chocolate cake. The golfer thought he tasted amaretto in the frosting and ran into the bathroom, leaned over the sink, spitting it away.

"That proved a lot to me," she said Tuesday. When she first met him, alcohol was no problem. As in the line, I drink, I fall down, I get up, I drink, I fall down, I get up, no problem.

Paulette Dean, blond and cheerful, is asked what Daly was like when he drank heavily. She didn't hesitate. "Crazy and funny," she says, "just like a drunk person."

He has cut down the M&Ms to a bag or two a day. Still does about 14 Diet Cokes and never less than three packs of Marlboros a day. The other scary stuff, the hard stuff, that number is down to zero.

Once, he trashed his house, another time his Blazer. Woke up in hospitals four times because of drinking. He was living with a friend after his first divorce -- the second divorce is the problem now -- "and he told me 'I was drinking over a fifth of Jack [Daniel's] a day'. You'd think I got the hint. I never did."

He was cold sober all of last year, no small trick on a warm-weather tour where everybody wants you to have another one. Financially, sober was a waste of time. He collected $225,591 in 24 tournaments, which isn't the same as starving, but it was less than he made for 72 holes in 1991, when he pulled in $230,000 as the surprising PGA champion.

A big-hitting, outgoing blond kid, he might have been the next Jack Nicklaus, but more fun, with longer hair. He was PGA rookie of the year and took home $574,000. The next year, when the bar was as important as par, he dipped to $387,000. Last year, sober, he dropped to No. 79 on the money list. This year, son of sober, "I would like to win a million," he says. "It's great to be back. Nice. Wonderful. I'm just going to go out there and play golf."

This year begins for him today at the $1.1 million Honda Classic. A late tee time because he was suspended by the PGA last November in Hawaii when he decided he was done playing after three double-bogeys in the second round. Disgusted, frustrated, angry but sober, he picked up his ball at the 11th hole, ending his tournament.

The PGA, serious guys in checked pants, suspended him indefinitely. In May, he was disqualified from the Kemper Open for refusing to sign a lousy scorecard. July, at an exhibition thing in Portland, when another golfer asked how far he could slam a drive, Daly said he needed the wind. Turned around, put the wind at his back, and went wham. Trouble is, he was facing the gallery. The PGA was not amused. October, he played pick-up-the-ball at the Southern Open.

"Eight-over after nine holes," Daly said Tuesday. "I didn't feel like I needed to play the next nine. A lot of guys do that, but when I

do it . . ."

What the other guys do, Daly knows, is find a pain. Oh, my wrist, my back, my shoe contract, they whine. The gentleman's departure, let's call it. Daly, big hitter, blunt, sober, says, "That's being a liar. I'd rather admit I'm playing bad. If you don't have a chance to make the cut, you shouldn't have to finish. I don't see anything wrong with going home to the family."

The PGA was planning to keep him away until the end of March, but they liked what they saw of this year's model. He spends an afternoon a month with a sports psychologist. Says he's never been more relaxed, serene, sober, can't forget sober.

"Being sober," he says, "is like winning a major. Last year, my main goal was to stay sober. I basically forgot about golf. I had a lot of bad tournaments, but I never reached for a drink. I never told anybody, 'To hell with it, I'm going to get drunk.' "

His scores were higher, his nights shorter. Wasn't playing well, wasn't smiling, could only get suspended. "I feel like I'm a boring person since I stopped drinking," he says now. Didn't sound like a joke.

"I know I can't drink anymore," he said. He followed that with, "I want to. Every day. The stuff's pretty good. Certain things go well with a beer. But I know I can't. I know I'm not going to live if I drink."

But what if his game doesn't come back? What happens then?

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