Daly's round is poor, but his behavior worse

April 08, 1994|By John Steadman

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Most of John Daly's unfortunate problems, including the terrible torment that must fester deep within the man, have been self-inflicted. The world around him, happily, has been compassionate, uplifting and encouraging to his plight.

Maybe, upon observation and consideration, he doesn't truly deserve the cheers and hopes America holds in its heart and expresses so abundantly toward him. His actions after a disappointing opening round in the Masters Championship were remindful of a spoiled child.

He ignored the public and press, storming off to the sanctity of the Augusta National Club parking lot, and left a message that he didn't feel like answering questions -- not that he would have anything enlightening to add under the best of circumstances.

While in a spirit of philosophizing, let it be said loud and clear there's no greater satisfaction than to see a man -- be he bricklayer, oyster-shucker, berry-picker, golfer or even a sportswriter -- recover from a dependency to use drink or drugs.

One of Daly's greatest admirers, this one, was appalled at the way he reacted to shooting 76 in the opening round of the Masters. It wasn't the end of a career or even a tournament, just merely the highest score he has had in nine career rounds at Augusta National.

There may not have been reason to celebrate, but the 27-year-old didn't need to be angry with the world. Admittedly, he's not an intellectual -- few of us are -- but the suspicion is, from how he acts, that his IQ may match the number he posted on the scoreboard.

This comes from an observer of the sporting scene these many years who has built up a defense against being annoyed by innate rudeness displayed by a minority of athletes. Such a mental attitude allows one to become conditioned to almost any type of conduct.

No doubt the most exemplary demonstration of good manners came at this same golf course in 1979 when Ed Sneed lost a seven-shot lead during the final round and was gentlemanly and gracious to one and all in his most cutting moment of disappointment.

It's rare when a professional golfer, man or woman, storms off in a horrible huff. Daly accomplished that. Certainly, the reporters didn't contribute to his score of 76, 4-over-par and eight shots behind the leader, Larry Mize, who is another first-rate citizen.

Daly drew one of the largest galleries of the first round. What he does, driving golf balls over vast acres of real estate, makes him a show all to himself.

The spectators revel in the awesome power he generates. His strength is so pulverizing he has been known to knock golf balls lopsided. Now that's power.

But the thought is he belongs in a circus side show, where he could best capitalize on his ability to reach the moon with a driver and 5-iron. He takes the club back two feet past parallel, almost to the point where he could put the head of the club in his left front pocket.

Purists of the swing insist none of the great drivers of the ball, including Long Jim Barnes, Jimmy Thompson, Sam Snead, George Bayer and Jack Nicklaus, ever extended the club on the backswing to the Daly extreme. Daly's overswinging style refutes the contention that going too far back is, in itself, self-defeating.

Maybe Daly's problems continue to be psychological. His behavior has sent him to a treatment center for alcoholics and even drew a suspension from his own organization, the PGA.

While John experienced an obviously frustrating score of 76, he entertained the trailing audience with estimated drives of 295 yards on the first hole, 360 on the second, 320 on the fifth and 292 on the 13th -- where he put his second shot in the water after reportedly using a 9-iron for the remaining distance, 195 yards, but came up short going for the elevated green.

Daly's putting, which is usually respectable, deserted him when he needed pars, not bogeys. Before he went to the starting tee, he pleased the onlookers by ripping five balls over the 65-foot-high fence of the practice grounds from 265 yards away.

There's little animation or emotion to Daly. He walks fast, is stoic, smokes cigarettes and is so strong he only carries one wood in his bag, the driver, because he would have no use for any of the fairway woods. The Wilson Sporting Goods Co. reportedly has offered him a lifetime contract, something it bestowed on such legendary figures as Gene Sarazen and Sam Snead.

When Daly beat a quick retreat to the parking lot, his mother was left to answer in generalities the questions from the press. "He has been hitting the ball long and practiced a lot," she said. "No, he wasn't nervous."

But John Daly should have been responsible enough to talk about what became his "longest day" in three visits to the Masters. No doubt, the thing about him is to appreciate what he does -- not how he acts or what he does or doesn't say to those endeavoring to befriend him.

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