Daly swinging for direction

Golf: The two-time major winner, who will be playing in the Kemper this week, has learned that there is more than one way to channel his energy.

May 31, 2000|By Sam Borden | Sam Borden,SUN STAFF

POTOMAC - At first glance, he looks very much the same. The bulging arms, white-blond hair and backswing to the heavens could only belong to John Daly.

But something is different.

The arms are less beefy, the hair doesn't blow recklessly in the breeze and the backswing might even be a touch shorter.

The differences are subtle - indeed, the casual observer might just see ol' Long John about to rip another one - yet in Daly's mind, he has finally found the right direction.

But the biggest change didn't occur on the outside of the 1991 PGA and 1995 British Open champion. It happened underneath the 34-year-old's fading waistline (he's lost 30 pounds in the past year) and below the piercing blue eyes that are now perpetually covered by orange-tinted sunglasses.

It happened down deep, where the demons lurk, screaming at him to drink whiskey like water, always go for the green and never slow down to breathe. The change, Daly says, it that he's finally realized this world is made up of infinite shades of gray, not the black and white he could only see before.

"I don't have to do everything all out," he says on the practice range at Avenel, preparing for this week's Kemper Insurance Open. "I can do things part of the way. It doesn't have to be so full-force all the time. I realized that I can slow down sometimes and focus on what's important."

Unfortunately, his realization that the symbolic glass isn't always either bone-dry or violently overflowing means that Daly's cup is back to being half-full on occasion. He lost his $3 million endorsement deal with Callaway Golf in September when he informed the world that he was drinking again, and to be honest, Daly doesn't want to hear everyone else's opinion on what that means.

"I felt like a rat," he said, remembering the period last year where he cut alcohol out of his life but was on several medications, including Lithium. "I was listening to everyone else too much. Everyone said, `Take this' or `Take that.' All those medications had side effects and I wasn't myself at all. Now, I can look back with a clear mind and see that I don't want to be there again. I don't drink whiskey anymore and I just drink beer the right way, like with friends. I'm happier about myself, happier about my life."

Regardless of the public's opinion of that philosophy, Daly is dedicated to his beliefs. If happiness is the most inherently personal of emotions, then Daly has found some sort of peace in his outlook.

And so Daly has ventured forward, attempting to resurrect the game that vaulted him into the same breath with Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Johnny Miller (at the time, the only four players to have won two majors before age 30).

He doesn't miss putts because he has the shakes anymore, but that doesn't mean that they go in either. Seven missed cuts in 13 events at a different time might have driven Daly on a whiskey-sponsored rampage, but now he drinks Wisdom - that's the name of the fruit drink he endorses for the company SoBe - while he toils away on the range, searching for new answers to old questions about his game.

"We're just trying to stay focused and work hard on his game," said Daly's caddie Ronnie McCann, who has shouldered a load of responsibility to keep Daly focused, as well as a bag of clubs. "I just try and keep him positive so he can keep getting better."

This week, with the rain softening the golf course and making it play longer, might be a chance for Daly to make some strides.

"John's been working so hard on his game and he's hitting it very well now," said Hank Kuehne, a good friend of Daly's who played a practice round with him yesterday. "I play quite a bit with him and if he can just find his putter then he'll start playing extraordinarily."

Kuehne worries about Daly - worries that Alcoholics Anonymous' Web site is right when it says, "If you are an alcoholic, and if you continue to drink, in time you will get worse." But he worries just as he would for any friend. And just as he would for any friend, all he wants is for Daly to be happy.

"I always do what I think is right, and John has to do what he thinks is right," Kuehne said. "I'm not saying I would do what he does in that situation and I'm not saying that I wouldn't. What I do know is that John has a heart of gold and you just can't pull against someone like that."

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.