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An Epic Finish
Rick Reilly
July 31, 1995
John Daly's stunning playoff victory at the British Open came only after a shot by Costantino Rocca rocked St. Andrews
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July 31, 1995

An Epic Finish

John Daly's stunning playoff victory at the British Open came only after a shot by Costantino Rocca rocked St. Andrews

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Barkeep, Pour us another giant Slurpee and toss us half a dozen Ding Dongs. Lend us a Marlboro and six or so of them Advil. Fill up that ol' claret jug with Diet Coke, and let's everybody shave each other's heads. We need to celebrate John Daly-style because the Kid from the Wrong Side of the Country Club just went and won himself a British Open at the Home of Golf is all.

So, what kind of odds would you have gotten that Daly would win a four-hole playoff after the looniest episode ever witnessed at the Royal and Annuitied Old Course in St. Andrews, Scotland, where a chunky Italian followed up the most famous chili dip in golf history with a purely redeeming 65-foot putt from the Valley of Sin? Who would sink their hard-earned pounds on a guy dressed like a Sinclair blowup dinosaur, a guy with serial migraines, 20 pounds too much gut, the chocolate d.t.'s, a pack-a-round habit, two ex-wives and one non-ex, two PGA Tour suspensions, two dead-last British Open finishes in his first three tries and an addiction to swinging the driver from his spikes even in winds you wouldn't leave your cat out in?

Actually, those odds were 66 to 1 with any British bookie before the week started. Would've been a nice bet, because in a weird, wonderful way it had seemed like Daly's week all along. "I don't know," he kept saying. "There's just something about this golf course I love."

Let's see. Was it the fact that Daly drove six par-4s—3, 9, 10, 12, 16 and 18—and easily reached par-5s with iron second shots? "He play spectacular," playing partner Seve Ballesteros gushed on Friday. "There are no par-5s for him." Pause. "Well, there are no par-4s for him either."

Or maybe it was the fine selection of vendors St. Andrews offered from hole to hole. Daly tried them all. Battling sugar cravings that stem from his ongoing recovery from alcoholism, he was a consuming mass, a moveable feast, swallowing not only huge chunks of yardage but also every Otis Spunkmeyer chocolate chocolate-chip muffin the Old Course could sell him. "They're those good kind," he said. "The kind you can get at Shell stations back home."

He is the type who, if asked for directions to the DMV, might say, "Go three Dairy Queens down this street, then turn left at Häagen-Dazs. Take a left at Winchell's, and it's on the right, just past Fudge-O-Rama." On Friday he ate four huge doughnuts on the 8th tee, then a couple of Otis specials on the 10th, all spiced with Diet Cokes and Marlboros and a nice migraine.

For the blue bloods of the R&A and the distinguished members of the British golf establishment, it was like having Gomer Pyle emcee the annual dinner. As Daly became a leader-board fixture, you could just hear some crusty blazer on the R&A balcony whisper, "If he should win, we won't have to invite him into the lounge, will we?"

In fact, somebody asked Daly at midweek what he might do if he won and was asked to join the R&A. "I ain't joinin' if there's rules and crap," he said. "I hate them rules and crap." Besides, he would have more important things to consider. A buddy back in Arkansas had promised to shave his head if Daly won. "Hell, I might do it too," Daly said.

Still, for all his ignorance of the history and traditions of St. Andrews, Daly and the course got along fine, as though St. Andrews itself were tired of being dusted carefully and wanted to see somebody lash the ball a half mile on her ancient fairways. Daly was her man. He practically had to tie down his driver to keep it in the bag. He usually is forced to hit a three-iron off many tees, but St. Andrews's ridiculously wide fairways—the 1st/18th is 117 paces wide—begged him to grip it and rip it. No place, even Augusta, is better set up for Daly, though nobody last week expected him to drive it so long and straight in winds that whipped trousers and straightened up old men. Despite being ranked 187th on the Tour in driving accuracy, he hit only two truly errant tee shots. And he was in only five bunkers all week.

Yet his accuracy wasn't the most stunning thing about Daly. The most stunning thing was that his golf was so delicate. Yeah, even Gomer Pyle can sing in a lovely tenor. Four times on Friday, Daly two-putted from more than 100 feet, including one from 180 feet on the 12th. "I love to step 'em off," he said, grinning under that blond Prince-Valiant-meets-the-lube-guy-at-Chevron 'do. "Hell, that one green [5] is the size of a Canadian football field."

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