He John Daly traveling circus came to Pinehurst with all of its captivating sideshows: the massive golfing talent that again grabbed the world's attention, if only for the first day of the U.S. Open; the primal connection between the player and his fans, a link that has been strained but never broken; the candid portrayal of his struggle to overcome his addictions, a brutally honest self-assessment that is as disarming as it is enlightening; and the inevitable controversy, this one ending with Daly's declaration that he would never play in another Open.
Daly squeezed a lot into his week. He was tied for the lead for most of the first round, then spent the next three days going backward, sliding all the way to a last-place finish at 29-over 309. The nadir came on Sunday at the par-4 8th hole, where Daly made a septuple-bogey 11 that included a two-shot penalty for hitting his ball as it was trickling down the backslope of the green. Unlike his give-up six-putt at the Memorial two weeks before the Open, Daly said the 11 was a protest against what he considered to be unfair pin positions. "I'm going to stick up for the guys," he said. "The USGA needs to learn how to run a tournament."
Before the blowup it appeared that at 33 Daly had finally figured out how to run his life. He has been sober for 27 months, since his all-night binge after the first round of the '97 Players Championship. He hasn't gambled in almost three years, which is quite a sacrifice for someone who savors the memory of how his knees shook as he bet $400,000 on a hand of blackjack. He is back on Paxil, the antidepressant he had abandoned last November but resumed taking after losing his cool on the 18th green in the opening round of the Memorial. And, after three failed marriages, he is in a steady relationship with Shanae Chandler, herself a recovering addict. "I had the same problem," says Chandler, 23. "You can't understand until you have to pull yourself out of the depths of hell."
The bad news is that Daly's golf is not on the straight or narrow. "It used to be that my game was good and everything else was crap," Daly says. While it's true that everyone on Tour has seen his game disappear from time to time, few players have as desperate a need to return to form as Daly. The man who has won nearly $3 million and amassed twice that in endorsements is nearly broke, and he's burning up assets like a freight train using its own cars for fuel. The two-bedroom condo in Palm Springs? Sold last spring. The 5,000-square-foot house in Memphis? Going on the market this week. The black '99 Mercedes $500? Also sold.
"Everybody thinks I have a lot of money," Daly says. "I don't. I've got a $35,000 nut every month for mortgages on my ex-wives' houses, alimony, child support—which I don't mind paying—taxes and the gambling debt. All the money I made with Wilson and Reebok is gone through gambling."
Daly estimates that he won $42 million in the casinos, which sounds impressive until he adds that he lost $51 million. When Daly signed a five-year endorsement deal with Callaway in 1997, the company lent him $1.8 million to cover his outstanding casino markers, a loan that will be forgiven if he remains sober and doesn't gamble for the life of the contract.
In an effort to get his finances in order, Daly has reduced the salaries of Donnie Crabtree, his boyhood pal who describes his duties as being Daly's righthand guy, and caddie Brian Alexander. "It's not that big a deal," Crabtree says. "Brian and I both know when things get better, he'll make it up to us."
Daly finds himself in the vicious cycle usually reserved for players trying to avoid Q school, not players who rank among the top draws on Tour. "You miss a cut, you feel like, I got a weekend off so I'd better play next week," Daly says. "I thought if I kept playing, I'd work through [the slump]. That backfired."
Daly came to Pinehurst having played for seven consecutive weeks, during which he missed three cuts, withdrew twice and finished 51st and 67th in the other two tournaments. Though he had a medical reason for withdrawing at the Colonial (allergies), he admits that his behavior at the Memorial was grade-A bonehead. The six-putt makes people assume the worst. "I tried on four of them," he says. "That's the sad part."
Fuzzy Zoeller, who has been Daly's friend and mentor for years, says, "He's his own worst enemy. I told him, 'Your belt has a lot of notches on it. You've got to suck it up and go. You can't keep withdrawing. That leaves a bad taste in people's mouths.' "