The headline read like an obituary: JOHN DALY DROPPED BY CALLAWAY. At the very least it appeared to be the sad coda of a self-destructive career, because if ever a pro athlete had a guardian angel, Daly had one in Ely Callaway. In 1997, when Daly emerged from the Betty Ford Clinic to learn that his third wife had filed for divorce and that Wilson had terminated his endorsement contract, Callaway not only threw him a financial life preserver worth an estimated $8 million over four years, but he also paid off Daly's gambling debt of $1.8 million. The new contract did not require that Daly play well or drive the ball a long way. It only required that he neither drink nor gamble, and if he did, mat he seek help to stop.
On Sept. 14 Daly violated mat final condition. After admitting to Callaway that he had been drinking and gambling in Las Vegas last month, Daly, at the company's insistence, drove to a California rehab center. But after spending the night there, he called the 80-year-old Callaway from his car phone to tell him that he had left.
"Turn around, John," implored Callaway.
"I can't do it, Mr. C.," Daly said. "That place just isn't for me.
"Turn around, John," Callaway repeated. Silence followed, then the line went dead. Two days later, Callaway officials say, Daly was spotted on a riverboat casino in Tunica, Miss., playing $100 slots and drinking heavily.
At 33, Daly has massive financial responsibilities, including a $35,000 monthly nut for alimony, child support and mortgages. He is playing the worst golf of his career, has no endorsements, is woefully overweight and needs (but doesn't always take) medication for depression. As dark as this picture is, one gets the feeling that the worst is yet to come.
"Golf inflicts more pain than any other sport," says James E. Loehr, a sports psychologist who has worked with Daly. "If you're the sort of person whose self-worth is tied up in how you play, golf will cut right to the core of who you are. When a person like that performs poorly, it's another indication to him that he's a bum."
Daly has been a person like that ever since he was an awkward kid who found refuge at the golf course. The pressure of playing for his well-being is enormous, and without alcohol to deaden his feelings, he hasn't been able to cope. That's why his good rounds, like his opening 66 in the '97 PGA and the first-round 68 in this year's U.S. Open, have been followed by quick fades and embarrassing incidents. That's why in 19 tournaments this season Daly has withdrawn three times, missed seven cuts and finished in the top 50 on only four occasions. Some of the frustration has been vented off the tee, as he leads the Tour with an alltime-high driving average of 306 yards, 10 yards longer than anyone else.
By giving up on rehab and Callaway, Daly is temporarily lessening his pain. He has convinced himself that his own program of AA meetings and substitute addictions is enough to improve his golf and his life. He told Callaway that he considered the rehab center a prison, but until Daly surrenders to the process of exploring and understanding who he is, he will remain a prisoner of his addictions. "John keeps thinking he can do it on his own, but his own does not work," Callaway says. "He is a very practiced manipulator, but I don't think he realizes that the person he most manipulates is himself."
Daly has always had a hard time accepting help. At the 1991 Skins Game, his idol, Jack Nicklaus, made a point of introducing himself to Daly's parents and inviting John to spend a week at his home in North Palm Beach. Although moved to tears at the time, Daly never called Nicklaus. Surely that has something to do with the paralyzing feelings of shame that have dogged Daly. "I have a tough time looking at the fans because of the things I've done," he said at the Open. "I don't look at myself as being good enough to talk to them." With his renunciation of Callaway, that shame will only grow.