As John Daly explained afterward, his hands still warm from the golfing equivalent of pulling the sword from the stone, he had come to Baltusrol to astonish the multitudes. "We may not play good," he had told his caddie at last week's U.S. Open, "but at least we'll make history."
Golf's knight-errant and strongest hitter made good on his promise on Friday, when he became the first player ever to reach the longest hole in U.S. Open history, the 630-yard par-5 17th, in two shots. His tee ball, launched with a 7-degree-loft Killer Whale driver (and a grunt), rolled to a stop in the fairway, 325 yards out. His second shot, smote with a one-iron, carried about 280 yards to the rough guarding the elevated green, skipped past a sand trap and rolled to the back of the green, 45 feet past the hole. "Those were two of the best, most solid shots I ever hit in my life," he told reporters later. "I swung as hard as I could."
As with all such feats, Daly's achievement drew some shrugs and debunking, as well as loud huzzahs from the fans who had lined the 17th. Payne Stewart, his playing partner on Thursday and Friday, pretended not to notice how Daly played the hole, saying, "I was paying attention to my golf game. I wasn't paying attention to John's game."
Sid Dorfman of the Newark Star-Ledger recalled in print how at the 1967 Open, Billy Farrell had reached the 17th in two. Dorfman neglected to mention that the hole that day played at 610 yards and that Farrell hooked his drive onto an adjoining fairway and then hit downhill to the green.
Others noted that on Thursday, the day before Daly got home in two, Scotland's Sandy Lyle had put one green-high on number 17 with a driver and a three-wood. Lyle, in fact, hit his tee shot 342 yards—17 yards farther than Daly's, which was his longest measured drive of the Open. There were other cavils: The fairways were hard and fast, the ball carried well in the New Jersey heat, and how about that greenhouse effect? But only Daly, out of 152 players, found the putting surface in only two shots.
The real question, of course, was: Why did he bother? Over four rounds the 17th was the second-easiest hole (after the 18th) at Baltusrol, giving up 88 birdies and playing to a 4.977 stroke average. Most of those birdies were achieved with conventional short-iron third shots, there being little reason for players to risk landing in the cluster of traps that are short of the green and outside comfortable explosion-shot range. Daly himself made birdie on Sunday with a 300-yard drive into the left rough, an iron back to the fairway and a deft sand wedge to within 12 feet of the cup.
Further, the pin at 17 was positioned near the front of the green for the last three rounds, practically guaranteeing that any low-trajectory shot reaching the apron would scoot-away from the pin. Daly's gargantuan one-iron had virtually no chance of stopping close to the flag.
Even so, few will remember the other 87 birdies at number 17 last week. Daly's role is to astonish, and he rarely disappoints. "We'd hear the yelling and screaming," said low amateur Justin Leonard, who played in the group ahead of Daly on Saturday. "We'd have already walked 100 yards from our shots, and John's ball would be landing 20 yards behind us."
On Sunday,-after shooting a final round 72, good for 33rd place, Daly was asked if he would ever renounce his "grip it and rip it" ways and start playing percentage golf.
"Nah," he said.