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Sweet Redemption
Rick Reilly
June 07, 1993
John Daly, now chugging M&M's instead of beers, is confining his hard-driving ways to the golf course
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June 07, 1993

Sweet Redemption

John Daly, now chugging M&M's instead of beers, is confining his hard-driving ways to the golf course

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"Nahhhh," said Daly.

The competition was effectively over. Daly went on to average 337 yards, Dent 313.

There is nothing mysterious about it. Daly just plain takes the biggest lick in history. No other player on the planet takes the club back as far as Daly. He has been told by teachers at every level that his grip is too strong, his backswing too big and the end of his career too near. Nobody has been right yet. One of the most commonly heard backswing criticisms is "You're taking it past parallel." Where Daly takes it, parallel is a toll call away. He takes it back and back and back into no-man's land, where double and triple bogeys lurk. He takes it back until the club head nearly touches the ball. Then, and only then, does he begin his cyclonic downswing. Small children have been carried a few feet in the clubsuck.

Everything Daly does on a course is fast and big. Golf magazine recently measured the time it took Tour players to hit drives, irons and putts. Daly was found to be fastest overall. Over putts he averaged only 21.1 seconds, about half the Tour average. Over irons, only 15.6 seconds. Over drives, 18.7. It makes his caddie crazy. "He's actually getting better," says Rita. "I used to be in the middle of getting his yardage when he'd hit. Now at least he waits to hear how far he's got."

If Nick Faldo is the game's greatest mechanical player, the practice-until-you-bleed type, then Daly is the anti-Faldo. He is all feel and no mechanics, all emotion and no reserve. But it is not only all that—the feel for the game, the speed with which he plays, the Rand McNally distances that he hits the ball—that makes Daly so wildly popular. It's also his chubby face and sad blue eyes, the kind that mothers love and fathers counsel. Indeed, Daly's public troubles have only made the fans love him more. "He just looks," one fan is heard to say, "like he needs some guidance."

Hard? Daly has done life the hard way. The youngest of three children born to Jim and Lou Daly, John had an overwhelming need to be perfect. Maybe it was because his dad, a nuclear engineer, was often gone, working on the road, working nights, sleeping all day. It's hard to get a lot of approval from an empty chair at the dinner table. If John stayed around the house during the day, he had to keep quiet lest he disturb his father's sleep. "We weren't the kind of family that talked about our problems," he recalls. "We were a close family, in a kind of faraway way. It wasn't a being-with-each-other kind of close. We all went our own ways."

Because of Jim's work, the Dalys moved from town to town—from Sacramento, where John was born; to Dardanelle, Ark.; to Locust Grove, Va.; to Zachary, La.; to Jefferson City, Mo. The place to be for a pudgy new kid on the block was out on the golf course, practicing a game that didn't require buddies or teammates. Daly would slog through ponds to find golf balls, take them to a nearby baseball diamond and try to hit them over the backstops. He never had a junior set of clubs, only an adult set of Jack Nicklaus McGregors. If you're seven years old and trying to make a waterlogged ball go over a backstop with a driver as big as you, you learn to take a serious lash at it.

Daly rarely played with other kids. He took on the men at Lake of the Woods Country Club in Fredericksburg, Va. When he won the men's championship there at 12, the rules were changed so kids couldn't play in it anymore. Daly was mad about it, but he said nothing. Instead, he kept it inside and just hit the little white ball a little harder. "Seemed like the harder I swung, the better I hit it," he recalls.

The booze came early too. Daly tried his first beer at 10, his first mason jar of his parents' homemade wine at 12. Jim was a big Jack Daniel's man, so John became one too. "It was always, 'Let's see what Dad has in the cupboard,' " he says.

When John was a high school senior, his parents moved to New Hampshire and let him and his big brother Jamie live together back in Dardanelle by themselves. John had always made A's and B's, but after that, with so much partying and golfing to do, schoolwork didn't make the cut.

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