Daly's golf talent got him a half-ride scholarship to the University of Arkansas. There, his coach, Steve Loy, constantly rode him about his weight. He was 230, and Loy wanted him down to 170. For Daly it was like trying to pass under a door. He would qualify for road trips by beating everybody else on the team, only to have Loy take him back to the 1st tee and say, "If you hit this one in the rough, you're not going." Burning inside, Daly purposely would hit the ball in the rough. You want to hurt me? Wrong. I'll hurt myself first. He would get left home. And yet not say a word to Loy. "Basically I was scared of him," he recalls. "I hated him."
Loy put Daly on a strict diet. But Daly wanted to play golf more than breathe, so he pretty much stopped eating altogether. His four basic food groups became Jack Daniel's, Diet Coke, black coffee and Marlboros. "No doctor anywhere would put somebody on a diet like that," Daly says now. Still, he wasn't about to say a word to Loy. You grow up being quiet around the house when your dad's sleeping, and you don't say much. You grow up as the chubby new kid on the block, and you take care not to make enemies.
"I was always the one asking everybody else if they were O.K.," Daly says. "I never talked about my problems. I didn't want to admit I had problems. I just let 'em build up. I didn't want anybody to know I was hurtin'. I didn't want anybody mad at me." But where do things unsaid go?
The sober Daly became Mr. Whatever You Want. Mr. No Problem. Forever the new kid on the block, trying to make some friends. "If he was down to his last $100, he'd give it to you," says his old Hogan tour buddy Pacetti. If the check came, Daly would pick it up—even if it meant needing to win the next day to pay the Visa bill. Even today Daly is overly generous. He pays Rita a salary, not a percentage of winnings, which is how most other caddies are paid, and the salary is generous. Of the $230,000 Daly earned for his storybook PGA win, he gave $30,000 to the family of a fan killed by lightning during the tournament and another $20,000 to Pacetti's junior golf charity.
But there was a funny thing about the diet he had adopted. For a while it worked. "Everybody told me to stop drinking beer," says Daly. "So what else is there? Whiskey." One thing about Jack Daniel's—it doesn't add much weight, not like beer. Suddenly, Daly did lose pounds. No more chubby new kid. People started calling him Skinny. His self-esteem was riding high. A dangerous connection had been made: Jack Daniel's became Daly's very good friend.
At 21 he married Dale Crafton, daughter of one of the fanciest families in Blytheville, Ark. She wanted to live in Blytheville. He didn't. He fell out of place. He did it anyway. The wedding was huge. Daly hated it. The marriage lasted two years. "I did it to please her," he says. "I wanted to make her happy. Her grandparents gave us a house to live in, but I felt like a cheap person. I didn't want anybody giving me anything." The day of his divorce, Daly was playing on the South Africa tour. Drunk and depressed, he went ballistic in his hotel room. He won the tournament with a fractured right pinkie.
When he got depressed, he would drink. When he played bad, he would drink. When he felt himself swallowing his anger, he would drink. Some nights he would sleep in the clubhouse parking lot so as not to miss his
tee time. Only trouble was, he would drink so much that he would still be inebriated the next morning. Of the three balls he would sometimes see, he learned to guess which was the real one.
There was the time in Falmouth, Maine, in '90, when he'd been so depressed nobody was sure what to do. He was driving along with a friend, Brent Everson, and said, without blinking, without smiling, "Do you ever think about just running off the road and straight into a tree?" A few nights later he stuck a loaded bottle into his mouth and nearly killed himself with alcohol. He'd been with a buddy, Roger Rowland, who'd been drinking pretty good himself that night. When Daly passed out and Rowland couldn't get him revived, he threw him in the car. Rowland got so scared that he pulled over a cop to ask him directions to the hospital. At the hospital, doctors realized Daly had fallen into a coma and couldn't be revived. "I really thought he was going to die," says Rowland. Daly played well the next day.
Through it all Daly's golf kept improving. He won a Hogan lour event in 1990 and qualified for the PGA Tour that fall. And when he was the last alternate added to the '91 PGA field at Crooked Stick Golf Club, in Carmel, Ind., and won without ever having seen the course before, Daly went from utter darkness to white-light celebrity in the space of 96 hours.
What really slew Daly was how his fame had changed him less than everybody else. When he was trying to get his career going, he would ask people for money, for sponsorships and gel nothing. Then after he became Long John Daly, American legend, he says, "those same people would come up to me and say, 'We knew you could do it. We always said that, didn't we, hon? Say, do you think you could do us a favor? We could use some tickets.' " And, warring inside, he would get them.