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Golf. The preserve of the gentlemanly elite. Played at expensive courses. Run from unwelcoming clubhouses. Using ‘first house priced’ equipment. Few players have been able to break golf’s uppercrust mould. Fewer still get to completely rewrite what it is to be a golfer full stop. Please welcome to the tee, John ‘The Lion’ Daly.
Writer: Kieran Longworth / Illustrator: Luca Selwood
Said to have neglected the traditional country club appearance from day dot, ‘Long John’ has (dis)graced some of the world’s most prestigious courses with his unique style of play, standard of dress, and moral compass.
Born in Carmichael, California, Daly was raised in the small town of Dardanelle, Arkansas where he reportedly started playing golf at the age of four and started drinking from the age of eight. Be it addiction to food, gambling, smoking or drugs, Daly has properly lived his own life through it all.
Each of the 54-year-old’s four failed marriages are worthy of their own sport’s hall of infamy. With fourth wife, Sherrie Miller, a nominee for a Baddies entry herself. 2003 saw his now former wife indicted on charges related to money laundering and a million-dollar drug ring investigation in Mississippi. Sentenced to five months in prison the following November, it wasn’t until 2007 when the pair split after a steak knife fight in one of Memphis’ five-star restaurants.
Almost as bizarrely, two studio-recorded Country & Western albums have allowed the legacy of his extraordinary breakups to live on over the airwaves. “All My Exs Wear Rolexes”, “Big John”, and “Hit it Hard” are just a few self-penned tracks that place Daly amongst the most indefinable personalities in sport.
Forgetting the music career, he’s also put together some incredible rounds on the course. Tied third at the Masters and two major victories in the Open and PGA Championship place him on performances amongst golf’s greatest.
But following such highs, only this vocal Trump supporter could deliver equally matching lows. His worst score on a single golf hole weighed in at 18 shots on the par 5 sixth hole at Bay Hill when he failed six times to clear the drink. Better still, June 2000 saw three of his balls enter the Pacific Ocean, followed by his seven iron to boot, a common sight for his loyal supporters – and there are a lot of them. Further still, wrestling matches with the fathers of his competitors were not at all a rarity in his heyday. Violence being often to answer for a lifetime’s worth of suspensions from the tour.
Formal rehab started in 1993 and has been on repeat play more times than his songbook, for sure. Reappearing in 1997 and refusing to do so in 1999, Daly lost the then 33-year-old’s two sponsorships and added to the spiral of uncertainty that his professional career lay witness to.
Arrests for drunken behaviour – most commonly and famously outside ‘chicks n wings’ joint, Hooters – saw him not only in the PGA’s bad books but the lawbooks as well. So much so that American great Butch Harman quit as Daly’s swing coach in March of 2008 saying, “the most important thing in [Daly’s] life is getting drunk”.
Mike Freeman, of the Florida Times-Union, had other things topping naughty list, claiming Daly “failed the scoundrel sniff test.” An ensuing libel case was dismissed in 2009, with Daly ordered to pay the newspaper more than $300,000 in legal fees. His claims that many PGA Tour players are cocaine users, and statements that if drug testing were done properly on Tour, he would be "one of the cleanest guys out there” certainly didn’t help.
Amongst the all-entangling rollercoaster of partying, gambling (reported losses of between $50-£60m), divorce, and extortionate legal fees, it seems Daly’s greatest enemy continues to be himself. The two-time major champion did however fundamentally change the game of golf. Or at least go a long way in doing so. His extravagant outfits and ‘playboy’ lifestyle saw the sport back in the public eye, albeit for many wrong reasons. Alongside partner-in-crime, Tiger Woods, few have dragged golf further through the mud, or further forward in the 21st Century.
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