POTOMAC -- Ever since his rags-to-riches story first was tol during his out-of-nowhere victory at the PGA Championship two years ago, John Daly has been one of the most charismatic and controversial figures on the PGA Tour. But his off-the-course lifestyle, like his mammoth tee shots, was often out of control.
Daly's story took a dark turn last December, when he was charged with third-degree assault on his wife, Bettye, after a drunken binge on Christmas Day at their home in Colorado. Charges eventually were dropped, but Daly wound up in an Arizona drug-and-alcohol rehabilitation center.
"Everything that went out [of Colorado] was just a bad lie," Daly said yesterday. "I hit a wall, I hit a few pictures. To say that I hit my wife was ungodly. But their lying helped me. It was a positive thing. The good thing is that I don't drink anymore."
Another positive aspect to his three-week visit to Sierra Tucson was the start of his friendship with former Dallas Cowboys All-Pro linebacker Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson, a recovering crack addict who is a consultant to the Tucson treatment center.
The relationship has grown steadily since their initial meeting, to the point where Daly calls Henderson three or four times a week. Henderson has become Daly's unofficial "sponsor," the person who has helped the 27-year-old golfer make his re-entry into what they hope will be a sober world.
"It took someone like that to say the right things at the right time," said Daly.
Henderson said that there were a lot of similarities between him and Daly: humble beginnings, followed by a rush of stardom at an early age and "patterns of abuse." For Henderson, it was playing in three Super Bowls and making All-Pro in a drug-shortened, five-year NFL career. For Daly, it was winning the PGA as an unknown rookie.
"Thomas told me how good he could have been," Daly said. "I probably wasted four or five years that I would have had a chance to get my career started earlier. I never looked at it [drinking] as a problem. Everybody was doing it. I saw it as the right thing to do."
Speaking from his office in Austin, Texas, Henderson said: "I saw a young man who had a lot of success put upon him at a very young age. I remember being his age -- 25 -- and already playing in three Super Bowls. I also saw someone and where he was and where he might be if he didn't change his attitude. John needed somebody to talk to who had been there. He needed someone who he could trust."
After returning to the tour in late January, Daly binged only on golf -- and chocolate. He played an almost unheard-of 12 straight weeks in a sport in which few go more than five weeks at a time. He missed three straight cuts starting out and, with the exception of a third-place finish at the Masters, hasn't been in serious contention.
With his personal life resettled -- the Dalys, who have a 1-year-old daughter, recently moved into a new home near Orlando, Fla. -- Daly is trying to get his game back in order. After taking a week off, Daly will start again tomorrow when the $1.3 million Kemper Open begins at the Tournament Players Club at Avenel.
"I'm not really satisfied with my year," said Daly, who ranks 54th on the money list and has made $1.1 million in less than two full years on tour. "But this is the best start I've had in my three $$ years out here."
Avenel has brought Daly only positive memories. As an obscure rookie two years ago -- it was before he won at the PGA at Crooked Stick after coming into the field as an alternate -- Daly shot a respectable 13-under par in a year when Billy Andrade shot 10 strokes better to win.
Last year, Daly shot his way into the hunt on the final day, tied Bill Glasson for a share of the lead with birdies on 16 and 17, only to lose by a shot with a bogey on the last hole. It took until the B.C. Open late in the year for Daly to quiet the whispers that his PGA victory was a fluke.
"I think that silenced the critics," Daly said after his second tour win.
But the other whispers about Daly, those concerning his lifestyle, never stopped. It took the incident in Colorado -- Daly reportedly pushed his wife against a wall and pulled her hair during a party -- for everything to come out in the open.
Daly said yesterday that he never recognized his problem until then. In fact, there were times, he said, that he played drunk. Others, including former PGA champion John Mahaffey, have admitted doing the same thing.
"After I quit drinking whiskey when I was 23, I just was drinking beer," Daly said. "But I was drinking more and more beer. Thomas [Henderson] said, 'You're always looking for a way out. You're always looking for something else.' There isn't a day that goes by when I don't crave for a beer."
Daly said that he doesn't believe he needs to go through an after-care treatment or any 12-step programs or attend any Alcohol Anonymous meetings. Though he can talk about his problem with Henderson or New York Giants coach Dan Reeves, whom he met in Denver a couple years ago, Daly said: "I can't talk in front of 50,000 people. I like to talk one-on-one."
Henderson said that he is still worried that his new friend might fall back into his old ways.
"There are some concerns," said Henderson. "He alone can do it, but he can't do it alone."
Daly has received a tremendous amount of support since his problem became public. The companies with whom he has his two biggest endorsements, Reebok and Wilson, immediately announced they were keeping him under contract. He remains one of the most popular players with the fans.
Though there has been something of a backlash among his peers, Daly said that he has been made to feel comfortable since his return.
"Life's more fun," he said. "Not only golf, but everything else."