Aiming straight down fairway, Daly takes solid shot at recovery

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Potomac -- For a player who's been part of the country's sports consciousness for less than three years, John Daly has rewritten more chapters than a fledgling author and turned over more leaves than an accomplished psychic.

There were the 300-yard drives and the rags-to-riches victory in the 1991 PGA Championship at Crooked Stick that launched his Bunyanesque legend. There were the well-chronicled bouts with alcoholism, an assault charge by his now-estranged wife, Bettye, and the breakup of their marriage.

There was the month-long stay at a rehabilitation center in Texas run by former Dallas Cowboys star and reformed cocaine addict Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson. There was the four-month suspension handed down by PGA commissioner Deane Beman, which the 28-year-old golfer finished serving in March.

"Last year was a situation where I put too much pressure on myself," Daly said recently. "I was fighting too many battles between golf and sobriety. Everyone knew that my goal was to get through a year sober. I didn't work on my game as much as I needed to. Those four months off were good for me. A lot of people said I should fight Deane on it, but I didn't want to fight anymore."

Daly is in the midst of writing the next chapter in his roller-coaster career and life. It began when he returned to the tour for the Honda Classic and tied for fourth, despite not having played a competitive round since walking off a course in Hawaii last November.

It continued when, after missing the cut three times in his previous five tournaments, he won earlier this month at the BellSouth Classic in Atlanta. It was Daly's third victory on tour, his first since September 1992 and, more significantly, he said it was his first win clean and sober.

It not only showed a different side to Daly as a golfer -- a player whose deft short game defied his awesome drives -- but also as a person. He shook. He cried. He dedicated the victory to his young daughter. He talked about how he never could have won a tournament in this manner before, coming from behind after blowing a lead.

"It was wonderful," said Daly, who birdied the final hole to win by a stroke. "I never expected to win again this soon. And I never was that nervous when I was drinking."

In changing the self-destructive route his life was taking, Daly also is trying to do the right thing. Off the course, it means playing a more active role as a father to Shynah, who'll be 2 next month. On the course, it means curbing the tempestuous behavior that sometimes led to what happened at last year's Kemper Open.

When he returns to the Tournament Players Club at Avenel for this year's $1.3 million tournament, which begins Thursday, Daly likely will offer up as many apologies as autographs. In an incident that received more national attention than ultimately went to unknown New Zealander Grant Waite for winning, Daly was disqualified after failing to sign his opening-round scorecard.

It wasn't merely his 5-over-par 77 that led to Daly's contretemps in the scorer's tent, which culminated with his crumpling the card and tossing it away. In fact, Daly said, when his agent, John Mascatello, tried to intervene and get PGA Tour official Glenn Tait to reinstate his client, Daly was hoping that the disqualification would stand. It did.

"I had to be in court in Colorado [for a hearing on the assault charge] the following Monday, and my mind was definitely not on the golf course," Daly recalled a couple of weeks ago before playing in the Memorial Tournament at Dublin, Ohio. "I had told Johnny before the tournament began that there was no sense in me playing. I could see myself losing it at any time."

Said Mascatello: "We were trying to encourage him to play at places where he had done well before, and he had finished second there [in 1992]. But we also got a piece of disturbing news the day before the tournament. I can't say what it was, but John was very, very distracted. In retrospect, he shouldn't have played."

Fans take notice

It didn't take long for Daly to get criticized by the media and scoffed at by his adoring public. While watching the tournament on television that weekend, he saw a fan holding a sign with a picture of Daly's face transposed over a torn, unsigned scorecard. "I thought that was pretty funny," he said. "I deserved it."

The disqualification was one of two Daly had last year, when the slide from his breakthrough, Rookie of the Year season continued. After finishing 17th on the money list in 1991 and 37th in 1992, Daly dropped off to 76th. He had one top 10 finish in 25 tournaments -- a distant third at the Masters -- and five in the top 25.

But it wasn't until he walked off during the second round of the Kapalua International last November that Daly could sense that he was in trouble. The suspension seemed to take a lot of pressure off Daly, who spent most of the time in Palm Springs.

"It was the best thing that happened to me," said Daly, who

withdrew from last weekend's Southwestern Bell Colonial Invitational because of allergy problems. "It was four months of -- nothing but relaxing."

Despite his problems, he was able to maintain his lucrative endorsement contracts with Reebok and Wilson, which was reported last week to have signed Daly to a 10-year, $30 million contract. And he is still the people's choice, a player who Kemper Open chairman Ben Brundred Sr. said is worth "10,000 to 15,000 fans to any tournament."

Not that Daly's famous temper hasn't flared up on occasion, as at this year's Masters, where he stormed off the grounds after nine holes of a practice round Wednesday, then did the same after playing the first two rounds of the tournament.

"The course was playing much too fast, and I knew I wasn't going to have a good tournament," said Daly, who wound up tied for 48th. "I was so mad, it was better not to say anything. I was damned if I did and damned if I didn't [talk]."

Friends still concerned

Those who had been part of Daly's support group of friends and fellow players were a bit concerned. Henderson, who last year had questioned Daly's decision to rehabilitate himself without the help of Alcoholics Anonymous, said those concerns are there with any recovering alcoholic or addict.

"That's something he'll have to learn to live with," said Henderson, who is a consultant at a number of rehab centers around the country, including Father Martin's Ashley in Aberdeen. "Those kind of rumors always follow someone in the public eye. But the longer he's sober, the better chance that they will subside.

"John Daly is a young man who is learning how to be a public person. Is he making some mistakes? Of course. Are there concerns about his drinking? Of course. But give him a chance. He's working on being a good guy, and I think in the end, history will be kind to him."

Henderson was watching the final round of the BellSouth Classic at his home in Austin, Texas, with some friends who were also in recovery.

He still can hear the roar in the room as Daly's final putt dropped, and remembers the way his friend on the screen was shaking, the emotions of the past year pouring out.

"For him to have won sober is going to help a whole lot of people," said Henderson.

Daly is, after all, the people's choice. Has been since Crooked Stick. And, like them, he is trying to work out his problems. Not only one day at a time, but one chapter at a time as well.

DALY IN '94

Honda Classic: Tied for 4th

Nestle Invitational: Tied for 21st

$The Players Championship:

Missed cut

%5Freeport-McMoran Classic:

Missed cut

The Masters: Tied for 48th

#Greater Greensboro Open:

Missed cut

Shell Houston Open: Tied for 7th

BellSouth Classic: Won

The Memorial Tournament: 71st

Southwestern Bell Colonial: Withdrew before the tournament because of allergies.

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