AUGUSTA , Georgia – It was quintessential John Daly
, hair dishevelled, at least a week removed from his last shave and chain-smoking Marlboros.
Just yards from the controlled chaos that is Washington Road during
Masters week and the raucous revelry that is Hooters, JD is at home with
the endless precession of guests – some more welcome than others.
“You know how this works, I’m looking for a place to cook some bacon
and eggs,” announces comedian Ron White as he enters Daly’s RV (mobile home),
undeterred by multiple cameras and an ongoing interview with the
two-time major champion.
Later that afternoon the crowds would come, they always do to get a
glimpse of one of the game’s most iconoclastic players. They want
autographs. By Tuesday of Masters week, Daly estimates he’s signed close
to 5,000 items for fans.
“Somebody bought our merchandise banner for $300 and had him sign
it,” says Anna Cladakis, Daly’s fiancée, sometimes-caddie and retail
manager since 2007.
They buy Daly’s line of shirts, hats and head covers from sunrise to
well past the nightcap hour, but this is more than just sports hero
worship. His fans have been with JD through every peak and valley,
vicariously celebrating his successes and enduring his many missteps
every step of the way.
They want a piece of Daly, warts and all, like one fan who asked Cladakis for a specific signature.
“He said to sign it, ‘Bay Hill 18,’” she says. “I’m not sure what that means.”
The reference is to Daly’s misadventure on the sixth hole during the
final round of the 1998 Bay Hill Invitational when he deposited six golf
balls into a lake and signed for an 18 on the hole.
Daly signs the hat as requested, adding a “2” to the autograph.
“I made a birdie  on the next hole,” he says with a wink.
The buzz around Daly’s RV is nonstop for eight consecutive days
and, true to his man-of-the-people persona, he embraces every rowdy
“Guys will roll out [of the Hooters] at 2 a.m., yelling for autographs,” Daly smiles.
Daly could limit his time among the masses. He could stay in a hotel
and adhere to a more structured schedule, but that’s not JD’s style.
Daly’s RV is his home, a rolling condo with multiple TVs, a
king-sized bed, shower and, yes, even a stove to cook White his bacon
“I relate to the fans,” Daly says. “You know I’ve made them happy and
I’ve pissed them off a lot, but they’ve been good to me all over the
Throughout the rollercoaster that has been Daly’s life, the major
championships, stardom, multiple divorces, injuries and gambling, it has
been the fans – not the media and certainly not the PGA Tour
– that has never left his side.
Daly figures it’s the way he’s lived his eventful life that has kept
his fans loyal, the brutal honesty he’s displayed under the most
unforgiving spotlight. Others say it’s JD’s flaws that have earned him
unwavering support from the masses.
Whatever the reason, a dozen years removed from his last Tour title
Daly, and his “lions head” brand, remains one of the most popular
players in golf, which makes this time something of a seminal moment for
both Daly and the PGA Tour Champions
Daly turns 50 on April 28 and will make his debut on the over-50 circuit at next week’s Insperity Invitational in Texas.
“Two years ago, when I took this job, I was stunned at how many
players were excited about John coming out,” said Greg McLaughlin, the
PGA Tour Champions president. “They feel John will be good for the tour,
and what’s good for the tour is good for all involved.”
Every player views the Champions circuit as a golden parachute, but for Daly 2.0 it’s the ultimate mulligan.
“The camaraderie is going to be great,” Daly said. “The guys are
still great, they’re competitive as hell and we still think we want to
win. We challenge ourselves every day no matter how old we get.”
In many ways, Daly is viewing this next chapter in a tome that at
times has read like a Hunter S. Thompson fiction novel much like he
viewed his early years on Tour in the 1990s when he was just “an old
redneck, blue-collar boy winning the British Open.”
Although his hair is still golden blonde, the stubble on his face
gives away his years of hard living. Even in his RV adjacent the
Washington Road Hooters, Daly seems somehow more subdued than he was in
the early 1990s.
He’s cut back on gambling, although in true Daly style he admits it’s
more an acknowledgment of his diminished cash flow in recent years than
a desire to separate himself from his rough-and-tumble past.
Don’t confuse necessity with maturity, however.
“I’ll never grow up,” Daly concedes when asked the difference between
25-year-old JD and the 50-year-old version. “I’m probably going to end
up throwing clubs on the Champions Tour, I’m still gonna be me. There’s
no telling what sort of things I can do, but all I know is I’m enjoying
life right now and my kids are healthy and things are pretty good.”
There were certainly flashes of that familiar Daly fury at last
year’s PGA Championship when he deposited three balls into Lake Michigan
while playing the par-3 seventh hole during the second round and sent
the offending iron into the azure-colored abyss moments later.
Compared with previous meltdowns, the difference now is that those types of outburst aren’t followed by a hasty exit.
“I probably would have waited until the ninth hole when I got close
to the clubhouse, but it doesn’t cross my mind like it used to back in
days,” he admits.
Maybe it’s aging; maybe it’s fatherhood that has softened Daly’s rough edges in recent years.
During an extended interview, Daly’s mood darkens slightly when asked
if he has any regrets. There are no shortage of vices to chose from,
including gambling (in his 2006 autobiography “My Life In and Out of the
Rough” he wrote that he owed $4 million in gambling debts when he
arrived at the 1995 Open Championship, which he won) and hard drinking.
But for Daly his primary mea culpa is leading by explosive example.
“The funny thing is I see it in my son,” Daly says. “He’s 12 and what
can I say if he’s not playing good? He likes to throw clubs, but how
can I give him advice?
“'Don’t be like dad,’ and he sees me whipping one at the PGA. He just
laughs about it and I say that’s not good. I shouldn’t have done that
but it’s the mentality of how we played.”
Daly also concedes his son, John Jr., who is attending the Core Golf
Academy in Orlando, Fla., inherited his dad’s interest in the occasional
wager on the golf course, which has also led to some awkward
But overall his son’s interest in the family business has given Daly a
renewed sense of energy. Getting to play alongside “Little John” at the
PNC Father-Son Challenge in December is one of the things Daly is
looking forward to the most this year, along with a full schedule of
tournaments for the first time since 2014.
Although he still plans the occasional cameo on the US PGA Tour –
including his annual starts at the PGA Championship and Open
Championship – it’s joining his friends and contemporaries on the
Champions circuit that has inspired Daly again.
It’s made golf fun again, and that hasn’t been the case in a long time.
“It turns into a job when you’re playing bad,” he says. “There were
times I wanted to throw in the towel and quit, but my mom talked me out
of probably the most depressed I ever was in the game before she passed away.
She said, ‘Well, what else are you going to do, son?’”
Some five years after that pep talk from his mother, Lou, who died in
November 2011, Daly’s renewed sense of competitive hope is undeniable,
both in the five-time Tour winner and in the fans who largely have never
given up on their flawed hero
For all of his off-course troubles, Daly remains one of the
game’s most unique talents. Last year in limited Tour starts he ranked
in driving distance with a 300-yard average, and fellow
professionals will still stop and watch in awe if he’s working on a
It may have been his very real life off-course issues that kept his
fans loyal, but it was his unique talents – effortless power coupled
with reckless abandon – that drew them to him in the first place.
Daly explains that unlike when he broke onto the Tour in 1991 there
are now at least a dozen players who can do what he does with the golf
ball, but his home-made golf swing and freakish power still captivate
even the game’s most accomplished players.
It was during the 2004 Target World Challenge and Daly had just
completed the Wednesday pro-am with some friends and was in the
clubhouse drinking and telling stories when Tiger Woods
walked into the room.
“Tiger’s there in his workout clothes and I said, ‘Tiger come have a beer with us, man,’” Daly recalls.
Woods declined, explaining that he was bound for the gym and one of
his ubiquitous workout sessions. Daly persisted, “I go, ‘Man, you don’t
need to work out. You need to drink a little bit with us.’”
Woods’ answer is the stuff of legend.
“He said, ‘If I had your talent I’d be doing the same thing you’re
doing,’” Daly says. “I’m looking at him thinking 'you’re crazy, man.
Some will contend Daly largely wasted that talent with his
addictions, but the newly minted senior dismisses that type of armchair
psychology with a shrug.
After a life fully lived he’s realized regret is a luxury he doesn’t
have time for; there are still thousands of autographs to sign, a new
career on a new tour and Ron White is waiting for his bacon and eggs.