John Daly: 'Wild Thing' turns into father of the year
His eight-year-old son could barely read or write – and his mum was in prison. So the golfer put on his tutor's hat and started to educate his boy... and it's paying off. He talks exclusively to James Corrigan
Just as John Daly has always been much more than your average golfer, so it can be revealed he is so much more than your average single parent. It may not tally with the general perception of the Wild Thing, but the truth is that when he is not storming off the course he is the full-time schoolteacher to his eight-year-old son. And he happens to be rather successful at it.
It was not so very long ago when he would spend the hours after playing – and, in many cases, the hours before – conversing with bartenders. Now Little John's education commands his attention as the boy travels with Daly around the world. Many will not believe this, but after walking off in a blaze of controversy mid-round at the Australian Open last month, Daly actually returned to the hotel and donned his tutor's hat. Maybe he asked Little John to count how many balls he'd hit into the lake...
Here in Bangkok yesterday, as the two-time major winner prepared for tomorrow's first round of the inaugural Thailand Golf Championship, the 45-year-old explained the self-tutorial plan he has put together for Little John. He felt obliged to do so a year ago after a Tennessee court sided with Daly's challenge concerning Little John's excessive absences from school, his lack of needed speech therapy and Daly's visitation problems. Sherrie Daly, his former wife, was ultimately adjudged to be in contempt of court and ordered to spend three days in jail.
Daly claims he hardly saw his son before, but that he has made up time with remarkable fortitude. "When I was first granted custody before last Christmas, Little John could hardly write or read," said Daly. "In just one year I've got him through two grades. He was so far behind because his mother never got him through school. He missed 84 days of kindergarten so they held him back. And then he had already missed 25 days of first grade. I've had to teach him every day – and I've got him through his first two grades in a year. That's because I've given Little John a structure. He knows he has to do it."
The irony of Daly as rigid disciplinarian will not be lost on many, although plainly this is a case of "do as I teach, not as I do" . The sacrifice may be scoffed at when one considers his previous obsessions, but Daly's commitment can't be doubted.
"He needs five to six hours a day and I teach him with the help of Anna [Cladakis, his girlfriend], who has been brilliant," he said. "The first grade we did with an online teaching course on computer but the second we've done the same course through books. Little John goes everywhere with me, meaning that in practice a rounds I only play nine holes. His education comes first, not my golf. So if I have a late first round on a Thursday, I'll get up early and we'll do his studies and, if it's a late tee-off on Friday, vice-versa. It's been a blessing having him, but it does takes its toll. It's almost a full-time job, Monday through Friday – and then I have to do my day job. But, like I said, it's been a blessing. Little John used to be really shy, but now he's really beginning to open up. He's doing great."
Nothing lasts for ever, however, and Daly knows that the time will soon come when his boy outgrows his tuition, if not the surreal world around him. "My aim is to get him ahead of the grades before January 2015," said Daly. "I've got five years and then I'd be going to the Senior Tour anyway, which would be a limited schedule. I could put him in a school then and not be gone as much. At the moment, though, I can't leave him for more than a week or two. It's hard fo him and it's just as hard for me. We're too used to being with each other. The only time I don't see him is when I'm playing golf."
Little John will accompany Daly and Cladakis on the European Tour next year. Daly also revealed to The Independent that after more than two decades – not to mention $1m of fines – on the PGA Tour he intends to base himself on the European Tour.
"Yeah, my schedule is going to be based around the European Tour instead of the PGA Tour. It's good for all of us," he said. "D'you know, Little John has been around the world twice with me since June? It's been brilliant for his education. And the problem with my golf is I get starts in quite a few tournaments in the States, but there's too far a gap between them. The only way I can get confidence is if I can play week in, week out, and that's why I'll look to Europe. I have a tough time sitting at home."
As a former major winner he can receive unlimited invitations and despite his shenanigans, he remains a draw. Daly, who is still paying off a £1m bill to the US tax office, makes the majority of his money these days from appearance fees. Although he finished in a tie for 22nd at his last tournament, the Hong Open a fortnight ago, Daly's on-course earnings have been on the scant side of negligible.
Alas, as he traversed the golfing globe, textbook in one hand, ripped-up scorecard in the other, he has hit the headlines only for the wrong reasons. And the latest misdemeanour led the Australian Open's tournament director, Trevor Herden, to all but call for a unilateral ban when declaring: "We want it dealt with properly – I would say this is the last time we see John Daly."
Headlines, schmeadlines... Daly has been stumbling past them his entire career. A few weeks after the Melbourne mayhem, he held clear-the-air talks with European Tour officials in Hong Kong, where it is understood he gave assurances as to his future conduct. No doubt the critics will shake their heads and mutter "heard it all before", but surely what we now know he does in what is laughably called his spare time is evidence that he is no longer on that pathway of self-destruction. Daly is off the drink and his health mirrors his family life in being better than ever.
"Everybody has known for me for so many years; when I get mad I get mad," he said. "But I'm 45 and I've just got to learn that you keep going – don't give up. It's been a great year off the course with Little John and everything, but on it it's been a real bad one for golf. So damn frustrating."
Daly documents injuries as the cause of a slump which now sees him at 634th in the world. "For four years I've had a separated shoulder and two fractured ribs and I've never got my confidence back," he said. "Yeah, I came second at the Italian Open in '09, but then my shoulder fell out. And when the cold hits the ribs? I spoke to a few NFL footballers and they've told me it's better if you break the ribs rather then fracture them. Because the pain doesn't go away. But I'm getting there. Hitting the ball well, if I could just put it all together. I still believe I can win."
What he would give to realise that dream here at the glorious Amata Spring Country Club, in an Asian Tour Championship also featuring Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia, Darren Clarke and Charl Schwartzel. "The game has gone global and, as this event shows, it doesn't matter which country you're in or what tour you're on – it's tough to win," said Daly. "Personally, I don't care where I win. Europe, America, Asia, Australia, Africa... I just want to do it again because once I do, I'm sure it'll get something back for me. And then I'm going on the Seniors. The great thing about golf is that it keeps on giving, if you keep on living."
Last night at the Thai Championship Gala Dinner, Daly took to the stage with his guitar and sang a well-received version of "Knocking on Heaven's Door". Asleep in his bed, Little John might have been thinking, "knocking on headmaster's door, more like".
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