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".

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Talent Manager / HR Manager - central London - £50,000

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Talent / Learning & Development Mana...

HR Manager (standalone) - London

Up to £40,000: Ashdown Group: Standalone HR Manager role for an SME business b...

HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350-£400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350 - £400 per ...

HR Manager - HR Generalist / Sole in HR

£30000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - HR Generalis...

Day In a Page

Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?