Golf: Daly displays the common touch

Click to follow
To win one major might be considered fortunate or even accidental, but to win the Open at St Andrews is, as John Daly would put it, a whole new ball game. His dramatic victory over the Old Course on Sunday provided confirmation that his extraordinary success in the US PGA Championship at Crooked Stick in 1991 was no fluke. Daly has arrived, and what a riotous journey it has been.

"I think this is sweeter than winning the PGA," he said. "I won the British Open in the way I'm supposed to play the game. In 1991 I felt no pressure. No one thought I could win. Here I felt a lot of pressure."

Not many people thought he had the game or the temperament to subdue St Andrews in a gale, and his track record in the Open was dismal.

Twelve months ago at Turnberry, he went to the turn in 32 in the second round, lost a ball on the beach at the 10th, four-putted the 11th for a seven and came home in 40. In the final round he shot 80 and finished last. Turnberry tormented him and he did not have the bottle to knuckle down and fight it. The difference this time is that he likes St Andrews and is familiar with the course, having played well here in the Dunhill Cup.

In the final round on Sunday, Greg Rita, his caddie, told him: "You shot two under in the Dunhill, try and beat that score." One of the keys to Daly's links rehabilitation is that he did his homework. Before the start of the championship, nobody rose from their beds earlier than the former "Wild Thing", who could be seen one morning playing the deserted course at 6am, and by that stage he had reached the 17th.

"To win the Open so early is incredible," he said. "I'm not supposed to win it so young. Maybe I'm learning fast. I thought that I had not played enough courses to win it. But there is something about this course that I love." Even so, there was nothing in his record this year - five missed cuts and nowhere near a leaderboard - to suggest he could win the greatest championship of all.

At Crooked Stick, his prodigious driving overpowered the course and it was felt that the subtleties of St Andrews would confound him. In addition, the wind was gusting up to 50mph, and an indication of how much tougher conditions were from 1990 is that Nick Faldo won at 18 under par, Daly at six under.

Daly's length was, of course, an advantage to him here and he reckoned he could drive six of the par fours, but as Rita pointed out: "For a power player his short game is very underestimated. He has a really good touch around the green and he's pretty imaginative. And when things are going well for him, he's very, very competitive."

Daly celebrated prematurely with his wife, Paulette, after Costantino Rocca, needing a three at the last to tie, duffed his chip in the Valley of Sin. Then the Italian rolled in a monstrous putt - he thought it may have been about 20 yards - and Daly had to leave the wife and get back down to business. Unfortunately, Rocca made the mistake of treating that putt as if it was the ultimate shot of the championship.

Afterwards, he made the astonishing revelation that he wasn't even trying to hole the putt. "To be honest, I was trying to make two putts," he said. It was a heaven-sent break for him and, perhaps understandably, he reacted as if he had won the championship. He did just about everything other than a cartwheel.

The play-off was an anti- climax, but then hardly anything could compare with the drama of the closing holes in the final round. Rocca, the adrenalin still pumping, three-putted the first, lost the second to a birdie, and by the time he was swallowed up in the Road Hole bunker, finally emerging with a seven, Daly had his hands on the old silver claret jug. "I feel OK," Rocca said. "When you go into a play-off, you don't play to be second." Both he and Daly will play in the Dutch Open which starts at Hilversum on Thursday.

Daly, who made a miraculous bunker shot in the fourth round, played brilliantly in the play-off, but added insult to injury to Rocca by raising his arms, gesturing to the crowd to increase their applause. "I'm popular because the common people relate to the problems I've gone through. They don't like me because of my looks." He can say that again.

On Sunday evening he celebrated with two steaks, a tub of ice-cream, large quantities of diet cola and innumerable cigarettes. Not a drop of claret in sight. Not so long ago, the Royal and Ancient would have viewed with trepidation the prospect of the old silver jug falling into Daly's hands. Before and after his breakthrough at Crooked Stick, he was heading for the Hall of Infamy as an all-American drinker and hellraiser.

In 1992, he was charged with battery and harassment of his then wife, Bettye, and after wrecking his home he went into rehabilitation. He has not had a drink since, although that has not stopped him from getting into trouble on the US Tour.

He has been suspended twice, the first time for walking out of tournaments, the second for being involved in a car-park scuffle with the father of another professional. A four-month ban was reduced to three for good behaviour. Every month he sends a urine sample to the Tour, although it is not obligatory.

"As an alcoholic, it is a problem that will never go away," Daly said. "Golf makes me want to drink because it is so stressful, but I'm fortunate because I have people who can help me. I'm lucky to be alive." As a substitute for alcohol, he has turned to gambling and devouring vast quantities of confectionery. "I gamble for fun," he said. "It's not out of control. I do it because I can and it's the most relaxing thing I do besides playing guitars."

Daly has two children by his first two wives, and yesterday he said he wanted 10 more. Winning the Open - Uncle Sam has his hands on all three majors this year with Ben Crenshaw taking the Masters and Corey Pavin the US Open - will enable him to indulge his new passions in life to his heart's content. "He was already set up for life," Bud Martin, his business manager, said. "Now he has the potential to become the greatest earner of all time." It is a sobering thought.