Golf: Why the Wild Thing had to calm down: The US Tour was right to suspend him, says John Daly, who returns this week. Tim Glover, in Fort Lauderdale, listens to a reformed hell-raiser

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The Independent Online
IF THEY were doing a film it could be called Daly Sings the Blues. As part of his rehabilitation John Daly is learning to play the guitar, a Fender Stratocaster. 'I like 'Knocking on Heaven's Door',' he said. 'It's only got four chords.'

Tomorrow Daly plays golf, his first appearance since being suspended for four months on the US Tour. He is back earlier than expected, earning a month's remission for 'good behaviour'. 'I wouldn't be playing here if I wasn't ready,' he said. Yesterday at Weston Hills GC, the venue for the Honda Classic here, the player referred to as the 'Wild Thing' presented a fresh image to the world.

Daly admitted that his alcoholism - he was drinking a bottle of Jack Daniel's a day - had him knocking on heaven's door. 'I'm lucky to be alive. I want to reach for a beer every day. That stuff is pretty good but I know that if I do I'm not going to live. I was in hospital four times. I even trashed my brother's van. I've always learnt things the hard way. I feel like I'm a boring person since I stopped drinking but I'm healthier.'

Daly stopped drinking at 11.30pm on 21 December, 1992, at a bar called Hooters in Little Rock, Arkansas. He drove back to Colorado and pleaded not guilty to charges of battery and harassment against his wife, whom he is currently divorcing. The previous day a Christmas party at their home ended with the arrival of the police. They say he pushed his wife against a wall and pulled her hair. Daly admits he wrecked his house.

Deane Beman, the US Tour commissioner, told Daly that if he did not seek professional help he would probably be suspended. Daly became a patient at Sierra Tucson, an addiction treatement centre. After plea-bargaining he accepted a two-year probation for harassment and agreed to work with a former Dallas Cowboy, Thomas 'Hollywood' Henderson, the author of a book called Out of Control. 'I don't drink while I'm sober,' is a line Daly has taken from the book.

Although on the wagon he still got into trouble last year. At an event in Portland he deliberately hit a ball over the heads of the crowd. 'You could have killed somebody,' Beman told him. He withdrew in mid-round from the Southern Open and when he picked up his ball during the Kapalua International last November Beman banned him.

Daly says he agreed with the ban but added: 'I'm not the only guy to withdraw from tournaments. A lot of guys make excuses and say they've got an injury. That's being chicken. I'd rather admit I'm playing bad. You won't see me withdrawing from many tournaments this year.'

Daly describes the suspension as a blessing and has used the time working on his game in Palm Springs. 'I'd been running myself ragged. I needed time out. I've gone back to basics and my aim is to focus on every shot. I've cleared my mind. I'm not going to worry about the past. This is a whole new year and it feels pretty good. Last season I didn't play well but I achieved one goal. Being sober felt like winning a major.'

His cigarette consumption has gone up to 'about four packs' a day, accompanied by up to 16 Diet Cokes. Why, he was asked, does he smoke so much? 'You quit drinking and you'll find out,' Daly replied. 'It's hard. You smell it, you see it.' He recalled the time in a tournament when a spectator yelled: 'Why don't you start drinking again. You'll play better.' Then there was the time in a restaurant when 'some guy, half buzzed, came over and burped in my face. I'm not going to let that stuff bother me any more.'

Daly now employs a sports psychologist, Bob Rotella, and will travel the tour in a 40ft bus. No bars, no phones and he can blast away on his Fender Stratocaster without disturbing the neighbours. He took up the guitar at the suggestion of the touring professional Larry Rinker. 'I thought it would be a good thing for John to do,' Rinker said. 'When you give up drinking, cold turkey like he did, there can be 48 hours in the day.'

Daly, who has been practising on his golf for six hours a day, his guitar for four, will play in the Murphy's Irish Open at Mount Juliet, the Open at Turnberry and hopes to play in the Dunhill Cup at St Andrews (he was a member of the winning US team last year) and the World Match Play at Wentworth. 'It's just time I got it together,' he said. 'I feel like I did in my first year on tour.'

It was his achievement in his rookie year in 1991, when he was 25, that helped to create the lifestyle that led to his downfall. It was the US PGA Championship at Crooked Stick in Indiana. He was ninth reserve, drove through the night from Memphis and straightened out Crooked Stick with more long distance driving. He teed it up, his caddie said 'Kill]' and Daly left the field for dead.

He became an overnight sensation and his prodigious driving made him one of the biggest crowd pullers in the game. Wilson, whose clubs he plays, brought out a driver called the Killer Whale. 'I'd been going crazy everywhere for two years since winning the PGA,' he said. 'Last year I cried a lot. It actually was a good year for maturity. I didn't trash anything. I think I handled it really well.'

When Beman, who has announced his intention to resign as commissioner, last saw Daly he was impressed by his appearance. It was that that led to the remission. 'I need the Tour. The Tour can survive without John Daly,' Daly said. 'I've got to be careful about what I do. I'm not going to give up on one shot this week.'

If Jack Daniel's comes calling Daly has a number of people he can consult. He will not, however, ring Alcoholics Anonymous. 'I'm sure they do a good job for some people but I find them too negative. I don't want to hear somebody else's sob story.'

(Photograph omitted)

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