Daly the larger than life enigma from a bygone age

Click to follow
The Independent Online

As much in his private life as in his golf, nobody represents this better than John Daly. Daly is a model of inconsistency. A surprise winner of The Open at St Andrews 10 years ago, when he defeated Costantino Rocca in a four-hole play-off, Daly's career since then has pretty much moved sideways. One of the longest hitters the game has ever known, and with a fine touch around the greens, Daly can shoot the lights out one day and drop out of sight the next. He has paid for such inconsistency at the Opens since his triumph, missing the cut five times, including last year at Troon when a first-round 70 was followed by a 78.

Even by his own extreme standards, Daly arrived here this week looking seriously out of shape, his midriff dangling inelegantly over his trousers. Odds-makers do not expect him to be in contention but only a few in the field will attract larger galleries. The reason is simple. In an era of automated golf, concentrated coaching, sports psychologists, fitness trainers and nutritionists, Daly remains his own man. Golf fans are drawn to his boldness. If Daly reaches for his driver they murmur in anticipation. If club selection indicates a conservative move they groan in disappointment. Most swings are about 380 degrees. Daly's is at least 580. It starts somewhere between his knees and his navel on the backswing and goes around three or four times before it hits the ball.

When he makes perfect contact, the ball goes screaming out of there and almost comes down glowing. When Daly miscues you need a pack of hounds to find it. Greg Normanprobably had Daly's name in mind when he bemoaned the disappearance of charismatic golfers. "Young players look much the same," he said. "They are so concerned about protecting a professional image that they fail to show their personalities. You don't see a Craig Stadler out there any more, hardly any characters. Seve [Ballesteros] was great to watch because you never knew what to expect. There are some outstanding players out there but how many of them capture the public's attention?"

When Ernie Els first came to prominence he was determined to enjoy himself, to take a broader view. "I wanted to win majors, to be the best," I remember him saying, "but I wasn't going to let golf dominate me. If you can't do that, make time to relax and for my family, what's the point?"

Many of today's players convey the impression that they are stumbling about in a fog because their 20-20 vision is focused sharply on a single problem in life, the golf swing. Thus, in technique, one player looks very much like another. Idiosyncratic movement is rare.

Golf is a game in which the worst thing that can happen to you is a ball out of bounds.Hardly anyone needs crutches and the bleeding is internal. A golfer's idea of trauma is a bare lie or a ball plugged in sand. You don't have to run fast, tackle hard or knock anybody down. Tournament players go through life with a suntan. An exceptional gift for golf is like finding money.

Whether this remains the case depends on the younger generation. Daly, on the other hand, does not have to make a case for himself. If the idea appeals he will reach for his driver and belt the hell out of the ball. There is a more conservative way to negotiate the St Andrews links, but in this over-coached sporting world there is a lot be said for Daly's philosophy.