Daly's battle with gambling must be pitied not glorified

The 'Wild Thing' has lost £33m and his fans say that makes him one of us, but his story is simply sad. James Corrigan reports
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The Independent Online

Anyone who knows John Daly had a suspicion how he would react last October after missing a three-footer in the sudden-death play-off to hand Tiger Woods the prestigious WGC AmEx Championship: he would get drunk, get mad or get skint. Very quickly.

Thanks to his autobiography, we are now aware he did the latter, just as we now realise the extent of his gambling addiction. And not for the first time, the legend of the "Wild Thing" has a thoroughly pathetic ring to it.

His popularity will only grow because of the revelations in John Daly: My Life In and Out of the Rough as his legions of supporters in redneck America claim his many imperfections prove "JD is one of us".

But how many of them have, even comparatively, blown £33m in gambling over the last decade or so, "doing" an average of £3m a year, or £60,000 a week? Compare that to Wayne Rooney's recent reported loss of £750,000 and it surely puts it into some sort of perspective. No wonder there has been a whisper on Tour that this casino junkie should consider changing his motto, "Grip it and rip it", to "Grip it and roll it".

They were whispering it at the Wachovia Championship in Charlotte, North Carolina, yesterday with no hint of humour, however. Rather there is a feeling of great pity towards the affable 40-year-old that was only magnified by his inability to state categorically in his book whether he has lost $50m (£27m) or $60m (£33m) in the last 12 years. One fellow professional said: "That's $10m gone missing right there - imagine not being able to account for all that?" But when Daly recounts nights like the one last October, it suddenly becomes if not understandable then at least imaginable.

In truth, after running Woods so close on that Sunday evening, Daly's mood should have been of the celebratory nature and not of the destructive variety than saw him reject the exhortations of his entourage to go home to Tennessee. Instead, he jumped in a hire car and drove down from San Francisco to Las Vegas where he found a seat in front of a slot machine. And there he sat, on and off, for five hours, losing almost £1m in the process and half of it in one apocalyptic half-hour. That act alone is a staggering feat of endurance, never mind wrist mobility. So in one day he had won a cheque for £425,000 and emptied his bank of more than twice that amount. Woods, in contrast, was tucked up in bed.

Except that might not be necessarily true as even the world No 1 has been exposed as a lover of casinos and has been hit by a curse that seems to plague the modern game. In the world of professional golf, losses are as relative as they are in football, but the trend does seem to be getting out of hand and rumours persist of one well-known player accepting a multi-million-pound switch of club manufacturers to wipe away spiralling debts.

He might even have got the idea off Daly, who did that himself in 1997 when a Callaway endorsement dug him out of a £2m gambling hole. But two years later Daly was back in it, confessing that in that decade he had lost $51m, but won $43m. Callaway ordered him to enter rehab - he had already been treated for alcoholism - and Daly left after a day, despite Callaway offering to pay off his remaining debts should he complete his course. Instead, Daly went to, yes, Las Vegas, where "I had a few pops, a gamble and a really great time". But he had just lost another £1.4m of earnings in the process.

Daly seemed unbothered though, just as he does now when claiming in his book that he has beaten the alcohol, the personal demons and that "gambling remains my only problem". That would be more than enough for most of us, but in truth Daly probably still has all three. Although he has kicked the Jack Daniels, he can still be seen on his American TV reality show knocking back the beers and his present wife's whereabouts underlines the solidity of his private existence. Sherrie Miller Daly is serving a five-month sentence on a federal change involving a drug ring and an illegal gambling operation.

The irony is that Daly has never been so in demand as his game has made a remarkable turnaround and his marketing potential has followed. Daly is unarguably, next to Woods and Phil Mickelson, the biggest draw on the PGA Tour - earning a reported £4m a year off the course - and that probably accounts for the guarded statement of Tim Finchem.

On Monday, the Tour's commissioner had Daly in his office to remind him of "the need to uphold the image and standards of the Tour". Finchem also stated that no action would be taken against their errant superstar, no demand for him to have counselling, no plea to go back into rehab. Meanwhile, the fans continued to pour through the gates for a glimpse of the "Wild Thing".

Others who like a flutter...

Michael Jordan

The "most famous man in America" tearfully admitted on television last year that he was embarrassed by his addiction to gambling and said his weakness arose from a desire always to win. Alas, he had already lost millions at casinos and playing golf.

Wayne Rooney

Before the broken metatarsal came the burnt fingers as the 20-year-old compiled a £750,000 debt in five weeks on racing, football and greyhounds. The controversy was not helped because he owed monies to an 'associate' of England striking partner, Michael Owen.

Paul Merson

The original and still the most contrite. The Arsenal forward provided one of the more uncomfortable few minutes in live television history when breaking down at a 1994 press conference and admitting his cocaine and gambling addictions.

Pete Rose

The Hall-of-Famer, nicknamed 'Charlie Hustle', was banned from baseball for life in 1989. The great switch-hitter was accused of betting on his team the Cincinatti Reds while he was both a manager and a player, sometimes for as much as £10,000 a throw.