The Open 2015: John Daly had the world on a string at the 1995 Open – he soon squandered it away


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The Independent Online

He has never stolen, nor killed another. In that, at least, John Daly has been faithful to the wishes of his mother.

For all the young jocks out there luxuriating in the easy rush of peak athleticism and talent – yes, Raheem Sterling, I’m talking to you – pay heed to the testimony of Daly, who, 20 years ago, walked out of St Andrews with the Claret Jug and the world on a string, having won his first major, the US PGA Championship, four years earlier.

He returns this week, aged 49, having gambled away more than $50million and enjoyed only a fraction of the success his talent promised. What a golfer Daly presented in that first coming, a blond hammer thrower with the shoulder turn  of Apollo. He did not so much hit a golf ball as detonate explosions on the face of the club.

It all came so easy to him, and he thought today would last forever. The interview he gave to BBC Five Live’s Sportsweek yesterday ought to be compulsory listening for every kid setting out on a professional career in sport – and Sterling.

He did not, he said, put in the work required to deliver on the talent he was given. Now, when he can see the error of his method, his body will not allow him to devote the time that he wants to give. Two years after Daly won the Open, Tiger Woods blitzed the Masters with a brand of power-hitting patented by Daly. But while Daly was carousing his way through the best years of his life, Woods was in the gym or on the range.

Yes, Woods might have developed some of Daly’s proclivities later in the piece, but he never allowed his appetites to interfere with his golf. The reverse was true of Daly who rarely permitted the golf to get in the way of the boozing, the betting, the chemical sorties and the womanising.

His best finish in any major since his Open victory was a tie for 15th at St Andrews a decade ago, his last year as a serious golfer. For the most part you would think Daly a tailor given the number of entries marked “cut” on his major record since St Andrews 1995. The 26 missed cuts outnumber by three the combined total of finishes posted (19) and withdrawals (4) in major championships. 

More telling still are the 30 majors he has not contested in that same period. Daly is at St Andrews courtesy only of his winner’s exemption. His last flirtations with success in big tournaments came at the Shell Houston Open and the WGC-American Express Championship, in 2005, when he lost play-offs in both. Daly banked $750,000 from the latter, then promptly blew twice that sum in the slot machines in Las Vegas.

Daly gives thanks today for the love of a good woman, Anna Cladakis, soon to be his fifth wife. Though they met through her association as a promotions manager at Hooters, the burger chain staffed by busty waitresses, the relationship is not sustained by her bra size. He also has in his custody his three children, one of whom, “little John” he home-tutored.

Though he did not express in words any regret for what might have been on the grounds that it does his psyche no favours to dwell on what he cannot control, it was evident in the cadence of his commentary that he would do things differently were the clock to run in reverse. He would far rather be making his living on the course as a matter of routine, even in these advanced years, rather than flogging gear and signing autographs in a pair of silly trousers from a motorhome in Hooters’ car park on the Washington Road in Masters week.

Sterling is just the latest example of a young lad with talent failing to observe the conventions necessary to sustain a rewarding career. That is not to say, of course, he shares Daly’s extra-curricular enthusiasms, only that his direction of travel has trouble written all over it. Whatever the rights and wrongs of his employment dispute with Liverpool, and responsibility for the breakdown must be shared, it serves neither player nor club well to have reached the present nadir.

Absences from training justified by letters from mum are not the best way for a 20-year-old to proceed on the return to pre-season training. Mind you, what are Liverpool doing demanding £50m for a player they value at “only” £100,000 a week? Something does not add up there.

Daly is grateful today to be surrounded by the right people, something he was not when the world was his to conquer.

A question for Sterling to ponder, perhaps, while he finalises his move to Manchester City, basted in rancour and recrimination.