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Daly comes in from the cold
For those who have followed the roller-coaster career of John Daly, the respite of his win last week in San Diego was refreshing. His win was also refreshing for the US Tour as well as for those trying to make a living off it, for things well getting decidedly dull. With Tiger Woods playing like a mere accomplished mortal, there was little to get excited about for, although Vijay Singh may be a remarkable man, charismatic he is not.

The resurrection of John Daly has not come a moment too soon.

John Daly was refreshing for golf from the outset of his career. Few will forget his burst onto the scene all these years ago when he got a place in the 1991 PGA Championship after Nick Price had to cancel. It was fairy-tale stuff when he went on to win it and he has performed fairy-tale stuff ever since for no one can watch Daly on a tee without expressing disbelief.

His swing was never pretty - but then nothing about Big John is - and it flew in the face of orthodoxy. Indeed, nothing about this 280lb big All-American 37-year-old is, ever has been or ever will be, orthodox. He is one of the most sought after and popular players on the Tour even although he himself says that he is 'just a good ol' boy'. The fact that he is certainly that does not in itself explain his enduring popularity. Like Arnold Palmer before him, who also enjoyed the 'good ol' boy' image, John Daly induces affection that is not the product of hyped press profiles or the consequence of shrewd marketing. Daly looks, swings and behaves like someone that every punter is familiar with - if not the guy next door, then someone that you are at least familiar with at the club. He is the average lad who has made good despite everything and as such he is a towering beacon of hope for us all.

No one could ever have made John Daly. No coach, no manager, no guru peddling psychobabble could ever have made an impression on this wholly natural, vulnerable man with no pretensions to being anything other than himself, and we love him for it. Anaesthetised by the hype and ballyhoo that has pervaded the game post-Mark McCormack, John Daly is as refreshing as spring rain and as heart warming as summer sunshine.

Special people like Daly never do anything ordinary for everything they do is extreme. His win last week in the Buick invitational was his first since his Open title at St Andrews in 1995. St Andrews will never forget him because he provided the spectacle of solid golf with Costantina Rocca that contained no farce like floundering about in a burn or histrionics over missed tiddler putts. He played like a champion golfer and he looked the part too. He was at work and he looked as if he were at work. His expression never changed as he took the good fortune with the bad while simply playing on to give of his best. He also didn't look as if he were enjoying himself too much. To the ingrained Calvinistic Scots of St Andrews the fact that he appeared to be going through hell while making all that money was especially endearing. Rocca, on the other hand, carried his heart on his sleeve - which is really for wiping your nose with.

Daly had not won in 189 US Tour starts since winning the 1995 Open Championship. The fact that he has come back after a decade in the doldrums is significant. There have been promises of a comeback in the past as he has entered and left rehabilitation clinics. Vows to begin again after accepting divorce papers as he stepped off the 18th green at Augusta and promptly remarried. A new man even threatened to emerge when he walked off the course in the middle of a US Open to get himself back together again. This time things appear to be different for he seems to have accepted himself for the person he is. Let's hope that those about him have learned to leave well alone.

Daly would appear to have rediscovered the values of the simple life. He has lost weight, nearly 50 pounds but isn't paranoid about losing any more for he has been down that road already. He enjoys his food and his beer and accepts, as with his smoking, moderation is what is important. He is avoiding the irritations of flying by simply travelling by bus - albeit a bus that is essentially his home on Tour, equipped with three 42-inch plasma TV screens and every other modern convenience one can think of plus some more. He has just released a country music album which is getting rave notices and is appropriately entitled 'My Way', the proceeds of which go to the Make a Wish Foundation. Big John looks as if he is on the right road doing it his own inimitable way.

Last week was no flash in the pan. If he needed to make it known that he was back in earnest he could not have chosen a better venue than the old and revered Riviera course in Los Angeles. This weekend, he continued to play wonderful golf to the delight of the whole golfing world and take a creditable fourth place. The collective corporate sight of relief from every department of the media in LA could be heard in Wall Street.

©    23 - FEBRUARY 2004

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