In their quest for excellence, most golfers avoid distractions. John Daly collects them. Last Thursday, Groundhog Day, he didn't need to see his shadow. It already has been that kind of a winter. "Last week was the longest week of my life," Daly said. "No sleep. Now this week. No energy. I'm whipped. Can't wait until next week." But first, Big John couldn't wait to see Arizona in his rear view mirror. After only half his second round, Daly withdrew from the FBR Open Friday, putting out on No. 18 with his sand wedge, flagstick still in the cup. For 27 holes, he looked sick and tired, which is how he arrived at the TPC of Scottsdale. "It's always something with John," said Davis Love III. "He takes care of everybody else better than he takes care of himself."
At least they found Daly's trailer. The previous Sunday morning, before he finished a tournament in San Diego, Daly got a call that his merchandise trailer had been stolen in Phoenix. That came only days after wife Sherrie went to jail in Lexington, Ky., to begin her five-month sentence. But a week ago Monday, police found the vehicle untouched, not far from its original parking place beside the restaurant where Daly made his scheduled appearance Tuesday evening. He was there despite the beginnings of food poisoning that would cause him to pull out of Wednesday morning's pro-am.
"Had to be the burgers," Daly said. "We cooked some hamburgers in the afternoon before I went to Hooters. I knew I was in trouble there. Felt awful." Hooters? Didn't John, at Sherrie's behest, drop Hooters as one of his accounts? "I'm back with them," he said. "They've been too good to me. We sell a lot of stuff there and see lots of fans. I don't think Sherrie minds me showing up and signing stuff. It's those beauty pageants. She don't want me judging those things."
The PGA Tour has a rule about no-showing at a pro-am. Unless a golfer has a note from his doctor, he's disqualified from the tournament. With medical clearance, Daly shot 74 Thursday, fueled by Marlboros and Diet Cokes and the appearance of son Little John, who will be 3 in July. "He flew in last night from Arkansas," said Big John. "We've got family and friends looking after him while Sherrie can't. He woke up here this morning at 7, and all he wanted to do is practice golf. Gotta be killing Sherrie to be away from the kids. Finally talked to her the other night. She still hasn't straightened out the visitation business, when I can see her and [when I] can't." Big John grabbed Little John at dusk Thursday, then had to let him go for a few minutes to sign his scorecard. Little John cried. When reunited, they headed for the truck, where Big John couldn't get Little John's car seat to work. What else can go wrong?
"With everything going on around him and his aura, John Daly is like Elvis," said Bo Van Pelt. "Got such a big heart, John. We all love him, so you just don't want to see him wind up like Elvis." Van Pelt was at the Duff's Challenge last November when Daly hurt his hand. A lot of suspicious folks figured John was redecorating another hotel room. He's not supposed to drink, but right there on his TV show every week, "The Daly Planet," he's ordering up another cold one. "Jamie, my brother, slammed a door on me by mistake," Daly said. "That's how I hurt my hand, honest. Things been so good, too, until lately. Got all sorts of endorsements, book is coming out soon, TV show is getting great reviews. But this thing with Sherrie really hit me last week. Don't know when I'm going to be able to see her. I've got all these commitments. It's hard to keep my mind on golf, but what am I going to do? Go home and sulk? Might as well play."
Daly played a little bit last Friday, thousands screaming their affection, but after 40 swings for nine holes, he was done. Last year, Daly posted a WD after an 81. His next tournament will be the Nissan Open. Between now and then, he'll be hither and yon. "John was frustrated," said Jonathan Byrd, his playing partner, a young man of faith who believes you reap what you sow. A lot of guys on the PGA Tour are worrying again about Daly, but as Van Pelt points out, just when you think no human being could handle all those issues, Daly survives.
"Don't know if I could hit a golf ball dealing with what he's dealing with," mused Van Pelt. "But like I said, Elvis." Big John, the doting father, lifted Little John into his arms. They need each other now, more than ever. Big John practices unconditional love, unlike the tough love he occasionally felt from father Jim. "He hit me with everything when he wanted to," said John. "But I don't even spank my kids. Smoke and drink around them. Swear, too. Don't hit them, though. What a week. What a couple weeks this has been. You know they had the IV in me the other night in the van? I was hurtin'. Must have been the burgers."
Without a goodbye, John Daly walked to the parking lot with his crew. By noon Friday, Elvis had left the building.
Bob Verdi is a senior writer for Golf World magazine