The celebration for John Daly began the day he became eligible for the PGA Tour Champions.
Not just because he turned 50, rather the fact he made it to 50.
“You know about that bet I had with Fuzzy, don’t you?” Daly said over the phone last week as he grilled his birthday dinner — pork chops and rice — at Cowboys Golf Club in Dallas. “Fuzzy (Zoeller) said I’d never make it to 50. He said, ‘I’ll give you $150,000 if you make it to 50.’ I told him I’d have to take that bet. I told him I wouldn’t be able to pay him if I was dead. I called him the other day and he said: ‘That’s right. I do remember making that bet.’
“But I’m not going to make him pay,” Daly said. “I told him he could give me a free bottle of his vodka.”
The PGA Tour Champions has been referred to as golf’s greatest mulligan. Daly knows something about that.
“Just being out there, it’s like I have a new job,” he said. “A new life.”
Serious or not, there’s a reason Zoeller made that bet. From the drinking and gambling, four divorces, two trips to alcohol rehab and the parade of demons and doubts in his head, it’s a wonder Daly made it this far.
There are enough wild adventures to fill a book, so Daly wrote one 10 years ago — “John Daly: My Life In and Out of the Rough.” Among other things, Daly revealed that his second daughter (Sierra) was named after a rehab center in Arizona where he spent three months. He is honest to a fabulously entertaining fault.
Next up is the 50-and-older circuit.
Daly makes his debut this week at the Insperity Invitational outside Houston, where tournament officials are expecting attendance to double.
“There’s a lot of anticipation, a lot of excitement,” tour president Greg McLaughlin said.
The PGA Tour Champions features 54-hole events with no cuts, good news for a guy who has missed 209 cuts in his PGA Tour career. Still in play are big numbers (Daly has 68 rounds of 80 or higher on the PGA Tour) and early exits (he has withdrawn 38 times).
Exactly which Daly is going to show up is one of many reasons he remains so popular.
“I’m going to enjoy it,” Daly said. “It’s going to be fun. I don’t know how I’m going to play — good or bad, we never know that. But just to be out there, having a schedule, that’s going to be awesome knowing where I can play.”
Daly has more flaws than PGA Tour victories, another reason for his appeal. Most people have a relative like Daly, just not one who can launch tee shots over 300 yards and win two majors before turning 30.
His wild ride began 25 years ago this summer when he drove through the night to Indiana as the ninth alternate, and without ever having seen Crooked Stick, gripped and ripped his way to a stunning victory in the PGA Championship.
It went downhill from there, until another climb that was just as surprising when he won the British Open at St. Andrews. He has gone full speed and slammed on the brakes. He has zigged and zagged. And it’s all documented in a rather large dossier at PGA Tour headquarters known as his disciplinary file.
The PGA Tour has suspended him at least twice, and another time Daly agreed to sit out six months. Years later, Daly was asked if he agreed to take that six-month break to avoid being suspended. “Hell, I’ve been suspended so many times, I can’t remember,” he replied.
Even though the tour doesn’t disclose its punishment, Daly does. He once called The Associated Press after hearing rumors that he had been suspended for life. Daly wanted to set the record straight — the suspension was only six months.
He has thrown his driver over a fence and into a lake. He made an 18 on the sixth hole at Bay Hill (and followed that with a birdie 2 on the next hole). One year in Australia, he hit seven shots into the water until he was out of golf balls and walked off the course.
No wonder there is so much talk about what kind of spark — interest, at the very least — Daly can bring to the PGA Tour Champions.
Daly is nervous about his debut because he has played only twice this year — the Qatar Masters and the Puerto Rico Open. He has commitments to play twice on the PGA Tour (Reno and Greenbrier) but otherwise will be with guys who now are his own age.
Daly last won on the PGA Tour in 2004 at Torrey Pines. He lost his card two years later and has had to rely mainly on sponsor exemptions ever since. Different from other players in that predicament — much different — Daly had so many offers that he had to choose which ones to turn down.
They are clamoring for him again, and this makes him feel good, even though he still doesn’t understand the fuss.
“I hope I bring something to the table on the Champions tour,” he said. “I hope I sell tickets, play well and do good out there.”