It’s somehow fitting that as the world’s best golfers gather at the very prim and proper Oakmont Country Club in Pennsylvania for this week’s US Open, the game’s great misfit John Daly should be stealing the headlines after another domestic stoush – this one with wife No.4, Sherrie.
Daly turned up for the second round of the Memphis St Jude Classic on Friday with red welts and scratches on the side of his face, telling police his wife had attacked him with a steak knife that morning. It is the latest in a long, long line of off-course incidents that have overshadowed his occasionally brilliant play — two trips to alcohol rehab, outrageous tales of gambling losses, trashed hotel rooms, tour suspensions and, of course, four marriages. One chapter in Daly’s autobiography was entitled “All My Exes Wear Rolexes”.
Obviously, he is an easy target for mockery, especially when his behaviour is measured against that of the clean-cut, bible class-attending college boys who seem to infest the US PGA Tour these days.
But, on the matter of golfers and divorce, there’s a bit of a theme developing here. The Daly incident comes a week or so after divorce proceedings between Greg Norman and his wife of 25 years, Laura, turned nasty.
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Norman experienced a Jean van de Velde moment in the divorce courts of Florida where he found the equivalent of a water hazard, several unplayable lies and an out of bounds. He now looks like racking up a triple-bogey of a divorce settlement with his former air stewardess wife, whom he met on a flight in 1980.
The Shark must have felt the closing holes on a major championship were a doddle compared to this increasingly bitter and very public wrangle. At least then his opponents were other golfers wearing plaid pants, not some of the most vicious, avaricious and unscrupulous opponents of all — US divorce lawyers.
The world’s former No.1, who won two British Opens and dozens of other international events besides, is the latest high-profile golfer to run into marital strife. In the past few years, Nick Faldo has been divorced from his third wife, Valerie. Seve Ballesteros, Tom Watson, Colin Montgomerie, Fred Couples, Robert Allenby and now Norman head the list of top-line linksmen who’ve split from their wives, and they’re just the ones we know about. Even the queen of the women’s game, Annika Sorenstam, has recently slipped on the marital banana skin.
Norman’s empire — which includes a golf course design business, chain of restaurants, clothing label, and wine growing and turf production companies — has been valued at US$300million. He stands to have a shark-sized chunk bitten out of that. And the prospect doesn’t please him.
According to Florida’s Vero Beach Press-Journal, Norman’s lawyers have filed a new petition in a Florida court downplaying the influence Laura Norman had on her husband’s prolific golf career. Norman is asking for a greater share than his wife of the fortune accumulated during their marriage.
“The wife did not teach the husband to swing a golf club,” the petition from Norman’s lawyers states. “The wife did not teach the husband to win. All of those teachings were the product of diligent hard work by the husband prior to this marriage.”
Provocatively, the petition also claims Norman’s contribution to raising the couple’s two children, Morgan-Leigh, 24, and Gregory, 20, “were extraordinary and far exceeded the contributions of the wife”. The new petition has all but dashed hopes of a quiet resolution and a public trial seems more likely.
Norman filed divorce papers in June last year, shortly before being seen with the former American tennis queen Chris Evert on his arm. Evert had earlier filed for divorce last year from her husband of 18 years, skier Andy Mills. Before this messy swap, the Normans and Mills were great family friends. Not any more.
Anyway, against that backdrop of domestic upheaval among the game’s one-time elite, the 107th US Open will begin at Oakmont on Thursday night (Australian time).
Australia’s Geoff Ogilvy will defend the title he sensationally won last year, after Colin Montgomerie then Phil Mickelson completely butchered the final hole at Winged Foot, handing the championship to the unfancied Melburnian.
Ogilvy will have his work cut out this time, though, being paired with Tiger Woods over the opening two days. That, and the enormous galleries Tiger generates, will test Ogilvy’s mettle every bit as much as the layout and its expanded eighth hole, a par three which measures an astonishing 260 metres (yep, 2-6-0 metres) from the back tee.
Ogilvy’s three-year marriage to his Texan wife, Juli, has produced a 10-month-old daughter, Phoebe. Tiger and his wife, Elin, are expecting their first child next month. So peace, love and domestic harmony will rule the fairways for this pair, at least.
Meanwhile, back home in Cordova, Tennessee, Daly will be licking his wounds — almost literally — and wondering whether he might ever get to find that serenity in his life.