The news that the Australian Masters has signed American John Daly as one its “drawcards” for the 2008 tournament beginning at Huntingdale GC in 10 days’ time shows just how far the Australian golf scene has sunk.
For Daly, now ranked 774 in the world, has not been hired for his talent. He’s been hired because he’s a one-man freak show, a grotesque gimmick, a monstrous circus act like the Amazing Bearded Lady or the Elephant Man.
Unable to attract American players of any real quality to their championship, the Masters organisers have gone down the Lowest Common Denominator route: hire Long John. And hope he creates some headlines.
They’ll be hoping crowds flock to Huntingdale to watch Daly do his thing, egging him on and waiting for the moment he explodes into a rage or racks up a quadruple bogey after losing three drives out of bounds. They’ll be waiting for him to throw a club into a lake, crack open a stubby of his favourite beer Crown Lager on the second hole, drag on a cigarette, hit drives 350 metres (and even find the fairway with one or two of them), abuse a tournament official and then, on Sunday when he’s no chance of winning (and after he’s lost a poultice at Crown Casino the previous night), race around the course in two hours as he hurries to get the first flight out of Tullamarine. Roll up, roll up.
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I’ve seen it happen before, and there’s no reason to think it won’t happen again. In February, 1997 at the Heineken Classic in Perth, Daly shot a third-round 83 and then played the final round in just two hours, 10 minutes, almost hitting shots on the run, angering tournament officials who had paid him a large appearance fee.
In November 2002, playing a week after his mother died, Daly threw his putter and ball into the lake on the 18th green after a 78 in the Australian PGA at Coolum, where he received a $200,000 appearance fee. He was then disqualified for failing to sign his card and fined $5,600 and ordered to write an apology to a tour official he verbally abused. That was his last appearance in Australia.
And on and on it goes. To log the Daly dramas, violations, indiscretions and suspensions would take three of these screens.
Only two weeks ago, Daly’s mug shot appeared in our newspapers, bleary-eyed and dressed in prison-issue orange overalls, after being arrested for drunkenness outside a Hooter’s restaurant in North Carolina.
It is the kind of publicity that seems to accompany the two-time major champion wherever he goes now.
“Nothing is going right in my life right now,” Daly said in a telephone interview with reporters on Sunday.
“I’m going through a hell of a divorce. I haven’t seen my son. It was an unfortunate incident, but it’s a joke what people are saying. I take full responsibility for what happened, but it wasn’t that big of a deal.”
It is such a sad end for a once-fine golfer, who won the 1991 PGA Championship, after famously getting a start in the event as the ninth reserve, then the British Open at St Andrews in 1995. He had a special gift for the game, marrying incredible touch and finesse (despite his hulking frame) with, of course, an ability to blast the ball further than any touring pro had ever hit it.
Now it has gone. Now, he is in a vulnerable and fragile state, clearly having not recovered from his alcoholism. Without a US Tour card since 2006, Daly is grateful for any appearance money that is thrown his way. And it is a sad indictment on the local golf scene that Australian tournament organisers are prepared to pay it — to see this troubled soul do his freak show thing one more time.