John Daly rides again… this time in a Golf Cart

John Daly rides in a cart Wednesday during a practice round for the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black in Farmingdale, New York. AP Photo/Julio Cortez

John Daly is the kind of professional golfer you think about while shielding your eyes, then chuckling softly to yourself while looking at your shoes. And he’s making headlines again this week, this time for receiving a rare waiver from the PGA Tour that allows him to use a golf cart at this week’s PGA Championship.

For his whole career, Daly has been the symbol of contrasting styles on the PGA tour. He’s had some good years and bad years and he has been embraced as the tour’s unparalleled everyman, who smokes, drinks beer and kicks a golf ball in frustration every once in a while.

Sometimes he steals the spotlight for his fish-out-of-water professional golfing persona, even if he shouldn’t. This is one of those weeks.

For example, a recent Farmers Insurance advertisement shows pro golfer Ricky Fowler harnessed up and towing a golf cart up a hill with his golf bag secured in the back.

Fowler tells the audience, “As coach said, no pain, no gain.”

Masters Champion Tiger Woods – we all know who he is – offered a retort this week concerning the latest John Daly flare up at the PGA Championship, to be held this weekend at the hilly Bethpage Black Golf Course on Long Island. He reminded reporters in his curt, almost Bob Dylanesque style that he won the 2008 U.S. Open while somewhat disadvantaged.

“I walked with a broken leg, so…” ESPN quoted Woods as saying.

When Woods rides high what little empathy he can muster can be as thin as ether.

On the other hand, if there were two opposite images for professional golf, one would be the slim, composed (when things are going well) shot-artist Tiger Woods with his 81 PGA Tour event victories, just one behind the all time leader Sam Snead. The other would be the huffing, puffing, heavy John Daly known for his rip-and-grip style of play that includes some of the longest drives in the history of the sport.

Daly once hit a drive 440 yards in a practice round, playing with Jack Nicklaus prior to the 1993 British Open. His average distance is a tour-leading 306.7 yards. On the other hand, he has also been dubbed “Wild Thing,” and composed is not his middle name. He sits third on the list of all-time worst scores for a single hole on the tour, once notching an 18 after flubbing a few chips, then resorting to kicking the ball before finally making it to the cup.

He has been known to withdraw from an event if he his playing poorly – an impulse professionals tend to resist (with a “tisk, tisk” chorus), while amateurs who have shot just as poorly might concede that giving up and grabbing a beer is a pillar of sanity.

John Daly petitions to use a Golf Cart

This week’s ruckus is focused on Daly’s petitioning the PGA for permission to use a golf cart during one of the sport’s most sacred events, the PGA Championship.

Daly won the right to use a cart by citing the Americans With Disabilities Act that allows for reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities. Daly has osteoarthritis in his right knee that he says prevents him from walking more than four to six holes of a golf course. After four holes, his knee swells up, forcing him to quit for the day, he said recently.

A week ago, he said it was six holes, but who’s counting? Well, Woods and Fowler might be, apparently.

“My knee is screwed,” Daly said. “I had the meniscus cut out. I can walk up a hill, I just can’t walk down one.”

The knee has forced him out of several prestigious events, including the U.S. Senior Open and the British Open last year. In the later, the 53-year-old has an exemption through age 60, which he earned by winning the British championship in 1995.

Last week, Daly, who has diabetes, withdrew from a Champions Tour event in Birmingham, Alabama, citing “massive dizziness.”

But Daly says he is reluctant to give up the PGA Championship, the event that made him a household name among the golfing audience. Daly won the event in 1991 after just barely qualifying, coming in as the final alternate, then gripping, ripping and winning the tournament.

Tour officials allowed him to use a cart with no roof for the event.

All that said, Bethpage Black is famous for its choppy terrain and its grueling 7,459 yards. That might mean 7,459 yards of irreverent quips from fans and fellow golfers, while Daly tries to keep his dignity intact, his focus on the game and his legs underneath him.

And here’s today’s takeaway: If a wounded warrior like Daly causes this much of a stir by using a cart, just think what might happen if he wins. As Bob Dylan might say, “all kinds of hell gonna break loose.”

Timothy Baler
Timothy Baler has been a journalist for three decades and has had his work published in some of the nation's top publications, including The New York Times, The Miami Herald, National Wildlife and many more. He covered the economy for United Press International for eight years, but his true passion is the game of golf. The addiction took hold 20 years ago and since there's no known cure he's been at it ever since. Plays daily seven months of the year, says he goes into mourning for the other five.

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