John Daly rocked the golf world in 1991 when he won the PGA Championship. A self-taught golfer who’d only recently gone pro, Daly wasn’t even supposed to be playing in the tournament—he was ninth on the alternate list but none of the other eight could make it. He was named Rookie of the Year and received $230,000 for his “zero to hero” win but donated $30,000 to the children of a spectator who’d been struck and killed by lightning.
Daly would go on to win the British Open in 1995, and in 1997 he became the first PGA Tour player to average more than 300 yards per drive over a full season. Nicknamed “Long John,” Daly hit his 300+ yards average every year from 1999 to 2008. His list of accomplishments also include shooting the highest score on one hole in PGA Tour golf history (shooting an 18 on the sixth hole at the Bay Hill Invitational) in 1998, winning the BMW International Open in 2001, and winning the Buick Invitational in 2004, earning the distinction of PGA Tour Comeback Player of the Year.
But over the years Daly earned another kind of name for himself too. His non-country-club style, heavy drinking and antics entertained many people but got him into trouble on and off the golf course. While he often played well, even after binge drinking all night, he was sometimes fined, disqualified or suspended for his emotional outbursts on the green, and he sometimes withdrew from games or quit playing altogether. His stormy marriages, weight problems and excessive gambling added to a sometimes emotional, out-of-control image. Then, in 2008, six months after his swing coach quit because of Daly’s focus on drinking, the golfer was found drunk outside a Hooter’s restaurant and picked up by police.
The negative media attention embarrassed him, prompting him to change in more ways than one. He dialed back on his drinking, got lapband surgery, and focused more of his energy on making music. In 2010, he released his second album, I Only Know One Way. In an interview with Airtime Direct, he said:"The album itself is really my life. All of the songs have a meaning… I hope people can relate to some of the troubles I have had along the way. Everyone around the world has problems, and I want to connect with those people."
Daly also wrote a book about the pressures of his overnight success and rags-to-riches lifestyle, including a final chapter about his high-stakes gambling problem, of which he wasn’t even fully unaware until reviewing his taxes. During the heart of his golf career—1991-2007—Daly gambled and won millions of dollars, but his net losses were much greater than he realized, totalling $55 million. But he says, "It was more about the adrenaline than the money ... I loved the action." He could lose track of time in the casino, sometimes spending two days running at the poker table or slot machines. While his agents tried to help in gain control of his finances, his gambling, his life, for Daly it was all just a bit of fun, and even though he acknowledges his excesses, he does not regret them. "I guess you can say I always liked to take chances. Sometimes it works out. Sometimes it doesn't."
To think about:
- On and off the course, Daly has earned a reputation for emotional outbursts and excessive behaviours. What is the connection between Daly the man and Daly the gambler?
- How is it that Daly can acknowledge gambling away $55 million was “crazy” and yet shrug it off saying, “I did it. I move on from it. I had a lot of fun doing it”?
- How might Daly’s life have been different had he not made so much money playing golf? Do you think that would have changed the impact of gambling in his life? In what ways?