John Daly: The Man Who Played Golf Drunk
By: Tommy Zimmer – Noted golfer John Daly didn’t mince words when he told Graham Bensinger, the host of the sports news show In Depth with Graham Bensinger, that he has been drunk during tournaments: “You get in at 7, 7:30 in the morning, and you got a tee time at 8:05, 9 o’clock.” Daly said to Bensinger in June 2016. He told Bensinger he would be out until 7 or 7:30 in the morning even before those early tee times. In other interviews, the golfer admitted that he sometimes played golf drunk or hungover after such incidents.
These incidents are part of a long life of crazy events for Daly, a native of Carmichael, California and graduate of Helias Catholic High School in Jefferson City, Missouri.
He also attended the University of Arkansas, where he would play golf for the school, but left before completing his degree there. Daly became a professional in 1987 and his first victory came that year in the Missouri Open. Two years later, Daly would have his hands full with many different PGA Tour events, including the 1989 U.S. Open and the Chattanooga Classic. The former is where he was able to make his first cut in a major tournament and he finished tied for 69th in this event.
Daly joined the PGA Tour two years later. He achieved success quickly, winning the PGA Championship in 1991. His route to that major victory is as crazy and perhaps improbable as many of the incidents in his life.
Fellow golfer Nick Price dropped out the 1991 PGA Tournament because his wife was giving birth to their child. Meanwhile, eight other alternates were not able to make it to the Crooked Stick Golf Club in Carmel, Indiana for the tournament. Despite being a virtual unknown at the time, Daly earned a score of 69 for the first round. He finished with 69-67-69-71, which pushed him past Bruce Lietzke for a three-stroke victory. The PGA Tour named Daly its rookie of the year in 1991.
As 1992 rolled around, Daly would win the B.C. Open in New York with a six-stroke lead. 1993 brought mixed success for the golfer. Although he did not have any individual PGA Tour wins that year, Daly teamed with Fred Couples and Payne Stewart to win the European Alfred Dunhill Cup.
The Dunhill Cup took place at the Old Course at St Andrews in St Andrews, Fife, Scotland. This course was the site of the Open in 1995 (the British Open), which was Daly’s second major win.
After this victory, Daly began to have problems not only with his golf game but his drinking. Alcohol rehab could have benefited him and he sought help with Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).
In 1997, Daly remarked to Sports Illustrated that his time at Alcoholics Anonymous made a difference in his life. It provided tangible physical reminders, since the golfer used the medals his fans earned at AA to mark where he hit his golf balls on the course: “When I look down there on the green, it reminds me: ‘Hey, you’re all right,’” Daly told Alan Shipnuck. “I need that reminding all the time.”
Such a remark tells us just how much pressure Daly may have felt to do well in his golf game. It can be tough, as Daly’s caddie Brian Alexander mentioned in the Sports Illustrated story. “He has tried hard to level off his emotions, on and off the golf course,” Alexander admitted. “So far it has worked, instead of him going real high and real low like he used to.”
The period of 1996 to 2004 saw Daly win the JCPenney Classic in 1999 and the BMW International Open in 2001. The BMW International Open victory marked his first PGA or European Tour win in six years. Daly began to turn things around in 2004 with his win at the Buick Invitational that year and his selection as the PGA Tour comeback player of the year.
Yet, the rollercoaster ride has continued. Whether or not Daly would be fully exempt and eligible to play in PGA Tour events has become an issue for the golfer in recent years. He faced such exemption issues since his two-year exemption from the 2004 Buick Invitational expired. Daly lost his fully exempt status after 2006. Because of this, he has relied on sponsor invitations to participate in PGA-affiliated events and has participated in events on the Web.com Tour and the European Tour.
He failed to earn a three-year extension of his PGA Tour exemption through 2008 when he placed second at the 2005 WGC-American Express Championship. In this event, Daly competed in a sudden-death playoff with golfing superstar Tiger Woods.
Daly faced another setback when he announced in 2009 that the PGA Tour had suspended him for six months. This was the second such official suspension for Daly, who has also voluntarily removed himself from Tour events on other occasions for personal reasons.
The year 2014 brought mixed results for Daly. In March, he earned a 90 at the Valspar Championship in Palm Harbor, Florida, a career-worst for him. At the end of the year, however, he shot a -15 and won the Beko Classic, which marked his first victory in more than a decade.
When Daly turned 50 on April 28, 2016, he became eligible to play PGA TOUR Champions events. He won the Insperity Invitational on the Tour in 2017, when he shot a 14 under par. Needless to say, over the course of his career, Daly has been an interesting golfer.
The PGA Tour has given Daly multiple orders to find help for his problems, help that could include attending alcohol rehab, finding counseling, or seeking other assistance. The tour has cited him numerous times for behavior unbecoming a professional and displaying poor effort. Nevertheless, he’s one of the most fascinating stories in golf.
Discussing whether he ever drank on the course while playing, Daly’s comments illustrate his complicated personal and professional life: “I never had any alcohol on the golf course that I remember, except for one time, and that was the L.A. Open,” Daly told CBS Sports. “It was so slow and I played the back nine first. I think I’m 2 or 3 over. I went in the locker room and downed like five beers, and I think I shot 4 under on the front nine. That is the only time I know I ever drank during a round, and I played great. I played great that week. I finished strong.”
Tommy Zimmer is a writer whose work has appeared online and in print. His work covers a variety of topics, including politics, economics, health and wellness, addiction and recovery, and the entertainment industry.