John Daly, as he prepares to embark on his second golf career, can’t help but wonder how much more successful his PGA Tour run could have been had he possessed a sounder body and mind in his glory days.
Daly, who turned 50 on April 28, reflected during a teleconference ahead of his Champions Tour debut this week at the Insperity Invitational on how he might have bettered his five-win, two-major PGA Tour career.
"I'm kind of satisfied with everything in the 2000s. My mind was right, and I did everything I could to try and win golf tournaments," said Daly, whose last PGA Tour win came in 2004 at the Buick Invitational.
It was the decade before, though, when Daly made his mark, improbably capturing the PGA Championship in 1991, the 1995 Open Championship, and two more titles in between. Back then, he was the longest hitter on tour, slamming balls more than 300 yards when such distances were considered novelties, and a blue-collar hero to many fans who never stopped cheering him on despite his many missteps inside the ropes and out.
His personal life, which included four wives, allegations of domestic violence, gambling problems, and substance abuse, was so out of control that fellow golfer Fuzzy Zoeller bet him $150,000 he would not live to see 50. Daly joked that he would take his winnings in Fuzzy’s Vodka.
On the course, Daly accumulated huge numbers, like the 18 he carded on the sixth hole of the 1998 Bay Hill Invitational and the 11 citations for behavior "unbecoming a professional," as ESPN.com’s Bob Harig noted.
Those incidents, plus the many injuries that have plagued him through the years, were likely what Daly had in mind when he lamented his lost opportunities.
"I wish I would have had the mental attitude back in the '90s like I do now," said Daly, who credited his fifth wife, Anna Cladakis, with stabilizing his life. "I think I wasted my talent in the '90s, especially towards the later part of the '90s. All the money was coming in, and I didn't work hard enough at it. I didn't do the right things to prepare myself to win golf tournaments. You know, that's definitely on me, and I admit that … I think my mental attitude is 10 times better than it was in the ‘90s."
Daly lost his PGA Tour card in 2007 and has gotten by on exemptions from sponsors who recognize that the man is still a powerful draw. As the Champions Tour awaits, Daly acknowledged that his game was not where he wanted it to be and that he was relying on a steady schedule to whip it into shape.
"It's just going to be a confidence builder as the weeks go on because I'm pretty rusty right now not playing a lot of golf in the last nine months," he said.
The Champions Tour’s 54-hole, no-cut events could be just what Daly needs to revitalize his once-promising career.
"Growing up, I didn't have anybody coaching me on how to manage a golf course and definitely how to manage my life," he said. "Right now I'm in a great place, and I just wish I had the physical ability now that I had in the '90s. It would be probably a lot more fun."