Tom Sorensen

Victory for John Daly, golf’s underground reminds me of the day I joined

John Daly has an underground, and they came to the surface for his first Champions Tour win on Sunday.
John Daly has an underground, and they came to the surface for his first Champions Tour win on Sunday. AP

There exists a John Daly underground, and I’m a member. Some of us are golf fans who like a changeup. Some of us care more about the characters who play the game than the game. Some of us like to drink beer and burp loudly.

Whatever the reason, our guy finished first in the PGA Champions Tour Insperity Invitational on Sunday. Daly, 51, won the seniors’ event, his first victory since the Buick Invitational in 2004.

If NASCAR had any luck, Daly would drive not a golf ball but a race car. He’s a good ol’ boy’s good ol’ boy. Think what racing promoters could do with him.

At the 2005 U.S. Open in Pinehurst, Daly was paired with Phil Mickelson, and you could tell whom fans were pulling for before the golfers reached the first tee.

Mickelson’s fans were circumspect and proper. They clapped rather enthusiastically, and when they finished sipping wine from a long-stemmed glass, they simply handed it to the help.

Daly’s fans carried an aluminum can of beer in each hand. They didn’t bring help. Some were the help. Mickelson’s fans cheered as if they were on a blanket at a polo match. Daly’s fans cheered as if they were in right field bleachers. Pig sooie was shouted on every fairway and almost every green. Daly moved to Arkansas when he was four, and played golf there.

Said Daly: ”I’ve got the drinkers on my side … and the smokers, the eaters. We love life.”

The Masters, of course, is the grail, and even when Daly was no longer qualified to play, he drove to the tournament’s suburbs. He would park his souvenir rig in a parking lot on the other side of Washington Road, and on long tables sell his gear. If Augusta National is Manhattan, Daly was in New Jersey.

A New York reporter filed a blog early one morning that said Daly was across the street but not talking to the media. Nah, can’t let him off so easily. I hustled over and from his table picked up a John Daly autographed cap.

(I am philosophically opposed to autographs for adults. They’re for kids, kids who regularly get pushed aside. If I ran the world, you could ask for an autograph only from people who are older than you are. Be rough for the Carolina Panthers’ Thomas Davis and NASCAR’s Mark Martin. But it would be good for almost everybody else.)

I handed Daly $20, told him who I was and who I worked for, and he said I could hang around but that he’d be working. Works for me. Many fans joined me in New Jersey, and were in awe when they saw him.

Daly had a rhythm. Pull out a cigarette, smoke the cigarette, toss the cigarette onto the asphalt lot. He’s also not the hulking guy he’s often portrayed as. I’m 5-9 and I could have posted him up, not that I would have.

Why do we like Daly, who has long been peripheral to his sport?

We like him because he grips it and rips it. We like him because he appears to spend no time in the weight room but blasts his drives anyway. We like him because he seems like a regular guy in a sport where athletes dress up and the unconventional are dressed down. We like him because his life is as messy as ours. We like him because he’s different. We like him because he has fun.

Congratulations, John. Welcome back.

Tom Sorensen is a retired Charlotte Observer columnist. Sign up for his newsletter, and follow him on Twitter: @tomsorensen

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