Leonard Shapiro, Sports Columnist
Teeing Off

Daly's Autobiography Signals a Need for Intervention

By Leonard Shapiro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 3, 2006; 7:11 PM

A few years ago, the wife of one of John Daly's long-time friends told me she and her husband trembled at the sound of late night telephone calls, fearing that one of those nights it could only be bad news about the loveable Bad Boy of the PGA Tour.

The hard-cover equivalent of one of those late night calls is about to hit bookshelves nationwide - Daly's ghosted autobiography "John Daly, My Life In and Out of the Rough" from HarperCollins. Daly will try to help book sales - and as usual, hurt his already tarnished image - by appearing in a segment of "60 Minutes" on Sunday, and you can be sure there will be none of the fawning softball questions for Daly that Ed Bradley lobbed at Tiger Woods on the same program last month.

In the book, Daly talks about running up between $50 and $60 million in gambling debts over a 10 to 12-year period, yet another on his long list of demonizing addictions. It's hard to imagine that a man who has only won $8.7 million since turning professional in 1987 could rack up those sorts of losses, despite a number of lucrative equipment and other endorsement contracts over the years.

The total seems a bit excessive, designed more to grab a few more headlines, and the better to sell more books. And yet, knowing the size of credit lines the sleaze-bucket casinos in Las Vegas, Atlantic City and all across America extend to their so-called high rollers (a euphemism for biggest losers), maybe it really is true.

If so, Tim Finchem, the commissioner of golf, needs to do more than simply have a little chat with Daly, as he reportedly did Monday at the Wachovia Championship in Charlotte.

Certainly, Daly is well within his rights to blow his money legally any place he'd like, whether it's on $5,000 slot machines or his previously well-documented addictions - Jim Beam (though he says he's been off that sauce for a while); cigarettes, Diet Cokes, M&Ms, wives (he's on No. 4 now) and trashed hotel rooms. This is a guy who, after winning the '95 British Open, spoke frankly about driving like a maniac and occasionally contemplating suicide by steering himself off a cliff.

The fans have loved Daly since he won the 1991 PGA Championship at Crooked Stick, a no-name ninth alternate into the field who started bombing drives 325 yards on a regular basis and had the short game of a magician.

Many of his peers have said they've only seen one man with more skill on a golf course than Daly, and that would be Tiger Woods.

Several have also said they've never seen such a talented player squander such god-given talent, leaving them to wonder how good he could have been if only he'd focused on the right stuff. The man has won two major championships, but only five events overall, and only one since his triumph at the '95 British Open at St. Andrews.

"If I don't get control of my gambling, it's going to flat out ruin me," Daly laments in his new book, adding that he's spent a good part of the last ten years trying to pay off his debts.

The PGA Tour is always talking about its players being independent contractors, and not subject to the same sort of governance that applies to athletes in other major team sports. But this may be one time when Finchem needs to take some sort of significant disciplinary action, if only to protect the integrity of his sport, not to mention the well-being of one of his most charismatic and popular players.

Let's just take a hypothetical scenario. Daly goes into the final round of a tour event tied for the lead with say, Chris DiMarco. They're both six shots clear of the field, and it's fairly safe to assume that obviously one or the other is going to win. Let's say Daly gets a call the night before the final round from one of the casino bosses to whom he owes money.

"Hey John, we're getting a ton of action backing you to win," the boss says. "We need you to lose. If you do, we'll forget about the $3 mill you owe us. You just can't win."

So Daly loses. But maybe, he tanks. Maybe he hits a putt wide right of the hole. Maybe he just missed. Maybe he bombs a drive in the water. Maybe it was just a bad swing. Maybe he leaves a shot in the sand. Maybe he had a bad lie. Then again, maybe he purposely botched all three, or maybe he didn't. How could we tell? But he definitely loses the match, and essentially wins the $3 million.

Does any of this sound far-fetched? And now that we know Daly has this gambling problem, can we ever look at his performance on a golf course again and not wonder if perhaps his play is really always on the up and up?

I'm not advocating that Finchem ban Daly from the game. But the guy obviously needs help. He says so in his own book. Wouldn't Finchem be wise to suspend Daly, order him to enroll in and complete a program that might help him deal with this latest addiction, and only then allow him to return to the tour?

Finchem was quoted by the Associated Press as saying Daly has, "significant personal challenges."

But he's always had significant personal challenges, and always has been allowed a virtual free pass by the commissioner. This time, it would be best for Daly, and even better for the integrity of the PGA Tour, for Finchem to help force him to deal with those challenges. It's certainly a better option than trembling at the sound of a telephone ringing late at night.

Leonard Shapiro can be reached at Badgerlen@hotmail.com.

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