British Open 2010: John Daly fashions his own peace at St. Andrews

John Daly is hard to miss on the golf course. These days, it's his colorful clothes, not his behavior, that's turning heads.
By Sally Jenkins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 16, 2010

ST. ANDREWS, SCOTLAND You get the feeling that what's in John Daly's head looks like his pants: a lot of swirls, a lot of clashing hues. But it's just possible that the most extreme thing about Daly these days is his clothing. His huge gut is gone, and he claims to be sober. Excess means settling for paisley.

He was startlingly visible on the fairways of St. Andrews in Thursday's opening round of the British Open, in his robin's egg blue cap, salmon pink shirt, violet vest, and those slacks that looked like cheap motel curtains. But there was no drunk-tank behavior, no teeing off on a beer can. There was just a telltale plume of cigarette smoke -- a lingering vice -- and a series of solid, charismatic cracks off the tee, the sounds of strength meeting ease. His seven-birdie opening round of 66 was one of his most aggressive, yet rational, performances in a major championship since he won the 1995 British Open here.

The guy who used to be known as "Wild Thing" apparently is in need of a new nickname. What should we call him now?

"I don't know," he said. "Mild Thing?"

It's risky to say anything definitive about Daly, given the whirls of his personal and professional lives, the heartbreaking dissipation, binges, divorces, and compulsive gambling that caused a winless streak from '95 to 2004. But he may be in the midst of a genuine resurgence.

He staggered through a disastrous 2008 in which he hurt his ribs, earned a six-month suspension from the PGA Tour for unbecoming conduct, and nearly topped 300 pounds. In February 2009 in an effort to get a grip on himself, he decided to undergo gastric band surgery. He says he hasn't had a cocktail since. It's allowed him to see what a little stamina and consistent practice might do for a player whose talent is still rampant.

"I don't know. I'm 44 years old," he said. "I've learned a lot. I have never run from my mistakes. I've always been honest with you guys and everybody around me. You know, it's how you come back. For me, I'm on a comeback."

Daly chose to have the procedure, which restricts the size of the stomach, at the behest of his daughter, who also has undergone it and lost 100 pounds. He says he can no longer tolerate beer, or junk food.

"You just eat different," he says. "I can't eat as much of the bad crap as I used to."

His weight has dropped to 195 pounds, and his drink of choice is Diet Coke. He says the thing he misses most is whole milk, which his stomach can't handle any more either.

"I used to drink a half gal of that a day," he said. "When you were as hungover as I used to be, it was great. Got rid of everything."

Returning to St. Andrews, which Daly calls the site of his most sober major victory, is clearly restorative for him. It has caused him to imagine what it might be like to feel that way again. On the way to the course, before he ever struck a shot, he told his girlfriend, Anna Cladakis, "I love this course. It's home. I'm going to win this thing."

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