Brooks Koepka was doing what he does at majors — play extremely well — Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson were holding their own and then there was Tiger Woods, trying to author a sequel to his stunning triumph at the Masters.
And for more than a few fans Thursday at the PGA Championship, there was only one golfer worth following. You know, the guy riding the cart.
Or, to paint a better picture, riding the cart while pounding cigarettes, wearing garish, Yankees-themed pants and slurping Diet Coke from a McDonald’s cup. That decidedly unusual sight was provided, of course, by John Daly.
Playing at Long Island’s Bethpage Black Course thanks to a medical exemption granted under the Americans With Disabilities Act and by virtue of his 1991 victory in the tournament, the two-time major winner delighted fans even as his arthritic knee appeared to cause him considerable discomfort.
The juxtaposition between the enjoyment Daly provided for swarms of patrons and what he himself felt was encapsulated by an exchange that went viral. As he got into his cart, parked near a gallery, Daly was asked how his knee was feeling and replied, “Like [expletive]."
That produced a huge laugh from everyone but the golfer himself (warning: embedded video contains profanity).
After shooting an opening-round score of 75 that put him in a tie for 112th among the 156-player field, Daly said his knee was approximately the “size of a softball.” He added that he’d much prefer to walk the course like every other competitor, not to mention his caddie, but using the cart was the only way he could participate.
“It’s very awkward. It’s to a point where it’s almost embarrassing,” Daly said (via ESPN). “But I love the PGA, and I’m a past champion.
"There’s no way I could walk it. But I feel like I belong to play since I’m a past champion, and I just feel obligated. I really want to play.”
Daly was paired with two other past winners of the event, both of whom held off Woods at Minnesota’s Hazeltine National Golf Club: Rich Beem (2002) and Y.E. Yang (2009). “He’s literally in pain,” Beem said of Daly. “I saw him getting into that bunker on 17, and I thought he might go down getting into it. He’s out there battling.”
Beem also noted that Daly received “some grief” about receiving a cart exemption. Some of that was provided on Tuesday by Woods, who referred to his 2008 U.S. Open win in telling reporters, “I walked with a broken leg, so . .. ”
Daly responded Wednesday that he wished Woods had “all the facts” about his condition, which Daly said couldn’t simply be fixed by surgery. “Trust me, if I could walk, I would walk,” he claimed after his opening round. “I’ve always felt like I play better when I walk."
Using the cart Thursday made Daly the first to do so during a major championship since Casey Martin at the U.S. Open in 1998 and 2012. If some fellow pros weren’t thrilled by his exemption, fans at Bethpage were much more supportive.
“Way to go Johnny!” one shouted at Daly (via the AP), while another chirped, “Go, Johnny, go."
“It’s your world, John,” one yelled to him (per ESPN). “We’re just living in it, baby.”
“You know what, the guy can barely walk,” a Nassau County resident attending the tournament told the AP. “His knee is completely destroyed. He has no cartilage, the meniscus is torn off the bone. Is [the cart] really an advantage? He’s not going to make the cut. He is a fan favorite. He brings a big crowd following him. It’s good for golf.”
Given the locale, of course, at least a few wiseguy remarks were also sprinkled in. At one point a fan let Daly know he wasn’t making it clear enough that he needed the cart. “Johnny you gotta sell it, limp a little,” the man exclaimed (via Sports Illustrated).
“New York fans are great,” Daly said. “Some of them are going to get on you, but 99.9 percent of them are great. They’re good fans.”
Of using the cart, he said, “I’m not one that wants to ride all the time. It’s just that if I don’t, I’m not going to be able to play.”