John Daly: Biography of the Golf Champion

John Daly demonstrating his signature golfing style in 1992

Gary Newkirk / Getty Images

John Daly burst onto the golf scene with booming drives and a major championship victory. But controversies often sidelined his career.

A fan favorite his entire career, John Daly came out of nowhere to win a major championship, then had his golf career consumed by a series of off-course problems including drinking, gambling, and divorces. His life often seemed a soap opera, and the controversy around him often obscured his ability to play remarkable golf.

Early Life and Debut

Daly grew up in Arkansas and played collegiately for the Razorbacks. He turned pro in 1987 and won on the Nationwide Tour in 1990. Almost nobody had heard of him when, in 1991, he got into the PGA Championship as the ninth alternate.

Without even the benefit of a practice round, Daly—with his mullet haircut and grip-it-and-rip-it approach—started booming prodigious drives with a swing that went way past parallel on the way back. He played fantastically, with a long game that would always overshadow what was often a very delicate short game.

Daly won that tournament, and his legend as a good ol' boy, cigarette dangling from his lips, was born. Beloved by fans he was the antithesis of the tour's country club image.

Controversies

He followed that debut with wins in 1992 and 1994 but was already beginning to experience problems that would become more his hallmark even than the big drives.

Daly was suspended by the PGA Tour in 1994 for walking off the course during a tournament, and he entered alcohol rehab for the first time. In 1995, Daly won his second major in a playoff at the British Open

Daly wouldn't win again until 2004. During the intervening years, he battled drinking problems, weight problems, marriage problems, and problems with his game.

Daly quit multiple times in the middle of a tournament, or even during the middle of a round. Sometimes, his hands would start shaking so badly that continuing wasn't an option; other times, he would be disqualified; still others, he'd blow up during a round—posting double-digit scores on a hole while dropping ball after ball into play.

On the course, Daly had a resurgence in 2004, winning for the first time since 1995. In 2005, he played well in stretches and got into two playoffs, losing both, though, to Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh, respectively. In 2005, his fourth wife served time in federal prison on money laundering charges. In his 2006 autobiography, Daly claimed to have lost $50-$60 million on gambling. He continued drinking, although claimed he only drank beer, no longer hard liquor. 

Recent Activity

Daly's game went south in 2006, and by 2008 he had lost his PGA Tour card. He was suspended again at the start of 2009, then later that year underwent surgery for weight control and dropped nearly 100 pounds. He had a few moments of good golf afterward, but not enough of them and lost his PGA Tour card. Through it all, he remained a drawing card for tournament organizers (playing primarily on sponsor exemptions), and one of the most popular players among fans.

In 2016, Daly turned 50 and played on the Champions Tour for the first time. In 2017, he earned his first senior victory at the Insperity Invitational.

Fast Facts

Date of birth: April 28, 1966
Place of birth: Carmichael, California
Nickname: "Long John" or "The Lion"

Career Highlights

Tour Victories

  • PGA Tour: 5
  • Champions Tour: 1

Major Championships:

  • British Open: 1995
  • PGA Championship: 1991

Awards and Honors:

PGA Tour Rookie of the Year, 1991

Notable Quotes

"I learned you can't drink whiskey and play golf."

"Everyone has addictions and my problem is that I have 5,000 of them. If it's not drinking, it's gambling; if it's not gambling, it's eating anything from burgers, doughnuts to M&Ms."

"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."

Quotes About John Daly

"Good gracious, what a coil, what an unleashing of power. I don't know who he reminds me of. I haven't seen anybody who hit the ball that far."​ –Jack Nicklaus

"He's his own worst enemy." –Fuzzy Zoeller

Trivia

  • Daly has recorded country & western music, including the album My Life that features guests such as Willie Nelson, Darius Rucker, and Johnny Lee.
  • When Daly won the British Open in 1995, he was (at the time) just the fourth American since World War II to win two majors prior to his 30th birthday. The others: ​Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, and Johnny Miller.
  • Daly led the PGA Tour in driving distance 11 times, a record for most times leading a statistical category. Calvin Peete previously held the record with 10 wins in the driving accuracy category.
  • Of all eligible American two-time major championship winners, Daly is the only one not to play in a Ryder Cup.
  • If you add alcohol to an Arnold Palmer, its name changes to the John Daly.
  • Daly is "credited" by the PGA Tour with the highest score ever on a single hole: an 18 on a par-5 during the 1998 Bay Hill Invitational.