I read that John Daly claims to have lost between $50 and $60 million dollars gambling over the last 15 years. Part of this inconceivable run took place October 2005, when Daly says he lost $1.5 million playing $5,000 Vegas slot machines. Imagine the relentless, unreflective madness that must have possessed Daly as he sat, slack-jawed and sweaty, hour after hour, playing slots.
Could there have been even a single thought in his head?
In 1991, after winning the PGA Championship, Daly went from “zero to hero” and became an omnivorous cultural behemoth. Constantly smoking and drinking, he was a good old boy who could drive the ball an easy mile without a second thought. Fat and often slathered in chicken wing grease and divorce papers, he was Homer Simpson in golf pants, an appealing everyman who stood in absolute contrast to the uptight and rigid world of professional golfing.
He was, the media thought, just what the golf world needed, and he was everywhere.
Well, Daly never quite lived up to his enormous potential as a professional golfer, and after serving a 2008 suspension by the PGA, he’s embarking on a comeback. Now sliding into his mid 40s, this attempted reinvention— both physical and professional— is being documented in the form of a reality show called “Being John Daly,” which airs on The Golf Channel. (Important in all of this is that after receiving “Lap-Band Surgery,” in which the stomach is artificially constricted, Daly has lost over 100 pounds.)
Suggesting we’re about to be given an unflinching and gritty look at the man, the show starts off in candid black and white. As the plucky strains of white-boy blues plays, we’re presented with a few derelict shots of the small town of Dardanelle, Arkansas, where Daly grew up. These images are juxtaposed with the opulent vulgarity of the mansion he now lives in, but as Daly is presented barefoot and scruffy, playing guitar, we’re to assume that although you can take the boy out of the small town, you can’t take the small town out of the boy.
Shifting to color, Daly tells us that he’s thinner and happier now, and determined to golf the “right way,” whatever that might actually mean. But the truth was that he didn’t look or sound happy at all. His voice was flat and lifeless, almost depressed, and stripped of his customary weight he looked diminished rather than reinvigorated, as if he was being consumed.
On this particular episode Daly was on his way to Hawaii to participate in the Sony Open Pro-Am. In the plane, he griped about his hatred of flying, rattling on in an inconsiderate and ignorant voice, which was surely no comfort to the other passengers, about crashing. To underscore his anxiety, we cut back to footage of him on a helicopter in 2007. Much heavier, he has a near meltdown, resembling nothing more than an over-sized and fearful infant having a tantrum.
After the plane landed, a soldier in combat fatigues approached Daly, complimented him on his weight loss and wished him well, but Daly seemed somehow absent in the exchange, as if all he was thinking about was getting off the hated plane and having a smoke. (Fuck this pressure, man!) Indeed, throughout the show, Daly’s interaction with his career-sustaining fan base was rote and lifeless, as if at this point, they had become invisible to him.
As he waits for his girlfriend to meet him at the luggage carousel, he absently tells his driver that she’ll be the one with the big boobs bouncing up and down, adding, “Boing, Boing, Boing!” for clarification. Interspersed with such pre-feminist pearls are slow-motion shots of Daly—in black and white so we know it’s authentic—smoking. Like a wise, old black woman from a Hollywood film, he makes sage-sounding observations, but in his case, they’re merely insipid bumper stickers.
In one such vignette, attempting to compliment his girlfriend Anna Cladakis, he describes her as being “like” an agent, and “like” his best friend, without bothering to elevate her to that actual status. He goes on to tell us that she does whatever he needs, and then we watch as she does just that, enabling and infantilizing this man that continues to act like a boy.
At one point during a practice session, Daly thought he needed to try a different putter, and so Anna, dressed in checkered flag hot pants, tore off to the hotel room to retrieve it. It was a very simple task, but for Anna, who is infused with a furious and pointless energy, it was a drama polluted with myriad obstacles. Would she be able to find the hotel? Had she lost the room key again? Could she resist stopping to go shopping?
In the hotel room, she runs around in a five second panic searching for the club. She can’t find it! She calls Daly’s caddie, who tells her where it is. Grabbing it, she literally runs out of the room, babbling like a maniac. When she returns to the golf course, she congratulates herself for doing the job in 15 minutes instead of the 20-30 minutes it would take a normal person. Daly is grateful enough for the favor, but it was clear it was a trivial matter, just a passing fancy that he happened to verbalize and that the hyper Anna couldn’t resist treating as a life or death matter, as she seems to do with everything.
In the tournament, Daly was undone by his lousy putting and failed to make the cut, his golf comeback forestalled. However, his marketing comeback was in full swing, as he and his lady showcased the Loudmouth golf pants they’ve been promoting. Ridiculously garish and begging for unwarranted attention, the look-at-me pants seemed perfectly suited to Daly and Cladakis.
Back in 1998, when Daly got the shakes and broke down weeping on the 15th green at the Greater Vancouver Open, it was impossible not to have sympathy, even love, for the man. We all wanted him to get better, to figure it all out and harness the ability he had so that he might lead a happy life. But over the next dozen years, he just kept going, indulging and repeating the same thoughtless impulses, and then cynically trying to sell them to the public as iconoclastic virtues.
It gets tiring, that.
On “Being John Daly,” as the plane touched down in the natural paradise that is Hawaii, we heard Daly grouse about how he hated beaches and the ocean and was scared of jellyfish. After being bounced from the tournament, we watched as he looked out of his hotel window at the beach and ocean beneath. It was impossible not to recognize his isolation, how divorced and fearful he was from the world around him.
Although we see plot in his life, we see very little meaning or love in that life. Content to let those around him do the living, Daly remains in his comfort zone. Bored and lacking in curiosity, he seems incapable of managing even the rudiments of the modern world, happy to just keep pulling the arm of a slot machine and hoping for a different result. And now, no longer trying to realize his diminishing potential, he simply seeks to exploit what it was for commercial advantage, becoming a sad caricature that at this point, is very hard to root for.