Happy Birthday, John Daly

Golf fans celebrated the 54th birthday of John Daly, one of the most popular professional golfers of all time, on April 26. For most people, turning 54 isn’t a big deal, but many that know Daly would call it remarkable.

He was only 25 years old when he won the PGA Championship in what could be referred to as the most unlikely win since Francis Ouimet won the 1913 U.S. Open Championship. By the way, the winning purse for Ouimet that year was $300. By comparison, in 2019, Gary Woodland banked a cool $2.25 million for his victory at Pebble Beach.

Daly’s big break took place in 1991. He had only played in 23 PGA Tour events, had made just 12 cuts, and was the ninth alternate to get in the PGA Championship at Indiana’s Crooked Stick Golf Club. The eight other alternates on the list ahead of Daly weren’t available — it was already Wednesday of championship week. As soon as Daly got the call that he was in the field, he jumped in his car and was on his way. He arrived just hours before his first-round tee time.

Luck continued to be on Daly’s side as Nick Price was the last player to withdraw as his wife was in the late stages of her pregnancy. Price knew his caddie, Jeff “Squeaky” Medlin, was available, so he offered Squeaky’s services to Daly. Of course, the caddie was happy to handle a bag for the championship. The rest is history. Long John Daly went on to win his first major championship and made a name for himself in the process with his prodigious length off the tee.

Little known fact: Squeaky Medlin is the only caddie in history to win back-to-back PGA Championships with two different players. The following year, he was on the bag when Price won, in 1992. That achievement earned Medlin a spot in the Caddie Hall of Fame.

As it turned out, Squeaky and I became good friends, and we shared some good times out on the Tour. I was heartbroken when he told me he had been diagnosed with leukemia. Medlin reached out to me during his final days. “Bob, you tell everyone I had a good run,” he told me. Jeff passed away the next day. He was 43.

At the time, Daly’s 1991 PGA Championship win was considered by most to be a “fluke,” but he silenced all critics four years later by winning The Open Championship on the hallowed grounds of St. Andrews Links in a four-hole playoff with the Italian, Costantino Rocca. In his career, Daly won two major championships and three other PGA Tour events. He is now an active member of the PGA Tour Champions and has one over-50 victory to date.

There’s no doubt Daly had an up-and-down personal life, but he is a good guy with a big heart. In fact, during that 1991 PGA Championship he won, a fan had been struck by lightning and unfortunately died. When Daly found out about it, he quickly wrote a check for $30,000, which he gave to the family.

It’s been said Daly’s high-octane lifestyle is the main reason he was never chosen to be part of a Ryder Cup team. He is the only two-time American major winner never to wear the red, white, and blue. In fact, many felt that with the lifestyle Daly chose, he had a greater chance of shooting 54 for 18 holes than reaching 54 years old. Daly, who has been married five times, was the poster boy for the theme song “All my exes wear Rolexes.”

In casino slang, Daly was known as a high-roller. During one PGA Tour event where he was a star attraction, a rain delay came into play, so we had some spare time. I was enjoying some blackjack at a nearby casino when Daly walked in and took a seat at a $25 slot machine. I watched in amazement as he started playing two $25-machines simultaneously, and didn’t stop for the next four hours.

Daly has played in eight Masters Tournaments, with his best finish being a third-place tie in 1993. He played his last Masters in 2002, but remains on the scene each year not on the course, but in the Hooters parking lot. That’s where he parks his RV full of John Daly merchandise. He spends his Master’s week selling and signing hats, T-shirts, and other memorabilia for fans.

The next time you hear on television that familiar introduction to the Masters: “It’s a tradition unlike any other,” just think for a moment that 54-year-old John Daly fits that mold exactly.

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