SNOQUALMIE — In a Boeing Classic lacking some star power without hometown hero Fred Couples, sidelined by a chronic back ailment, thank heavens for John Daly.
Daly, who debuted on the 50-and-older Champions Tour in April, should be a fan favorite at this weekend’s tournament, which tees off today for the first of three rounds at TPC Snoqualmie Ridge. Known for a “Grip It and Rip It” style of play and an affable down-home demeanor, Daly is the biggest name among the 2016 newcomers on golf’s senior circuit.
He is, said fellow Champions Tour player Woody Austin earlier this year, “a needle mover. We need that out here. We need somebody that people want to come out and watch.”
Daly has long been one of golf’s must-see attractions. He has always been one of the game’s biggest hitters, and at age 50 his average driving distance is still upwards of 300 yards. He also has a blue-collar appeal, given his fondness for cigarettes, beer and the occasional temper tantrum, with the latter evidenced by a couple of broken clubs — one believed to be a disobedient putter — at the 3M Championship earlier this month.
But if Daly is to be a leaderboard factor this week, it will require better golf swings and more reliable putting strokes.
“The frustrating part for me is that when you’re not playing good, it doesn’t make it as much fun as it should be, you know?” Daly said Thursday, moments after finishing his pro-am round. “Right now for me, my game is not where I want it (to be), so it’s more of a grind. It’s very hard to enjoy it as much as the guys that are playing really good out here. They’re playing good, they’ve got confidence, and I’m just coming in and trying to find it.
“I’m going through one of those stages where nothing’s really going that great,” added Daly, whose best finish in 10 tour starts this season is a tie for 11th at the Dick’s Sporting Goods Open in early July. “I’ve just got to try and fight through it.”
Equally important, he said, “I’ve got to quit beating up myself. I’m my own worst enemy.”
For all his recent frustrations, Daly has an enviable golf résumé. After playing collegiately at Arkansas, he joined the PGA Tour in 1991 and promptly won the PGA Championship, one of golf’s four majors, after slipping into the tournament as an alternate. That victory led to him being named the tour’s Rookie of the Year.
Four years later, Daly added his second major championship, winning the 1995 British Open at Scotland’s historic St. Andrews in a playoff with Costantino Rocca.
To this day, Daly said, “I still shake my head and wonder how a redneck guy from Arkansas won the British Open at St. Andrews. I don’t know how the hell that happened, but I’ll take it. … I forget those memories sometimes, and I need to put myself back in there and say, ‘Hey, I’ve done something in the game.’ It may not be what a lot of guys have done, but I’ve probably done it a little bit more than some guys, too.”
Daly played last week at the D+D REAL Czech Masters in Prague, finishing in a disappointing tie for 51st. Afterward he flew to Amsterdam and then on to Seattle, leaving him “a little jet-lagged” for Thursday’s pro-am.
As much as he would love to get his initial Champions Tour victory this week, Daly understands how difficult it is to win, even for tour youngsters like him.
“People don’t understand how hard it is,” he said. “All my buddies keep saying, ‘You’re going to get out there and kick ass on this tour,’ and I’m saying, ‘You just don’t get it. These guys can still play. They’re very competitive … (though it’s) more of a laid-back competiveness.
“All these guys, I’ve known them through the ’90s and they’ve been great. They’re great champions, great guys. Every one of them has said, ‘Hey, we’re glad you’re here. And if you need anything, let us know.’
“But like I said, it’s tough when you’re not playing good. It’s a struggle and it’s a grind. You know, we all want to play great golf … but I’m not even playing really good golf out here yet. Not even close to playing great like Bernhard (Langer, the tour money leader) and some of the other guys.”
The solution, he said, can be as simple and immediate “as one good round. I’m looking for that one good round, but I just haven’t seen it out here yet.”