Golf: Daly defends Tiger

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 11, 2009

San Francisco Chronicle
John Daly, ever golf’s leader in the cast-no-stones clubhouse, stood up for Tiger Woods this week, saying any golfers who dared to criticize his off-course lifestyle should remember that the PGA Tour thrives because of its superstar. It was quite a role reversal, the typically dissolute Daly championing the usually resolute Woods.
Daly’s message came in new and improved packaging. The 43-year-old had a form of lap-band surgery nine months ago and dropped an estimated 115 pounds. He looked transformed, not quite as lean and buff as Woods, but closer to the gold standard than ever before.
It didn’t take long for the resemblance to become even stronger. Daly was using an outer appearance to sell something.
The surgery itself, he said, had done such wonders for him that he thought the government should start paying for the procedure. Daly was in Australia at the time, so presumably he wasn’t trying to insert himself into the raucous American health-care debate. But who knows? He and the company pushing this surgery have already demonstrated substantial gall, offering a golfer’s personal experience as testimony while the sport’s ostensible paragon descended into tabloid purgatory.
Maybe he and Woods are undergoing a personality swap, source material for a major motion picture next Christmas. Daly has already said he’d like to see Matt Damon play him in a biopic. And while Woods has never actually said he’d like to be John Daly for a while, he has expressed an unusual fondness, even admiration, for the erstwhile big lug.
San Francisco saw the connection between these two rather vividly in 2005, during the Amex Championships at Harding Park, which ended in a playoff between the model of rectitude and the chain-smoking author of the song “All My Exes Wear Rolexes.” Woods reveled in watching another of Daly’s renaissances, slapping his hand as the two crossed paths at one hole and talking about “J.D.” as if he were a frat brother.
Like any fan, pro athletes tend to respect skills they can only dream of duplicating. There have to be times, perhaps now more than ever, when Woods has looked at Daly, considered his alcohol and marital crises and thought: “I own this game because I’ve been groomed as a model of discipline and single-mindedness, but here is this self-destructive character who has won two major titles, and I know he has the talent to pull himself out of a gutter one day and challenge me the next.”
In those moments when he tired of being a symbol, when he wanted the golf to be about nothing but golf, how could Woods not have felt a certain kinship with Daly? When Daly missed a simple 3-foot putt to lose their playoff at Harding, Woods bent his head and covered his eyes, unable to celebrate his win.
So many fans have always wondered what Daly could have achieved if he had even half of Woods’ self-control. Well, now we’re about to find out how Tiger fares after revealing he has a fraction of Daly’s flaws. He might want to adopt one of Daly’s virtues, as well: a fearlessness about the truth.