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Galleries are eager for Daly to succeed

Published Oct. 6, 2005

John Daly tees up his mulligan this week. In golf gobbledygook, that means a freebie do-over. Another swing, having gone astray. To Long John specifically, new opportunity to right old wrongs. To bring back the smiles to his awe-struck galleries _ and to the gifted young athlete himself.

Because Daly was petulant, thumbing his 27-year-old nouveau riche nose at golf's gentlemanly and ancient ideals, smart-mouthing even at the sport's worshiped king, Arnold Palmer, the Memphis Masher was appropriately suspended from the PGA Tour.

Daly became steamed at his own inefficiency. Five months ago on Maui, a troubled Long John picked up his lopsided, 100-compression ball and withdrew in mid-round from the Kapalua Invitational. In golf, quitting without a note from your doctor is steep transgression.

Long John slickened his slide by mindlessly smacking practice shots over the heads of spectators in Oregon. Palmer tried to counsel Daly, but golf's immature matinee strong boy, who vaulted to prominence by winning the 1991 PGA Championship, told the 64-year-old idol to buzz off.

Daly deserved the boot.

Many of Long John's more faithful defenders from the PGA Tour, trumpeters of Daly's personality pluses even as the young man grappled with sudden fame, new riches, alcohol and a disintegrating marriage, were abruptly turned off by his October faux pas. Especially the rebuffing of Palmer, the old magician who turned the PGA Tour to gold, a legend to whom every millionaire golf pro owes a daily bow.

Now, Daly returns. After four months in PGA Tour detention, he is reappearing at the Honda Classic in Fort Lauderdale. Probing but hopeful eyes will track his every move.

Nobody hits a golf ball bigger than Long John. Nobody draws bigger crowds than this Wizard of Ahhhs. But nobody, not even Palmer or Jack Nicklaus, and surely not rocket-launcher John Daly, is bigger than the game itself.

I'm ready to cheer a new day, and a new Daly. Me and millions more. Pulling for the blond basher to have it personally together, or to be getting there. I'd love to chronicle a magnificent Long John mulligan, seeing him spend the ensuing generation playing golf more like Nicklaus, the game's mightiest winner, and behaving more like the eternally adored King Arnold.

Daly is not a bad guy. He's fun to be around. A far more genuine human being than Lee Trevino, an extraordinary golfer who is a Merry Mex only when it's convenient, usually when TV cameras nod his way.

Long John's downfall has been a shortage of self-control. His background is more crude, less country-clubbish than most PGA Tour players. Golf demands rather courtly behavior from its artists. Athletic uglies and social stumblings are far less tolerated than in football, basketball, baseball, hockey and even tennis.

In the 2{ years since his PGA Championship shocker, Daly has had residences in Tennessee, Colorado, Florida, Tennessee again and California. He has evolved from husband to father to divorcee. He used to drink far too much beer. Temper was a fierce problem. Daly had violent scrimmages with wife Bettye, who was similarly volatile.

So much was vibrating within a neophyte sports celebrity. Long John became more confused, more burdened and more out of control. Daly now believes he has bottomed out and is looking upward at bluer skies.

He hasn't sipped alcohol for more than a year. John and Bettye, a marital mismatch, are no more. She's living with 2-year-old Shynah in the $1.5-million house they bought in Orlando. John has new pads in Memphis and Palm Springs.

Long John has bad habits still to kick, like the four packs of Marlboro Mediums he smokes per day. He is listening to sports psychologist Bob Rotella. Let's hope Daly is really hearing. Never in John's life has he practiced golf harder than during this suspension. He has taken up the guitar for relaxation. He will travel in a 40-foot custom bus for solitude.

Everybody awaits "The Mulligan."

Daly looks good physically, at a trimmer 190 pounds. In Fort Lauderdale, and future golfing depots, he will find a most forgiving public. As long as John walks within generous guidelines of common sense and golfing style, he will be cheered like nothing bad ever happened.

Cheered like Palmer, almost.