John Daly a fan favorite at PGA, with or without cart
FARMINGDALE, N.Y. (AP) — John Daly had a tougher time than most navigating the 18th hole at Bethpage Black.
Not so much with his clubs, but with his cart.
He hit his tee shot into the cluster of bunkers right of the fairway, and Daly had to drive a tight path between two bunkers to get to a spot where he hobbled to his ball. His second shot didn’t make it to the fairway. His third went to the back of the green, and that led to more issues.
This time, he had to park short of the green and lumber up the hill.
All that for a bogey.
For the second time in his long and infamous career, Daly drove into history Thursday at the PGA Championship — first with his big tee shots at Crooked Stick, this time with his hands on a steering wheel at Bethpage Black.
“It’s very awkward,” Daly said of being allowed to use a cart because of medical issues. “There is no way I can walk it, but I feel like I belong to play because I am a past champion.”
Some in the sport say he shouldn’t be allowed to use a cart, an exemption he was granted because of severe arthritis in his right knee. Daly said he needs the cart to compete.
The tough New York crowd agreed with him. They had a soft spot for him.
The surprise winner of the 1991 PGA Championship as the ninth alternate had supporters at every tee and green in the opening round of the second major of the year. It didn’t make a difference that he finished at 5-over 75.
“New York fans are great,” said the 53-year-old two-time major champion, who said his knee was the size of a softball after the round. “Some of them are going to get on you, but 99.9% are great, just good fans.”
Fans see Daly as the common man playing golf — smoking an occasional cigarette, drinking a diet soda and wearing a gaudy pair of white pants covered with New York Yankees emblems and pennants.
“You know what, the guy can barely walk,” fan Rick Rossi, of nearby Wantagh, said as he waited for Daly to play his second shot at No. 18, his ninth hole. “His knee is completely destroyed. He has no cartilage, the meniscus is torn off the bone. Is it (the cart) really an advantage? He’s not going to make the cut. He is a fan favorite. He brings a big crowd following him. It’s good for golf.”
Daly is the first player to ride in a cart at a major since Casey Martin in the U.S. Open at Olympic Club in 1998 and 2012.
He said he also asked for an exemption for the British Open, which he won in 2005 at St. Andrews, and is awaiting a response.
“It’s not really ego, I just feel committed,” he said. “Past champions, if we can play, no matter what it takes, we should.”
Whenever Daly arrived at a tee or hit a shot Thursday, there was a roar from the crowd. It sounded like a morgue for playing partners and fellow former PGA champions Rich Beem (2002) and Y.E. Yang (2009).
After the heavy-set Daly saved par with a short putt following a 30-yard shot out of the front bunker on the par-4 15th, the crowd cheered.
“Way to go Johnny!” one shouted.
“Go, Johnny, go,” chirped another.
And as he walked to cart No. 515 after the hole, Daly was asked: “Can I help you there?”
All drew laughs.
The long-hitting Daly has been playing in the PGA Tour Champions, a 50-and-older circuit that allows for carts, since 2016, winning once in 2017. He has not won on the PGA Tour since capturing the 2004 Buick Open.
Daly insisted Wednesday the cart was a big disadvantage, saying he was uncertain where he could go with it.
One other issue with the cart came as Daly tried to get from the No. 16 green to the tee on the next hole. A grandstand blocked one avenue and there was a narrow corridor to the right of the green. It was blocked by five carts being used by television crews.
Daly patiently waited a minute or two for them to move and went to the tee.
It was all in a day’s drive.