2006: John Daly said what?
Long John bottoms out and finds himself in therapy – again. But with a little help from friends who have been there, done that, Daly is able to find some positives in his life.
If only he could find his way out of the casinos.
This week’s excerpts from Daly’s new book conclude with revelations about the extent of his gambling problem, which prompted PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem to call Daly at the Wachovia Championship todiscuss an “ongoing need to uphold the image and standards of the PGA Tour.”
But Daly has never been much on standards. As he says on the book’s jacket, “The only rules I follow are the Rules of Golf.”
The harder you fallI started drinking again in August 1996 in Sweden.
At the British Open that year, I played like a defending champion the first three rounds – 70-73-69 – then threw up all over my shirt in the final round: 77. What the hell,I still had some nice appearance-fee checks to cash at tournaments in Europe, which is why I found myself in Sweden yielding to temptation.
Since I came out of rehab, my agents always told the hotel staff wherever we were traveling to make sure all the alcohol was removed from the minibar in my suite before we arrived. Out of sight, out of mind – I was cool with that. This time, the hotel staff forgot to do it, because I discovered when I went to get a Diet Coke that the damned thing was fully stocked with beer and booze.
That night, I drank five beers. I can’t even remember what kind. I was by myself, and I got hammered, because European beer is a lot stronger than American beer.
And because I hadn’t had a drop of alcohol for four years.
• • •
Back up a little. It took a while to get from winning the British Open in 1995, to falling off the wagon in 1996, to drinking myself senseless at the Players Championship, losing my Wilson and Reebok sponsorships, and spending 30 days in the Betty Ford Center, all in the space of six weeks in 1997.
So let’s rewind the tape . . .
The first major thing me and my crew did after I won at St. Andrews was shave our heads. The Monday before the tournament began, I’d bet Bud, Blake, Donnie, and Mike Boylan of Wilson, who’d become a good friend, that if I won the thing, we were all going to shave our heads. They said, sure, fine, whatever you say, John. Much as they believed in me, though, I don’t think any of them thought they were going to have to be going to a barbershop anytime soon.
Hey, I was as serious about that as I was about the new Mercedes I told a car dealer friend back in Memphis to have in his showcase and ready to roll for me if I won.
Sure enough, the next day after the British, by the time Blake had to get to the airport to return home, me and him were bald as billiards. But nobody had to go to a barbershop: I shaved Blake, and Blake shaved me. Mike and Donnie, they chickened out. And Bud, he must have thought he dodged the bullet, because we raced off to Holland for a tournament before I could do him, and we both spent the week running full-speed, me playing golf and basking in the glory of being British Open champion, and Bud shaking and baking, talking deals with what seemed like everybody in the world of golf.
By now, Bud probably figured I’d forgotten about the bet.
No way. On Sunday night, at 2:30 A.M., about eight hours before we were scheduled to leave for Sweden and another tournament, I knocked on Bud’s door – with scissors, a can of shaving cream, and a razor on a tray. Room service!
I returned to the States in August to play the PGA, but I needn’t have bothered: 76-73–cut. That pretty much set the tone for the rest of my regular season: 30th, T-67th, cut, T-67th, WD.
I can’t say that I particularly gave a s---. I was the 1995 British Open champion. Anything else that came my way that year was pure gravy. And there was a lot of that.
• • •
Any notion I might have had coming out of the gate at the top of my game in 1996 now that I had my second major got knocked in a cocked hat by mid-May: five missed cuts in my first 10 tournaments. The summer wasn’t much better than the spring. I did make seven straight cuts and had the best U.S. Open of my career (T-27), but I had only one top 10 finish (T-10 at the Kemper).
That’s what I had to look back on when I sat down in front of that loaded minibar in Sweden.
On Friday night, after the second round of the tournament, I called one of my agents, who was in Sweden with me at the time and asked him to come up to my suite to have dinner.
“You’re playing great, John,” he said as he walked in the door. “This could be what turns you around. You could win this thing.”
“Thanks, man, I think so, too,” I said. “But sit down. There’s something I want to tell you.”
Then I went over to the fridge, pulled out a beer, and popped it open.
“No! No! No!” was all he could say.
And then I told him.
“Johnny, I had five when we got here on Tuesday. I didn’t have any Wednesday night because I had an early tee time yesterday. Thursday night, here by myself, I drank six or seven.”
He looked like he was in shock. He didn’t ream me out or get mad or anything, but I know my drinking again – even if it was only beer – really, really hurt him.
I finished T-18 in the tournament. I played really good. If I’d made a few more putts, I could have won the thing.
It was my best finish of the year. But what I was proudest of that week was that I told John the truth. I didn’t hide what I’d done. I could have gone on like that, sneak-drinking by myself, for I don’t know how long. I could have become a closet drunk. And then I probably would have become an alcoholic.
My philosophy then, and my philosophy now, is that “it is what it is.” You do what you do, and you accept responsibility for it. Anything else, and you’re just fooling yourself. Anything else, and you’re not a man.
Back home, starting with the PGA, I picked up where I’d left off: I missed the cut in my first four tournaments. After a month like that, it was pretty clear that my decent finish in Sweden hadn’t meant a damned thing.
But the beers I drank there, they did.
Rumors started flying all over the place about me being seen drinking in public, which I had been, so in October my agents put out a statement over my name:
It is true that I have had a few beers on several occasions this summer, but I have not been involved in any alcohol-related incidents. I have not been drinking to excess, and this has not been the reason the level of my play lately has been below my usual standards. In fact, I have put more time and effort into my golf game than I have at any time in the past.
Back home in Dardanelle, my buddies were like, thank God, we got our John back. They meant that in a positive, supportive way. They wanted me to be me. Their main concern was “What are you drinking? Are you drinking whiskey?”
I told them, “No way, man.
I’ll never drink that s--- again.”
Even then, I knew that “never” is a word I should probably never use. The truth is, since coming out of rehab that first time in 1993, I’ve had maybe 40 or 50 mixed drinks with whiskey, and I never drank all of them. I don’t like the taste or even the smell of it now. I’m not going to say I’ll never drink it again, but I’ll tell you this: as of right now, this minute, I do not like the stuff.
The following year, 1997, started off sweet: four of my five rounds at the Hope were in the 60s and I finished seventh. Then everything went sour: two missed cuts and three middle- of-the-pack finishes in my next five tournaments. Then came the s--- storm at the Players Championship.
For almost two years, me and my wife Paulette had been splitting up and getting back together, splitting up and getting back together. The only constant in our relationship was the fighting. I was miserable and pissed off all the time. Was I drinking? Hell, yes. That was the only way I could stay sane.
When we went to Ponte Vedra Beach for the Players, everything came to a head. She wouldn’t come out on the course with me. She didn’t want to have anything to do with me. And at bedtime, none of that either. Then I went out and shot a f------ 76 in the first round. And it wasn’t even one of those “if I’d made a putt here, a putt there” 76s. It was a pig-ugly 76, and I was pissed.
So I grab Donnie and I go out drinking. Remember those “40 or 50 drinks of whiskey since my first rehab” I mentioned? Well, I drank a big bunch of 7&7s that Thursday night, so maybe the 40 or 50 number is a little light.
After a while, Donnie couldn’t stand watching it anymore, so he left me with a bunch of caddies and told them to bring me home. We ended up at a joint called Sloppy Joe’s. All told, I had been drinking for a good 12 hours. I was absolutely trashed, as drunk as I’d ever been in my life and still be standing. That night was the first time I got up on a stage and sang “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.”
Finally, at about three o’clock in the morning, the guys got me back to the hotel, and as I was coming in the front door of our suite, I stumbled and crashed against this door leading into the kitchen. Smashed the hell out of it, fell down, and blacked out.
Next thing I know, I’m sprawled out on the floor, and Olin Browne, one of my good friends on the Tour, is trying to help me get up. There are five or six security guards standing around, but there wasn’t anything for me to do besides watching Ollie try to haul my drunk ass off the floor. And Paulette’s yelling, “Oh, my God! He destroyed the room!” And Ollie’s looking at her, saying, “Hey, it’s just a door.”
Right, it was just a door. I’ve destroyed rooms before. I know what they look like after I’m done with them. This was no big f------ deal.
With Ollie’s help, I managed to get up, get myself into the bedroom, and fall into bed, where I blacked out again, this time with my eyes open. (I’d done that before. I guess it must look pretty scary.)
By then somebody called an ambulance, which I didn’t think I needed: I had a blackout, that’s all. But the EMTs came and strapped me to a gurney and started wheeling me out. Ollie was still there, and a couple of cops now, and the security guards, and Donnie.
Then Fuzzy Zoeller came up as they were wheeling me down the hall towards the elevator. He leaned down and said, “Are you alright, kid? Are you gonna be okay?”
And I said, “No, Fuzz, I’m not. I’m fixing to lose my wife, and I ain’t playing worth a s---, and I’m drunk all the time, and I wish somebody would just kill me. Why don’t you grab that cop’s gun and just f------ kill me. I can’t live like this anymore.”
‘Where I am now’
Thirteen years ago, Hollywood Henderson warned me.
I met him at Sierra Tucson in January 1993, my first time in rehab, and after I got to know him a little bit, he told me, “John, you’re going to find something that you’re going to love to do as much as you loved to drink, and it’s going to fulfill that part of your body that says, okay, I’m doing something. And you’ve got to be very, very careful what that is.”
The people around me –
my agents, my closest friends –
were hoping, of course, that the “something” would be practicing golf.
No such luck.
What I found was gambling.
Gambling is the only thing that gets my juices flowing like golf does – or whiskey used to. As I told a writer for Esquire magazine about five years ago, playing slot machines for me is like being completely alone, on my own, like on a cross-country drive. All the noise in a casino? I don’t hear it. I’m in a zone, and I’m all by myself. I’ll check my watch, and maybe 10, 15 hours have gone by. It’s scary how far away I get.
It’s sort of like the way I felt when I was a teenager, and I’d be out on the golf course on a summer afternoon, when it wouldn’t get dark until late. Everybody else had gone home, but I’d be there, all by myself, in this peaceful zone. I’d be totally locked in, working on my game, not thinking about anything or anybody else.
Out there on the golf course, with everything still and the day fading away, I was the only person in the world, and I felt good.
That’s the feeling I get when I gamble.
And here’s where that feeling got me in the 18 months after I left rehab in 1993: when I got to
St. Andrews to play the 1995 British Open, I owed almost $4 million to casinos.
The only way I’d been able to keep my head above water was to turn all my quarterly endorsement income over to the casinos, and then run myself ragged by playing all over the world for appearance fees and by doing too many corporate outings, all because I needed the money to feed the beast.
The British Open saved me. Not because of the size of the winner’s purse itself – it was only 125,000 pounds, which was like $200,000 back then. But after St. Andrews, when you throw in all my bonuses from my sponsors, I took a $1M+ haul away from the Old Course.
All that went to the casinos. The rest of the summer and fall I spent collecting appearance fees at tournaments all over the world. By the end of 1995, when my quarterly sponsorship payments came in, I was able to pay off the casinos.
Then, in 1996, the whole cycle began again: up and down, back and forth, waiting for my quarterly checks to pay off the casinos, hustling appearance fees, running myself ragged doing corporate outings instead of spending time with my family and working on my game.
That’s the way it’s been for the last 10 years.
This worries me. A lot.
Sherrie has been very supportive on the gambling front. She tells me that the kids don’t do without – and she’s right about that. They all go to great private schools. They have everything they need. They’re covered. They’re set up just fine.
The problem is that if I don’t get a grip on this thing now, what’s going to happen as I get older and my earning power decreases?
I’ll give you a perfect example
of how destructive my gambling gets at times.
Last fall, after getting beat by Tiger in a playoff at the WGC AmEx Championship in San Francisco, I made $750,000 for finishing second, and generally felt pretty good about everything except my putting. I was real disappointed that I hadn’t won, but at least I’d had a really nice payday. But instead of going home and closing the 2005 PGA Tour season on a high note, I went straight to Vegas. My first stop was the new Wynn Las Vegas casino, where they have this $5,000 slot machine. Within an hour and a half, I was down $600,000. There went all that hard work against Tiger.
Next I went over to Bally’s.
Got a $600,000 line. Won about $175,000 and took it back over to that damned $5,000 machine. It owed me big-time. But I didn’t hit s--- on it.
Got another $600,000 line from Wynn.
Lost it in two hours on that $5,000 slot.
Back to Bally’s, where I won another $80,000, then tried dialing down to the $100 slots, looking for a little streak so I could pay down some of what I owed.
No dice: in less than five hours, I lost $1.65 million.
So much for finishing the 2005 PGA Tour season on a high note.
And here’s how my sick mind analyzed the situation: my sponsorship payments would be coming through in January, so I’d be able to pay everything off and get back to even by the beginning of the new year.
Hell, yes, there’s a problema. If I don’t get control of my gambling, it’s going to flat-out ruin me.
What burns me most, looking back, is that in the 12 years I’ve been gambling heavily, if I had left after the first hour and a half every time I was in a casino, I’d be up, way up. Instead, I’m down $50 to $60 million.
The fact is, 95 percent of the time that I go to a casino, the first 90 minutes I’m there I hit the biggest jackpots more often than anybody. I’m the luckiest guy on a slot machine you’ve ever seen – in the first hour and a half.
I like slots better than blackjack because of the solitude. It’s just me, by myself, and I’m in total control. I just push the button and watch the machine. With the slots, it’s like I’m driving my bus – I’m in control, just me.
Bud and Johnny, my agents, God bless ’em, they’ve busted their butts trying to throw a rope around me
when it comes to gambling, but I haven’t listened. And until I listen, the way I listened to my body with the medications and the whiskey, well . . . all I can say is that I’m just going to have to start listening soon, real soon.
Look, in balance, I’ve taken a lot more control of my life in the last five or six years. I’m off those damned medications. I don’t drink JD anymore. I don’t beat up on hotel rooms and cars as much.
Only gambling remains a problem.
So here’s my plan. Every time I go to the casino, I start with the $25 slots. Plus, I set a walkout loss number. And the minute I hit that loss number, I quit, leave, just walk-the-hell out. If I make a little bit, then maybe I move up to the $100 slots or the $500s, or maybe I take it to the blackjack table. It’s their money. Why not give it a shot, try to double it? And if I make a lot, I can . . .
Well, that’s my plan. It’s a start. It’s a start for me. I know, I know
– I’m still a long way from quitting gambling.
What would I do if I did?
Drink? That’s not an option, at least in terms of whiskey. If I start drinking whiskey again, it’ll kill me, plain and simple. I know that.
The only real option is to get control of my gambling.
• • •
A lot of stuff has come down on my head in the last five years. My father pulled a gun on me, my mother died, my best friend since first grade walked out on me, and my wife was convicted of a felony and sent to prison.
All that in five years.
Sometimes I feel like a character in a bad soap opera that’s stuck in replay mode.
Sometimes I feel like getting in my bus and just driving away from it all.
And sometimes I feel like kicking my own fat butt for feeling sorry for myself. Everybody goes through tough times. Everybody has troubles. Everybody has personal problems, family problems, relationship problems.
A long time ago, back in what I now think of as the “dark days,” I was driving somewhere with Fuzzy Zoeller – probably looking for a bar – and I was bitching about something, how I was being screwed over by some wife or something. Suddenly he makes a left turn into this big graveyard and drives slowly into the middle of it, not saying a word. Finally, he pulls over, stops, turns off the engine, and turns to me.
“You think you have troubles, son?” Fuzz says. “Well, those folks in there are in a helluva lot worse shape than you are.”
I know it.
I’m lucky: I was born with a special talent for hitting a little white ball and making people happy.
I’m blessed: I have four wonderful children who light up my life. I know just loving them is not enough, that I have to guide them and advise them and help them as they discover who they want to be. And I look forward to that challenge, although I suspect it will be the hardest one I’ll ever have to face.
But I’m really and truly optimistic: I think I’m going to do even better on the back nine.