Daley's journey hits winner's circle at SENIOR PLAYERS

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July 01, 2012
Larry Dorman, PGATOUR.COM

PITTSBURGH -- Joe Daley, 51, had come a long way to get where he was on Sunday, on the final green at Fox Chapel Golf Club, needing just two putts from 21 feet to win the Constellation SENIOR PLAYERS Championship, his first Champions Tour victory and by far the biggest win of his professional career.

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All day long, he had made every putt he had to make -- the clutch four-footers for par that are the difference between winning and losing, between Monday qualifying -- which he had done at every previous stop on this year's Champions Tour -- and making your own schedule. Between having a nice tournament and a major championship title.

Daley made plenty of birdie putts, too, more of them than anyone else in a star-studded Constellation field filled with numerous major championship winners -- three of whom shadowed him throughout the day, adding more heat to the sweltering 90-plus degrees that baked the greens to lightning speeds.

And there was one more in front of him, just 21 feet, one foot for each of the years since he left a safe, predictable job as a credit manager in Philadelphia to chase the dream of professional golf to embark on the Odyssey that led him to where he stood.

From the mini-tour circuits of North Carolina and Florida, to a pair of seasons on the PGA TOUR in 1996 and '98, to the Web.com Tour, where he won twice, and to Morocco, South Africa, South America, Bermuda, Jamaica, Panama, Mexico, Chile and places he can no longer recall.

"Just wherever there were tournaments," he said later. "We'd go play. That's what we did."

Every one of those places and experiences, good and bad, is what made it that much sweeter when Daley took a look at the putt, consulted with his caddie, Patrick Keefer, and started it on a line 2 ½ -feet left of the hole. It gathered speed, moving downhill.

"And then fell in the right side of the hole," Daley said, grinning at the thought. "It doesn't get any better than that for me."

It fell in for his tournament-leading 24th birdie, and for a 68 and a 14-under 266 total, two strokes better than runner-up Tom Lehman, the 1996 British Open champion, who shot 69, and four strokes better than Daley's final-round playing partners Mark Calcavecchia (72) and Fred Couples (71), who tied for fourth.

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Olin Browne, whose 65 was the best final-round score among the top-20 finishers, finished in third place at 11-under 269.

The closing birdie set off an enthusiastic 18th green celebration. There were raucous and heartfelt cheers from the many Daley friends who had made the six-hour drive from Philadelphia to see one of their own pull off a genuine Rocky Balboa-style upset. There were some roars from the Pittsburgh locals, won over by the underdog golfer who kept his composure under the gun, against some big odds and formidable opponents.

And there were Daley's friends from the Champions Tour. Calcavecchia was the first to high-five the new champion, slapping palms with him as soon as the putt dropped and before he had to try to make a birdie putt of his own, which he missed.

"He made some great pars on the back," said Calcavecchia, who had pulled to within two strokes with a birdie at the 15th but promptly bogeyed the 16th and 17th to fall out of contention. "He had about five straight holes there where he had a 4-footer for par and he made every one of them. He made every one of them. He deserves it. He's been at this a long time, and this is a huge win for him, obviously."

Daley's Champions Tour friend and colleague, Michael Allen, who had shot 69 to finish in a tie for ninth, caught Daley between the green and the scorer's hut and handed him a bottle of champagne, Perrier Jouet.

"Drink it up, drink it up, Joe," Allen said to Daley, who obliged by taking a swig and handing the bottle to his wife, Carol. "You deserve it."

He ground it out, hitting just nine fairways -- his lowest total of the week -- but managing four birdies and just two bogeys. And as he walked through the gallery to sign his scorecard, someone handed him a Steelers' Terrible Towel. Daley, the Philly guy, waved it around over his head, much to the delight of the fans who waved theirs back at him.

"It was good karma for me, man," Daley said. "Everybody here has been great. I root for the Pittsburgh teams when the Eagles and the Flyers aren't doin' so good, so, yeah, it's all good. I'm a fellow Pennsylvanian."

And he's now a fellow champion on the Champions Tour, which will change a whole lot of things in his life.

"It gets me in next week, which I'm playing next week, so that's big for me instead of going to Monday qualifying," Daley said. "And it just opens up other opportunities to go out and play and prove how good I can be and compete against these guys because these guys can play."

So can he. That was something Joe Daley has known for a while now, and something he proved on a hot day on a hard course when he outplayed the favorites. By doing that, he took the first step in becoming one himself.

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