Good times and a great debut for Daly
The fan favorite made his PGA TOUR Champions debut at Insperity and fun times were had
May 06, 2016
By Melanie Hauser, Special to PGATOUR.COM
- May 06, 2016
- John Daly, who was paired with friends Fuzzy Zoeller and Peter Jacobsen on Friday, signs an autograph for a fan. (Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
THE WOODLANDS, Texas – It was the way golf was meant to be played.
Good friends. Great conversations. More than a few jokes and a welcome on the first tee that included a 1.75 liter bottle of vodka. Think pay-up time on an old bet.
Simply put, it was fun. Or as entertaining as it could be with boisterous Technicolor crowds, cameras – both still and television – everywhere. And, oh, a tournament on the line.
John Daly never has done boring and his PGA TOUR Champions debut was no exception.
He wheeled into the parking lot of the Insperity Invitational Friday morning with a television cameraman in his backseat and hopped out in an electric turquoise shirt and red pants dotted with a pop-art stylistic ovals with turquoise centers ringed with black.
He walked to the driving range to warm up with cameras in tow and fans decked out in Loudmouth attire asking him to sign the JD bobblehead giveaways and exited the putting green with the crowd welcoming him to Houston, to senior golf, and, of course, snapping a few pseudo-selfies with Daly in the background.
And on the first tee? Well, playing partners Fuzzy Zoeller and Peter Jacobsen, two of his best buddies, were there to help him bow into the second phase of his career. Of course there was a cake and that vodka.
Fuzzy was decked out in his own version of Daly’s signature Loudmouth pants – bottles of his vodka embroidered on both legs of Kelly green pants and “Get Fuzzed Up” written on the back of the pants and his shirt. And the vodka was a negotiation for the $150,000 Fuzzy had said, a few years ago, he would pay Daly if he made it to age 50.
“I thought it was fair,’’ Daly laughed, “because if I’d died, I wouldn’t have been able to pay him.”
The only thing missing? Fuzzy cracking that they should open it right then and there. And, yes, Daly thought he might do just that.
“We were waiting for him to say that next,’’ said Anna Cladakis, Daly’s fiancee’ and caddie.
Even without that potential exclamation point, the crowds ate it up. And when Daly blasted his tee shot down the first fairway? Well, they didn’t know it kicked off a cart path, but they did see it finish some 90 yards past both Fuzzy and Jake and cheers erupted.
“It was like starting all over,’’ Daly said. “It was good coming out with those nerves.”
The day – and cameras – rolled from there.
“I think it was a little hard because there was so much media,’’ Cladakis said, “but I think John really embraced it today and loved the welcome to this tour. Very nice, very warm.
“He told me, 'I can’t believe how many of myselves I’ve signed today.' Everyone wanted their bobblehead signed. And there were Loudmouth pants all over the place.’’
It may have looked a bit chaotic, but that is – and always has been – Daly’s comfort zone. The swirl of people and constant cameras. The cheers. The banter with random fans. It’s pure Daly.
On 16, a fan yelled out, “Hey Fuzzy, where can I get your vodka?’’ Daly didn’t wait for Fuzzy to answer. “The same place you can buy my vodka – at the liquor store,’’ Daly said.
Laughs all around.
That Fuzzy and Jake – the only two other players who thrive in such swirls – were right there beside him? Well, you couldn’t have scripted this round any better.
“It was the best,’’ Daly said. “I could play with Fuzzy and Jake every day for the rest of my life. All three of us play fast, we all talk it up, then get serious over the golf ball, then we go right back into the same conversation. Two great guys.
“I‘ve always looked up to them and they’ve always been there for me. And they’ve always told me when I did right and definitely told me when I did wrong. You can’t ask for two better friends than that. And god bless Jake for walking. I wanted him to get a cart on the back nine. His hips were hurting, but he said, 'I just want to walk with you.' "
Since he had only played four events since August and had only four competitive rounds to his credit in 2016, Daly wasn’t sure what to expect out of his game, but he was pleasantly surprised.
Forget that he outdrove his playing partners by a mile all too often, what mattered was he found the touch and opened his PGA TOUR Champions career with a 2-under-par 70, leaving him four shots back of first-round leader Mike Goodes. Fuzzy and Jake both shot 76.
“I just told him I am absolutely super proud of you,’’ Cladakis said. “We misread maybe two putts. The rest were inches away or we’d probably have picked up four extra shots.’’
Daly was smiling.
“I was surprised how good I hit the ball,’’ he said. “I hit a lot of fairways and that 1-iron was a blessing for me. Even when I didn’t hit it good, I hit it in the fairway. Gave myself chances – a lot of chances to hit greens and a lot of chances coming down the stretch. Just couldn’t get the putter to make anything, but I rolled it good and for me that was all that mattered.
“I’m hitting it good, getting it around and I didn’t shoot myself out of the tournament.’’
The only thing that wasn’t working as well as he would have liked – give or take a flier -- were his three-quarter shots. But for a guy who said he was rusty for the first half of the week, that’s pretty darned good.
Cladakis said there were a few holes where he was questioning what club or shot to hit. “I said, 'What do you feel?' and he said, 'I feel a wedge,' " she said. "I said, 'Then go with it. Just take a deep breath and go with what you’re feeling now.' "
That thought helped him get to 3-under with a birdie at the par-5 13th, but he gave the shot back at the 14th.
Still there were no complaints.
“The putter felt great,’’ he said. “I hit all my lines, which is something I’m not used to doing when you haven’t played in a while. So it was a very positive day in all aspects of my game.’’
But most of all, it was comfortable. And fun.
“When we finished, I asked is it this fun every week?’’ Cladakis said. “Holy cow, this is fun. You forget you’re playing tournament golf.’’
The fun and the day didn’t end at 18, either. After running the media gauntlet, he rounded the corner and went to a Loudmouth meet-and-greet with the colorful crowd.
“He’s handling it so well," Fuzzy said. "I told him the hardest thing he has to learn out here is the word no. He’s a guy who likes to say yes to everyone and it will flat wear you out out here. Pro-ams and dinners and everything. He just has to learn those two little letters. It was hard for me to learn, but Hubert (Green) taught me well.’’
Just where Daly goes from here? Well, he’s cool and confident and ready for whatever comes his way.
Especially if it means another colorful day filled with Loudmouth pants in the crowd and signing more of “himselves.”
“This was all great to see,’’ Daly said. “The bobbleheads were great. They can tee it up and knock my head off or whatever they want to do with it.”
All he plans to do is embrace it and play golf the way it was meant to be played – with a little dose of fun.
John Daly debuts and Mike Goodes leads at Insperity Invitational