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John Daly: The Biography by Gavin Newsham

Release date: 10th June, 2004
Publisher: Virgin Books

List Price: £9.99
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John Daly: The Biography
By Gavin Newsham
Virgin Books price: £6.99 (saving: £3.00)

Few sportsmen have exploded onto the world stage quite as spectacularly as John Daly, the golfer from California with the dodgy haircut and the 'grip it and rip it' philosophy so often adapted (though not necessarily executed) by the average Sunday morning hacker.

The manner of Daly's arrival in the big time nearly 13 years ago is the stuff of Hollywood. It started with a phone call at 5pm from the US PGA which advised him that he was the 'first alternate' choice to play in the PGA Championship in Crooked Stick, Indianapolis, some 450 miles away from his home in Tennessee. Naturally, the big man decided to take his chance and, after throwing his clubs into the boot of his (then) fianc»e's BMW, travelled for eight hours to Carmel, Indiana on the off-chance that he may be able to play. For the sake of accuracy, Gavin Newsham correctly points out that Daly didn't drive at all: he had started drinking soon after leaving home, had passed out and left his fianc»e, Bettye, to negotiate the route to the Radisson Hotel.

But back to the unbelievable tale: during the drive to Crooked Stick, the Zimbabwean golfer Nick Price had had to withdraw from the tournament when his wife went into labour with their first child. Daly was in, scheduled to tee off at 12:58. Afforded no opportunity for a practice round and using Price's caddie, Daly clobbered the waterlogged course into submission, eventually winning by a distance.

Daly's style was not exactly subtle and his average distances off the tee that week in August 1991 make for incredible reading, yet great things seemed destined for a man with whom many average golfers could identify. Sadly, Crooked Rock marked the start of a personal descent marred by a gambling addiction (he blew $10m in one three year period), alcoholism (his liver eventually turned black) and peppered with arrest, suspension, rehab, fights with golf fans and even a dalliance with the idea of committing suicide.

To say that Daly has led a colourful life is an understatement. A browse through the chapter headings gives the reader some idea of what he's letting himself in for: "I'm the only hell Mama ever raised" or "I see God coming down the road" and "I'll never get out of this world alive". They read like the song titles to a definitive Blues album and, just like the Blues, this well paced narrative, a comfortable winner of the National Sporting Club's award for Best New Writer, contains tales of heartache and outrage, love and loss.

Although Daly remains one of golf's biggest draws, possibly because he is so passionate about his game - another feature with which the amateur can associate - he is not universally liked by fellow professionals. John Feinstein's seminal golf book, A Good Walk Spoilt makes this clear on a number of occasions, such as when Tom Watson was selecting his US Ryder Cup team. Ironically, Watson liked Daly, but commented, "I couldn't count on John to go out there for 36 holes a day and not give up." As a consequence, Daly was not selected, something which Newsham calls a 'great sporting anomaly'. Daly is, to date, the only American ever to win two 'majors' (he won the Open in 1995) never to have qualified for, or selected for, the US Ryder Cup team.

On balance, after reading this excellent biography, his non-selection is questionable, but Daly doesn't seem to care: "It's all good" he concludes, "because I'm still alive."

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