John Daly always makes his appearances with a bang…just look at the Loudmouth pants collection that is currently keeping him financially afloat. It is difficult to recall that weekend in August of 1991 when a seriously unknown pro from Arkansas snuck under the radar to qualify for and win the PGA Championship by three shots at Pete Dye’s Crooked Stick in Carmel, Indiana.
As you can read in John Garrity’s Sports Illustrated article no one, absolutely no one, saw this coming. Daly was the ninth alternate and did not know until Thursday morning that he would be playing in the spot of Nick Price (and borrowing the services of his caddie as well) who was skipping the event to await the birth of his first child.
What happened over four days-21 birdies, an eagle, and a three-shot winning total of 12-under-is the stuff of fairy tales. With a backswing that insulted parallel and a resultant ball speed that seemed to defy slow motion cameras Daly played without a dimmer switch on a course that Nicklaus called “the most difficult he had every played”.
After an opening 69 on a course he had never seen, Daly defied all logic grabbing the lead Friday morning. As Garrity says “From the moment his name went on the leader board, the crowds at Crooked Stick thought he was a sand castle and the golf course a rising tide”. His tour ranking of 185th in driving accuracy was not a prescription for success at a major, even if it had no rough.
Saturday he made it clear that the grip-it and rip-it mantra had staying power if only for this weekend. A three-under stretch starting on the fourth was the behavior of a major champion and his legions, and their enthusiasm, began to grow.
As is always the case a Cinderella needs a little luck on the way to the ball and Daly got an extremely favorable ruling when his caddie unintentionally rested the end of the flagstick behind the hole as Daly lined up his putt on 11 on Saturday. This is a clear violation of 8-2b that says a player or caddie may not touch the surface of the green along the line of the putt. The two-stroke penalty that would have resulted could have been disastrous.
Fortunately, after reviewing the tape,the officials “honored the spirit rather than the letter of the law….and avoided what would have been the most unpopular rules decision since the Roberto de Vicenzo scorecard fiasco at the 1968 Masters”.
The rest is history, including Big John’s over-the-head whirly-bird fist pump after hitting his final approach into 18 on Sunday. It was quite a show and it is fun to relive it, even if for just a moment.