John Daly made his long-awaited Champions Tour debut on Friday, and he was treated to everything that John Daly loves. There was booze. There were cigarettes. There was cake. There were loud clothes. Most importantly, there was a whole lot of fun being had by everyone.
The fun started even before Daly hit a golf ball. To kick things off, the first 1,000 spectators to the Insperity Invitational in Woodlands, Texas each received a special commemorative John Daly bobblehead doll, and there were also prizes given away to some of those wearing Daly’s signature “Loudmouth” clothing line.
Not to be outdone by any of his onlookers, Daly walked to the first tee box dressed in a turquoise blue shirt to go with his turquoise and red trousers, admittedly nervous about his big debut.
“I feel good, I feel nervous. It’s a good nervous. I always feel a little nervous on the golf course and that’s a good thing.”
Some of Daly’s nerves were certainly eased on that first hole as he was presented with a red and white sheet cake with the inscription “Welcome to the Champions Tour”. Naturally, the two-time major champion responded with a joke.
“You want me to eat all this now? I’m worried what would happen about the fourth hole.”
Daly wasn’t the only one with jokes. His playing partners for the day, former Masters champion Fuzzy Zoeller and two-time Champions Tour major champion Peter Jacobsen, had some jokes of their own for Big John.
Jacobsen offered Daly a lime green golf ball while making reference to one of his longtime habits.
“You see this golf ball. It’s the color of John’s teeth (after all his cigarettes).”
Daly took the rib in stride, responding with “Oh man. That’s tough.” It was then Fuzzy’s turn to jump in, which he did by referencing the $150,000 bet he made with his playing partner many years ago in which he said that John would never make it to 50. Daly said earlier in the week that he wasn’t going to hold Zoeller to the deal, but Fuzzy still wanted to give him something, which came in the form of a bottle of his namesake vodka, which he says should be enough.
“There is it, I’ve paid my debt.”
When it came time to get down to business, John Daly did what John Daly does. He crushed his tee shot some 80 yards past Jacobsen and Zoeller on the 516-yard, par-5 opening hole. He parred the first six holes, bogeyed the seventh and made birdies on eight and nine to go out in 1-under 35. He added birdies on 11 and 13 before giving one back on 14 and parred out for a 2-under 70. Daly is currently tied for 12th and is four shots behind leader Mike Goodes. For only playing twice this year, Daly said he was pleased with how he performed.
“I was surprised how good I hit the ball. I hit a lot of fairways, and that one-iron was a blessing today for me. I mean, even when I didn’t hit it good, it was going in the fairway, and I gave myself a lot of chances.”
Whether or not he’s the favorite to win the golf tournament, John Daly is certainly the crowd favorite. A security guard that walked with the group said that he’d never seen anything like it, including when he walked for five years with Arnold Palmer’s group. While many fans wore the aforementioned “Loudmouth” clothes, one fan wore a golf shirt with the Crooked Stick logo on it, which is where Daly first made a name for himself at the 1991 PGA Championship. The fan pulled Daly aside as he was walking off the second green.
“Hey, John, you see this shirt. I wore it for you, to give you good luck today.”
It’s not only the fans that are behind John Daly. His fellow competitors are with him as well. They know that Daly is a draw and can only help the Champions Tour. At least that’s what Woody Austin thinks.
“They (fans) don’t want to come out and see me, a journeyman. I understand that. It’s important to have, what we call, needle movers, and that’s what John can do.”
Even six-time major champion Lee Trevino made a rare appearance to watch John Daly in action. While complimenting Daly’s talent, he went ahead and threw a joke in at the end just to stick with the theme of the day.
“I’ve known John since he was 18 years old and he likes people and his personality will draw out the crowd. He’s got the greatest short touch for a big man of anybody I’ve ever seen. I think he will grip it and rip and you can’t keep him out of the winners’ circle. Unless he throws his putter or his whole bag in the water on the 18th hole.”
John Daly may not win this golf tournament, but he’s already accomplished what he set out to do this week.
“It’s fun to play golf with friends again.”
The Champions Tour just got a little more interesting.
[Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images]