OKLAHOMA CITY - It could be that John Daly will disappear
into the blue like one of his titanic drives.
If so, the nation's golf fans will mourn.
No one among the mass of talented but indistinguishable
professionals to come along since the heyday of Arnold Palmer
and Jack Nicklaus has galvanized the public as instantly
as has Daly, the 25-year-old Professional Golfers' Association
Tour rookie who got his first victory in a major tournament,
dominating the field at the PGA Championship two weeks ago.
Even stars such as Tom Watson, Johnny Miller and Greg Norman
didn't make this kind of splash in their first seasons.
The instant popularity of the former University of Arkansas
All-American was in dramatic evidence on Monday at the Bank
of Oklahoma National Pro-Am at the new SilverHorn Golf Club
here. While 22 PGA Tour pros competed in the event, a vast
majority of the 4,000 or so fans who showed up followed Daly.
Daly is a raw-boned country lad who smokes cigarettes, enjoys
a beer, plays fast and takes tremendous pleasure in smashing
a golf ball. Remind you of anyone named Palmer?
Daly's tremendous length is the magnet for the fans. When
short-hitting Jeff Sluman got his first career victory in
the 1988 PGA Championship at Oak Tree Country Club in Edmond,
the national response was a stifling yawn. But the fans
showed up in droves on Monday to see Daly hammer those 300-yard-plus
drives, and he did not disappoint.
On the 350-yard, 15th hole, a dogleg left, Daly's drive
carried over a stand of tall trees protecting the green,
landed on the green and bounced over into the rough. On
16, a 528-yard par-5, his drive carried 320 yards in the air!
"I've never seen anything like it," said playing partner
Jim Young, BOk president and one of the state's top amateur
golfers. "He just crushes the ball."
Daly's strength is derived from a powerful but loose frame
that allows him to take the club back far beyond parallel
and still maintain control.
"I'm big-boned, but I'm very loose structured," said Daly,
who has hit a drive more than 400 yards without the wind
behind him. "It's a God-given talent. It's natural."
He learned to swing that way by practicing as a child with
a set of adult Jack Nicklaus clubs that were far too big for him.
"I didn't like to choke down, so I just swung that way."
While Daly was wearing out his fingers signing everything
and anything for his fans on Monday, he admitted the crush
of attention after his PGA Championship victory threw off
his game last weekend in The International in Colorado.
"I was doing great through the second hole of the third
round, then it just hit me," he said. "I couldn't follow
through about the last 13 holes. A week like I just had
really stresses you out, and the body knows it before the
brain does. I got tired and just stopped swinging."
If Daly goes on to become a major star, his troubled two
years at Arkansas and his first years as a pro - during
which he acquired a reputation as a man who partied too
much - probably will be hashed out in the national media.
"Good ol' country boys like to party in college, everybody
understands that," said Daly, who has straightened up his
life considerably. "All I wanted to do was get out here
on tour and be out here for life. I think I can do that."
Besides his awesome drives, Daly possesses a deft short
game and a solid putting stroke. Another trademark is his
pace of play. He takes no practice swings, just four waggles,
and then he smacks the ball.
If he is widely imitated by fans, Daly could help undo the
damage done to the pace of play on public courses over the
years by fans emulating his idol Nicklaus, one of the most
deliberate players ever.
"When Nicklaus does it, it's special in that so many people
get tense waiting to see him do something good," Daly said.
"He can concentrate. I concentrate very little - just enough
to hit the thing. When I'm ready to hit it, I hit it."
The frustrating part for Daly is waiting for everyone else
to hit their shots.
"I've had to learn patience," he said. "People play their
own way, and I play my way. But I don't think I'll ever
be penalized for slow play."
Daly's agent, John Mascatello of Cambridge Sports
International, said offers are pouring in for Daly to endorse
national products. Daly already has signed to endorse Reebok's "Pump" shoe.
"All the major product categories want him," Mascatello
said. "Soft drinks, automotives, telephone companies, cellular
communications, finance, anything that merges the concepts
of power and distance."
David Hardin, a vice president of Cambridge and co-owner
of O Sports Development, which owns the SilverHorn Golf
Club, said Bud Martin of Cambridge signed Daly at the U.S.
Open in June.
"He was a guy you could tell that, even if he didn't make
it big on tour, he was always going to make money because
he can hit the ball so far," Hardin said. "He would fare
well on his own just because he can outdrive everybody."