Chain-smoking John Daly remains golf's true rockstar – and every mother's worst nightmare

Chain-smoking John Daly remains golf's true rockstar – and every mother's worst nightmare - Reuters
Chain-smoking John Daly remains golf's true rockstar – and every mother's worst nightmare - Reuters

Oh, to be Cameron Tringale. The world No49, a slender and elegant 34-year-old American probably flies under the radar to most bar true golf fans. But on Friday he had a front row seat to a rare meeting of golfing minds as the third member of a group that included John Daly, the Wild Thing, and Bryson DeChambeau, the physics graduate who rebuilt his body to exert more power on the ball.

Tringale had the best round of the trio, shooting a 71, but it was 56-year-old Daly who stole show, even from DeChambeau – a LIV rebel who was booed at last year’s Open in Royal St George’s for his non-traditional approach to big hitting before winning over the fans with his rugby player’s build and scientific approach.

Daly, with his paunch spilling out over his lurid orange baggy trousers, made quite the entrance, clattering over the players’ bridge that leads to the practice putting green. He was followed by his son and caddie John II, himself a promising golfer.

Daly senior’s trousers were emblazoned with the Hooters logo, as was Junior’s baseball cap. “Mummy, what is Hooters?” asked one little girl nearby.

Mummy did not reply. Hooters is the infamous American restaurant chain known for its scantily clad waitresses. But this is Daly, on the surface of it the anti-establishment outsider, in his element; everyone was in thrall, including a patrician-looking Scottish gentleman with a badge identifying him as a previous captain of St Andrews.

Hard as you try, you cannot miss Daly, who won the Open here on the Old Course in 1995, who smoked a cigarette on his way to the tee box and greeted  DeChambeau with that most American of greetings: the fist bump.

DeChambeau, at half Daly’s age, may not remember that win in 1995 but the way Daly re-imagined how you play St Andrews is not far off his own creed: rethink and conquer. Then, Daly just whacked the ball around, not worrying if he missed the fairway wide due to the relatively tame rough by the standards of other courses on The Open’s rotation.

John Daly of the U.S. as he putts on the 9th during the second round - Reuters
John Daly of the U.S. as he putts on the 9th during the second round - Reuters

Having survived bladder cancer, he looks like a man with few regrets and he started brightly,  birdying the first hole much to the delight of the punters. It looked at one point that he would make the cut and even outscore DeChambeau who, with a more cautious approach, made the cut at one under par, no doubt something the perfectionist Californian will be unhappy with but.

But it was always Daly who had the crowd in raptures. Evan as he bogeyed the final three holes to rob him of his chance of making the weekend, the cries from the gallery were of adulation and came in many accents: “I love you John, have a beer with me!”, “I’ll never look like Bryson but I might look like you John!”

Inside the ropes, a flurry of birdies and even an eagle - secured by draining a 76 foot putt on the 5th hole - showed that there is some substance to his unique style.

Daly may seem at times like a caricature and many of his European admirers, in particular, would probably not be a fan of his support for Donald Trump. But the man from Arkansas has something that the average golf fan longs: for relatability. He looked utterly jaded by the time he three-putted at the eighteenth. But the fact he stayed in the hunt for the cut for so long was a contrast to Tiger Woods’ capitulation that led him to end the day at nine over par.

John Daly of the U.S. tees off on the 18th during the second round - Reuters
John Daly of the U.S. tees off on the 18th during the second round - Reuters

Perhaps the R&A should consider signing up Daly as one of their ambassadors to bring more people in or back into golf. Pop star Niall Horan and footballing superstar Gareth Bale have been brought in to draw youngsters into the sport. However, there is also a campaign espousing the virtues of golf for one’s health and considering the wild life Daly led and the fact he could acquit himself so well considering he rarely practiced full rounds.

The years of gambling, drinking and living on the edge as well as the health issues may have taken their toll, but Daly showed what it was to be the everyman’s champion - and a good advert that golf can be played in any physical condition.

He had abandoned his cigarette and portable coffee cup that were welded to him for the earlier rounds by the time he shook DeChambeau’s hand with a lot less enthusiasm than the initial fist pump in the early afternoon. However, the pair ambled off to the recording hut together and one gets the feeling he was possibly advising the younger man to take a leaf out of his book and just be free with his bombs over the weekend.