On the same course where two years ago he was being spirited from place to place by a phalanx of security guards, his face allegedly mistaken for a Chateaubriand by a woman who is destined to become his fourth ex-wife, John Daly returned from his European exile with a temporary caddie, a new coach, a better swing, a Fozzie Bear strawberry blonde brush cut, an internal belt-tightening, the same cigarettes and a set of clothes that have launched a thousand similes.
While it's completely unclear whether or not a golf professional should dress in clothes that look like the awning on an ice cream parlor, what is abundantly clear is that similar behavior in the gallery should under no circumstances be encouraged. God only knows what kind of body type might find this fashion flattering but a quick perusal of Daly's Everyman and forever-loyal fans indicates that it does not readily occur in nature. And, in Memphis, J.D. is still the biggest draw in town.
There is no question that, for now (and with J.D. one never knows how long now will last), what we have here is a new and improved Daly. His opening round of two-over-par 72 was a business-like, ball-striking triumph but a putting disaster. He hit 14 fairways and took 31 putts. "It's probably the worst I putted in five years," said Daly. Well, except for those times he puck-handled it around the greens like Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby. But, who's counting?
Daly's fill-in caddie was Mark Fairbanks, the superintendent and general manager of his Lions Den GC in Dardanelle, AR. His new coach is Rick Smith, who he worked with before heading for Europe where his best finish was a T2 in Italy. "Basically, what I saw in his golf swing was the bottom of his arc was well back of the ideal position," said Smith. That led to either a block or hook as he flipped the club at impact. "All I did was get him thinking the divot was well in front of the golf ball. The ball ended up going in the right position, which was forward a little bit, which changed the plane line. The other thing is the bottom of his arc moved considerably forward so he's hitting all his shots really solid." The putting is still a work in progress.
Admitting to Smith he had a few butterflies before his debut round, Daly was paired with Tim Clark and Tim "Lumpy" Herron, the only man on Tour who can go outfit-to-outfit with J.D. since, in a closet back in Minnesota, he's got a plaid jacket for winning The Colonial with an outlandish pair of matching slacks. On Wednesday, Herron asked Daly about the Lap-Band procedure that helped him lose 61 pounds, turning Big John into Lumpy Lite. "It's kind of hard talking to Lumpy with M&Ms on his shirt," Daly joked about the endorsement on Herron's shirt. "You can eat M&Ms on the Lap-Band, though. You just got to chew them. And don't eat the peanuts."
Now, there's a tip you don't get every day.
--- Jim Moriarity