PGA Championship

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The Legend of Long John

The not-so-legendary story of John Daly losing $1.65 million (!!) in Vegas after losing to Tiger at TPC Harding Park


Justin Sullivan

EDITOR'S NOTE—This story first ran in August 2020, just before TPC Harding Park hosted the PGA Championship as the professional golf world was slowly ramping pack up from the initial COVID-19 outbreak.

When it comes to professional golf history, TPC Harding Park doesn’t have much of it—the storied course is better known by locals as site for the annual San Francisco City Championship. But what the 2020 PGA Championship venue lacks in quantity, it makes up for in quality. Allow us to explain.

Most recently, Harding Park was the site of the 2015 WGC-Dell Match Play, which Rory McIlroy won over Gary Woodland. That was cool and all, but the craziest thing that happened that week occurred on Friday afternoon, when Keegan Bradley and Miguel Angel Jimenez met in a meaningless Group Stage match. Late in their match, Bradley was looking to get a free drop from a temporary immovable obstruction, which MAJ disputed. The rest, as they say, is history:

GOLF FIGHT!! If there was any doubt controversy sells, check the view count on that video on YouTube—2 million! Not bad for a “meaningless” golf match.

Six years earlier, Harding Park was also the site of what is arguably one of Tiger Woods’ greatest reactions to a golf shot in his career (sixth-best, according to Alex Myers, who knows nothing). The twirl heard ‘round the world:

Still incredible, no matter how many times you watch it. Not to steal Myers’ line, but there really should be a statue of that pose in the 18th fairway at Harding Park (maybe he does know what he’s talking about).

Four years earlier, Harding Park hosted its first PGA Tour event since 1969, the 2005 WGC-American Express Championship, and it was an absolute gem. Tiger Woods and John Daly ended up in a sudden-death playoff, which Daly lost in shocking fashion, missing a three-footer/three-putting from 15 feet:

Unfortunately for Daly, this was his last real shot at a sixth PGA Tour title. He had ended a nine-year slump a year prior at the Buick Invitational, but didn’t find the winner’s circle again until the 2017 Insperity Invitational on the PGA Tour Champions.

As wild as those three Harding Park happenings were, they all pale in comparison to what happened off the San Francisco property back in 2005. Daly, after missing that short putt to lose to Woods on the third sudden-death playoff hole, went straight to Las Vegas. In his 2006 autobiography, Daly wrote that when he arrived, he sat down at a $5,000-per-play slot machine. Within the first half hour, he lost $600,000. Luckily, his second-place finish at the American Express earned him $750,000, so he was still up $150,000 on the day.

But Daly refused to walk away, taking out a $600,000 line of credit at the casino and losing that within two hours. He eventually lost $1.65 million (!!!) in total in five hours, playing mostly slots.

"If I don't get control of my gambling, it's going to flat-out ruin me," he says in the book, co-written with Glen Waggoner.

“And here’s how my sick mind analyzed the situation: My sponsorship payments would be coming through in January, so I’d be able to pay everything off and get back to even by the beginning of the new year. Everything’s fine. Everything’s OK. No problema. Hell, yes, there’s a problema.”

Uhh, ya think?

Of course, $1.65 million is just a fraction of what Daly lost in his gambling lifetime. In a 2016 interview with Graham Bensginer, Daly estimated that he’s lost between $50 million and $60 million gambling in his life.