John Daly Uncensored: An interview with America's underdog
From the archive (August 2005): Ten years after his last major victory, Long John is the character America loves to root for
America loves an underdog, and ever since John Daly won the 1991 PGA Championship after slipping into the field as the ninth alternate, Wild Thing has been one of golf's most popular players. Even after that improbable victory, Daly has remained an Everyman, and when he claimed the 1995 Open Championship at St. Andrews, well, that spread his grip-it-and-rip-it legacy to global proportions. Why does Daly capture the public's imagination? Perhaps because, as he says, "The only rules I follow are the rules of golf."
Daly has been married four times, endured bouts of compulsive drinking and gambling, and twice contemplated suicide. He sings, smokes, donates money to strangers, spends hours in charitable enterprises and says, "I got the greatest job in the world." He tours the country in a motor home that requires $450 to fill the tank, and if the attendant mistakes him for a rock star, fine. "Guy at a gas station said to us not long ago, we must be famous, to be traveling around like that," Daly recalls. "We told him, 'Yeah, we're a band from Australia on a U.S. tour.' Gotta have fun, right?"
Golf Digest: Your life has been a mixture of good, bad and ugly. Why not start with something upbeat? You just got a surprise e-mail from the past.
John Daly: I don't know if you remember, but the week I won the PGA Championship in 1991, there was a big storm and one of the spectators got killed by lightning. Name was Tom Weaver. Anyway, I read about it, and when I won, I decided to donate $30,000 to his children. Two girls, for their college education. I didn't even know their names, and I never followed up on it, because I felt if I did get in touch with them, then it might just bring up memories of that day when their dad got killed. So now, 14 years later, I just got this message that one of the girls is graduating and going to medical school, and they want to get ahold of me. Which is nice.
You weren't exactly rolling in dough then.
More like rolling in debt. That was my first big check. I owed $175,000 on my house in Memphis. We owed some on my wife Bettye's car. I figured I could pay off those two, and then take $30,000 for the girls. I got $230,000 for winning the PGA, so it all worked out. The $30,000 was invested well. I just felt it was the thing to do, and it felt good. I won a major, but we lost a human being while I was doing it, and I almost felt like I was part of his death. Now that they've reached out to me, I'll reach out to them.
A chapter for your book. You're doing one, right?
That's the plan. We're talking to publishers. There've been two books done about me, one in the United States and some guy in Europe, I think. But they're unauthorized, and you know how that goes. I've done some crazy stuff, but those books are mostly from newspaper clips and things. A lot of it isn't true. At least in my book, I'll talk about the crazy stuff in my own words. Like my CD: "My Life," according to me.
You're lucky even to be alive, aren't you?
In 1989, I was driving from a bar with my brother, Jamie, back home in Arkansas. Probably driving too fast, maybe 55 or 60 in a 45 zone. They'd just fixed the side of the road, and there was gravel. I made a sharp turn, it was kind of wet, and the back right tire just started sliding. They said we slid 186 feet. It was a Blazer, and it flipped twice. I was driving, and I wound up where Jamie was sitting. He got thrown out. The steering wheel wound up almost in the back seat. If I had stayed where I was, if I'd had my seat belt on, I'd have been crushed into nothing. He wound up with just a few scratches on him. Same for me. We went to see the thing the next morning. Right side of the Blazer was pretty much intact, but the dashboard was in the back. Amazing.
How is your life now? You recently turned 39. Are you happy?
It's been a hard 39. Fuzzy Zoeller keeps saying I'll never make it to 50, but if he did, I think I will. I used to be a lightning rod. Now I'm just thunder. I've had ups and downs, including with my wife, Sherrie. But basically, since we got married four years ago, it's been great. Financially, we would be set if I quit golf tomorrow. I'm happy being around my family. Our two boys are great. But I miss my two daughters. I don't get to see them as much as I'd like to, that's for sure.
Let's go down the family tree.
Shynah is 13. She was by Bettye, my second wife. Sierra, 10, was by Paulette, my third marriage. Shynah is in Orlando, Sierra is in Palm Springs. With their mothers. They're in school. I get to see them some in the summer and on holidays. But, like I say, it's not enough. I talk to Shynah four or five times a week, sometimes three times in one day. Sierra, I also talk to. She's hanging out with her pals. Austin, who's 6, and Little John, who's 1, live with us, and they're something. A handful.
Why has all this happened to you?
I'm not going to sit here and downgrade my exes, but Bettye and I were just not made for each other. She was committed to my job, if you know what I mean. I got the impression that both Bettye and Paulette were in it for the money. That sounds mean, I know, but that's the way they made me feel in the end. Maybe I was naive. But I've always been someone who's in a relationship. I was never what you'd call a dater. Now, I've got Sherrie and the boys pretty much wherever I go.
Is there any doubt in your mind, considering all that's happened to you, that you'll live happily ever after?
Nobody can answer that. Life is full of challenges and surprises, and I've had my share. There were times when I was trying to get straightened out, and I looked around and realized, Hey, I'm not that messed up compared with what I could be. I mean, I've been to rehab, like everybody knows. I just know I can't drink whiskey. I can have a few beers, and do. Just because I went to alcohol rehab doesn't mean I'm an alcoholic.
Yeah, but I know my body, and I know I can have a couple of beers without getting smashed. I don't remember the last time I was drunk. Besides, I don't like that feeling in the morning after you've had too many. I don't like that feeling anymore.
When did you last meet up with your friend, Jack Daniels?
Oh, a long time ago. I don't even like the smell of whiskey anymore. I used to drink to get drunk. No more. I don't binge drink. Throughout high school, college and my first few years on tour, I'd take out all my problems on alcohol.
What were those problems?
In college is where I started smoking and drinking Jack Daniels, big time. That was at Arkansas. Steve Loy was the coach [Loy now represents Phil Mickelson]. Loy wanted me to lose weight, so I dropped 65 pounds inside three months. I figured if I drank and smoked and didn't eat, I'd lose the weight and be able to play for him. So I lost the weight, and he still wouldn't let me play. He screwed me so bad.
See this scar on my right leg? He hit me in my shin with my sand wedge. Got me twice. Right in front of [teammate] Jimmy McGovern. He played with us at Arkansas from 1986 to '87. Ask Jimmy. Loy was a discipline guy, which I didn't mind, but I can't forgive a man for doing that. I'll say hello to Loy now if I see him with Phil. I don't want Phil to be mad at me, but Steve Loy, when I knew him, was not a good person. He might be now.
What happened to Sherrie's parents?
Her dad [Alvis Miller] is in jail in Arkansas for 2½ years. I went to see him not long ago. Her mom was put away for a few months, too. From what I understand, it was something to do with illegal structuring or laundering of money. He was in the automobile business, and he sold cars to people who wound up being bad people. I knew one of the guys. I played golf with him for 14 years, and he got busted for a bunch of pot coming in from Mexico. But it wasn't for drugs that Alvis got in trouble.
When all this was going on a couple years ago, you said that if it turned out Sherrie was involved, you were gone.
I did, but what scared me when I started talking to the lawyers was all this stuff about drugs. I did say that I would leave Sherrie if she was part of it, but I didn't mean it. It's not like me to take off on people when they're down or in trouble, especially someone I love as much as Sherrie. The hardest part for me was not being with her in court. She wanted me there, and I was almost to the point of going, but some of my friends and lawyers told me not to, because it might look like I was trying to help get her off. You know, influence the judge to the point where it worked against her. I stayed away, and it was tough. [Editor's note: Sherrie Daly was sentenced Dec. 14, 2004, to five months in prison for her role in the money-laundering scheme. She pleaded guilty to one count of structuring cash deposits in amounts less than $10,000 to avoid bank reporting requirements, according to federal authorities. She is appealing the sentence.]
So, what is your understanding of Sherrie's role, if any?
My understanding is that she did what she was told to do by her father, that she made two deposits to the bank without knowing what was going on.
For years, you leaned on an old friend from home, Donnie Crabtree. What happened?
He didn't like Sherrie. He didn't like what was going on with her parents, so he treated her like a criminal, and she's not. Donnie was a great friend for a long time. In 1997, when I fell into that door of the hotel room during the Players Championship after what must have been my night out with 7-and-7s [whiskey and 7 UP], Paulette went nuts, and a lot of bad stuff happened, one thing after another. We'll get into it as we go here. Well, it was Donnie who drove me from there to the Betty Ford Center. But a few years ago, after I met Sherrie, he was telling me that for the work he was doing, he should get paid the same as my ex-wives.
Which is a big number.
Every month it's $10,000 to Bettye and $10,000 to Paulette. That's a lot of golf balls. My first wife, Dale, we weren't married that long, and I had no money. I was 21.
Did you ever think maybe you just weren't ready for marriage?
I think I was so set on having kids, and I wanted to be young enough to be able to throw the ball to them and do other things in sports with them. That was my fault. Bettye was pregnant with Shynah, and when I found out Bettye was almost 10 years older than I thought she was, I was still dumb enough to marry her. She lied to me about her age, plus she was still married. She got a divorce just before we were married, without me knowing about it.
You say you're just thunder now, not lightning. But during the 1991 PGA Championship that made you famous, the public had no reason to know you, yet you quickly became a cult figure.
It was wild. That Saturday night in Indianapolis, Bettye and I went to a Colts game. An exhibition game. We walked to the 50-yard line, waving to all the people, and we got this big ovation. Thing is, they were trying to get me to kick a field goal, which I did when I played football in high school. I was too fat to be a quarterback, but I could kick.
I was going to suit up that night. Mr. [Robert] Irsay, the Colts' owner, wanted me to get in the game and everything, but he wound up worrying about me maybe getting hurt and what the insurance situation would be if I did.
But how do you explain your popularity? Again, three days into your PGA Tour career, you were creating a huge buzz.
I don't know what it is. Honestly. But it's awesome. I'm not a religious person. I have a one-on-one relationship with God, but I don't go to church like I should. I'm good to people, and maybe that's why they're good to me. Even when I've done things because I'm mad, I don't get mean with people. Like the time in 1992 in Colorado, when I went off in our house, the cops came, and it came out that I hit Bettye. But even Bettye, as pissed as she was at me, said I didn't. I was dancing with Dan Hampton's girlfriend [Hampton is a former defensive lineman with the Chicago Bears], Bettye got hot, and I went on a rampage. But I was only being mean to the house, and it was my house. Even Hampton couldn't pull me away from punching the walls, and he's a big boy. But I never hit Bettye. You'd never know that, though. It was one paragraph in the newspaper a week after the story.
What's the most you ever were in the hole for gambling?
About $3 million, $4 million. Blackjack, slots. Most I ever got on markers at a casino was $500,000. That was mid-'90s, when a lot of bad stuff was happening. I needed that Wilson contract to help pay my debt off, but Wilson dropped me in '97, right after that Jacksonville thing [a drinking spree the week of the Players Championship]. That was a $30 million deal.
How long does it take to blow $500,000?
Depends. Could take two or three days. Or if you're doing bad at blackjack, real quick. A lot quicker than two or three days.
But shortly after Wilson let you go, you signed with Callaway.
While I was in rehab. Mr. C., Ely Callaway, was a wonderful man. I could never say a bad word about him. I was with them for two years. I didn't drink or gamble during that time. That was part of the agreement. Then in 1999, I had some beers, and Mr. C. wanted me to go back to rehab. So I went to rehab again, but basically for one day. When I saw pot and cocaine flying over the fence, I figured it wasn't for me. I told Mr. C, "I love you to death; I love your company. But I want to be a man about this. I can't do it. If you want me to sit here and tell you I'll never drink again or gamble again, I can't do that."
It had gotten to the point where, even when I was playing golf, I'd get a call from the Callaway people telling me they'd heard rumors I was in Vegas, gambling and drinking my brains out. I couldn't be in both places, and I knew I was in Greensboro. But that's rumors for you.
Now you're with Dunlop.
It's been a terrific relationship. I'm their only guy, and to see my own Lion line of clubs in the stores, just like Jack Nicklaus, that's cool.
How are you physically?
I had a bone-spur problem last year [Daly underwent surgery on his right heel], so I stayed after the 84 Lumber tournament. Mr. Joe Hardy, the chairman and founder of the company, great guy and one of my sponsors, said, "Why don't you just go see my doctor?" I did, and I was in perfect health. My cholesterol is low, and I eat the worst food possible. Meat, chocolate, french fries. All my bloodwork was good.
The PGA Tour media guide has you weighing 220.
Uh, that's a little low. I'm about 245 right now, and I'm not fighting it anymore. I wouldn't mind being about 230 or 235, but I found when I did lose weight, like when Loy put me on that starvation diet, my swing changed with my body. I've tried to lose weight two or three times, and every time, my golf game was horrible. My swing got quicker. I know that sounds like an excuse not to lose weight, but that doctor in Pittsburgh said nothing's beating fast inside me. So I'm happy and Sherrie's happy. She says she likes fat men.
What about the cigarettes?
Marlboro mediums, 2 to 2½ packs a day, depending on how long it takes to play a round of golf. That's a problem on tour now, the pace of play. But, either way, I smoke too much.
How many times have you been fined by the tour?
Ooh. I don't think I have the record. I was talking with Tiger recently. I wanna say I'm up around $180,000 to $200,000, but he said I have a long way to go to catch him. I was leading in the late '90s, but I haven't been fined since 2000, I don't think. Tiger gets fined for swearing on TV, but he's got a microphone in his face every shot. A lot of guys are using the same language, but they're not on TV.
Are you sorry for anything you've done on the golf course, like Pinehurst in '99, when you took an 11 on one hole?
The U.S. Open? Nah, I'm not sorry for that. I hit a moving ball, my third putt, after my first two rolled up and back. That was the eighth hole. Ninth hole, Tom Kite, who I'm playing with, didn't say a word. On the 10th fairway, he said, "I might have done the same thing." I got a two-shot penalty. No fine. I said after that, I didn't consider the U.S. Open a major. Not because Pinehurst isn't a great golf course. It is. But because of the way the USGA sets up the Open so unfair.
How have you and the PGA Tour gotten along?
Deane Beman, when he was commissioner, never took the time to sit down and talk to me. Tim Finchem has been great that way. I'm not saying Beman did a bad job; I just never got to know him. There's been talk that when Tim retires, a former player should become commissioner. Problem with that is, players like certain players more than other players, and we don't need a buddy system with the commissioner. I can call Tim, and he'll return my call. Tim never forced me to go to rehab after the Jacksonville thing in '97. I went to Betty Ford on my own. It was after Colorado in '92 that Beman told me I should go to rehab. Sierra Tucson, three weeks.
Then you came back and got suspended later in 1993?
Brain fart, Kapalua Invitational. We're playing the second round, we were playing with amateurs, and I just picked my ball up after missing a birdie putt on No. 11 and went and teed it up on No. 12. I wasn't thinking. My partner was about to make a 2 for a 1. I finished out the round, but I was out of the tournament. I was on probation at the time, and Beman basically revoked the probation until early in the 1994 season. I'm not sure he liked me a whole lot, but I was immature when I came up. I didn't have any game plan; I just wanted to attack golf courses. I had a lot going on at the time of Kapalua, as usual, but it wasn't the drinking. That's right about when I was going through the divorce with Bettye.
Is it possible, because of all the stuff you've been through, that your golf game isn't regarded as well as it should be? You have won two majors.
I don't really care. I wouldn't be out here if I didn't think I could win every week, but all the guys feel that way. And this idea that I could be better if I took better care of myself, well, I don't know. Fuzzy always tells me I'm a throwback, that I should have played back in his era. I don't know that Arnold Palmer ever worked out, or Jack Nicklaus. I don't think those guys were as crazy. Tom Watson never did some of the things I've done.
Ever been in the fitness van?
I think I went in there one time for some Advil or Bayer. It looked nice inside, but it's not for me. I don't even stretch. I've never had a trainer. Look at me. Mentally, I talk to Dr. Bob [Rotella]. I love him. I could talk to him for days. He talks about golf. But these psychologists we have running around here, I'm not into that. When I talk to Dr. Bob, he doesn't have a sheet of paper in front of him: When were you born? Did you have a good relationship with your parents? That stuff. Dr. Bob just talks about thinking positive.
Do you struggle with confidence?
Mostly my putting. I figure I'm like Lanny Wadkins was when he was out here: streaky. When you're on, you're on. I'm not like Vijay or Tiger or Phil or Ernie. They always seem to be there.
How far are you from being one of them?
Well, I go from wanting to be in the top 50, to the top 20 to the top 10. I'd like to think I can get there.
Could you be a Hall of Famer golfer?
I think if you win one major, you should get in. It's that hard to win a major. But I figure I've got to win some more tournaments before I'll be considered.
What about the Masters? That's the one major you figured to win before the two you have won.
My chances were better on the old golf course. Every hole was driver and L-wedge before they made it longer. Now, I've missed the cut two years in a row at Augusta, and it shouldn't happen. But it did. Hit the ball great last April, but took too many putts.
I want a green jacket badly, but I actually think the fact that it's longer has taken my advantage away. I can't hit 6- or 7-iron into No. 8 anymore. Everybody has to lay up now, so it's no advantage to me. No. 11, I can't hit L-wedge like I used to when other guys were hitting 6-iron. Plus, the fact that I've been hitting a cut since 2001 doesn't help there.
Why does Tiger play it so well?
Because he owns it. Not because of his length, but his confidence. He putts those greens better than anybody.
What about the U.S. Open? Do you have enough patience to win one of those?
I think so. I didn't play last year at Shinnecock, which was probably a good thing. I couldn't even watch it after a while, it was so embarrassing. Those are my fellow competitors out there, hitting good shots into a par 3 like No. 7, and they take triple bogey. What about golf? What about skill? I couldn't watch much last year. Stupid.
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You've never played a Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup. Does that bother you?
I'm dying to get on one of those teams. Hal Sutton, I don't think he gave me much thought for last year. Lanny, he told me he thought about picking me in 1995, after I won the British. I'd love to play the Presidents Cup for Jack [Nicklaus] this year. I'd love it. I learned how to play from watching Jack—his swing, his grip. I still have the note he put on my locker in 1991 on Sunday morning of the PGA. "Go get 'em, John. Jack Nicklaus."
There's a school of thought that you're a loose cannon and wouldn't quite fit the team format.
I thought the Dunhill Cup would help that. I've played in three of those. I played in 1998 with Tiger and Mark O'Meara, and I was unbeaten in four matches. I played with Payne Stewart and Freddy Couples in 1993 and we won.
What about the 1998 World Cup in New Zealand? Did you have a problem there? Something about breaking your clubs?
I don't remember exactly what I did there. But if I didn't break them, I probably should have. I played with Scott Verplank, and I played bad. He won the individual part. He was great, and I felt I let him down. I was battling some alcohol issues there, some personal problems. Then there was a terrible article about me in the paper down there that got me all mad. I love New Zealand, too. Long way to go to get pissed off.
What was written that got you so angry?
Oh, the same old stories were brought up again. So I didn't talk to the writers. Scott said to me after reading the papers, "I wouldn't talk to them, either." It wouldn't have done any good if I did talk, because the papers had their idea of what I was like, anyway. Too bad, because the fans were great, and it's a beautiful country.
So you think you could be a good team guy?
I do, but I'm gonna have fun. For some reason, the Ryder Cup has turned into a war or something. The media is part of the reason for that, building it up into something it isn't. The Europeans have a blast every time. Our guys shouldn't be tight, but they are. Maybe because we're expected to win. I don't know. We play against the Europeans every day, for God's sake. There's so much tension, though, it's not even fun to watch.
But you watched last year?
Mostly only the first day, and I could just tell we were going to get killed. Our guys looked nervous.
And you think you could help that attitude?
I'm not saying our guys don't like to have fun. And I'm not saying I'd go in there and tell the guys we gotta drink a bunch of beer. But we do need to loosen up. I'd just go in and be myself. I'd even wear a tie. I know there are a bunch of dinners, and I can't stand wearing a tie. But I'd wear one for my country, even though I'd rather have a rope around my neck and me hanging from that tree over there.
Any other suggestions?
If I was captain, what I would do is get the PGA of America to lease us a plane before the thing, then go play wherever the Ryder Cup is going to be with the guys on the team. Give me three days, before it starts. Whatever, in August. When the course is just about what it's going to be like for the real deal. I'm not downing Hal, but Tiger and Phil shouldn't have been together [at Oakland Hills]. But if you go there early, maybe you can figure that out. You practice playing team golf.
You get along fine with the public. What about the press?
If I do something wrong, I deserve to get ridiculed in print. What I don't like is when I see the same stuff getting dredged up after years and years. And when the stuff isn't true, like me hitting women, that burns me bad. Hell, I don't even spank my kids. I abuse myself, but I don't abuse others.
How about your relationships with other players?
I feel that in the early '90s, I pissed a couple off. There was a story over in Great Britain. A guy interviewed me, and I said that I didn't know whether guys on tour smoked dope or not, but that it wasn't any of my business if they did. I don't have to tell you how that came out. Big headlines, twisting everything I'd said. Curtis Strange said I should crawl under a rock. Greg Norman was mad, too, but he did the right thing. He called me, and I told him what I said and how it was different from what came out. He said, fine, that's OK by me. Handled it like it should have been handled. He confronted me and found out the truth. That was cool.
When things have been tough for me, a lot of guys have tried to help through the years. Jack Nicklaus called, Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson, Craig Stadler. And of course, Fuzzy's always been there for me. That's a true story about the cemetery. I wanna say it was in Ohio during the Memorial. I was really down, and Fuzzy took me for a ride that wound up in a cemetery. "You think you have it bad, John. What about these people?"
Have you ever smoked marijuana?
I smoked dope in college a little, but I've never done any of those other drugs. My experience with pot was awful. It made me hungry and made me thirsty and made me tired. If it makes me want a beer, why not just have the beer?
One time in college, I smoked pot and I was driving a car, and I actually thought I was going backward. I pulled over and threw up. I saw people in college do cocaine, and it scared me.
Do you think there's a drug problem out on tour?
Nah. Our guys are all so fit. That's why we don't have a drug policy. No need for it.
If you put a six-pack of beer in a tour locker room in the morning, would it still be there at night?
Probably not, but I know what you're saying. There are a few guys who like to have a couple. Calc [Mark Calcavecchia], I love him. He's like me. We hang with the caddies, respect them. Pat Perez is fun, John Huston, Robert Gamez, Lumpy [Tim Herron]. Even if they don't drink, they're fun to go out with. Chris Riley is a blast, too. Joe Ogilvie. I'll tell you who else I had fun with: David Duval. We played in the Players Championship together. There was an article about how he didn't care. That couldn't be further from the truth. He's trying. Why is he playing if he doesn't care? He'll win again, and I'm glad to see he's the old David. When he started winning a bunch, I didn't exist. He changed a little bit. But he's his old self again, and now with a wife and kids, he's happy. Maybe he's been humbled a little, like golf does to all of us. I would never give up on that boy, because he's got too much game.
You were grateful at St. Andrews in 1995 when a few guys hung around to see you win The Open.
Mark Brooks, Bob Estes, Lee Janzen, Corey Pavin. They'd all played pretty good. I think it was Brooksie who lent me his yardage book for the playoff. I'd lost mine. Then when it was all over, Lee, who's a great guy, knocked on my door that night. "Let me see it," he said. "I just want to see the trophy." I was just sitting there, eating spaghetti and ice cream like I had all week, and Lee knocked on my door. Cool.
What were you thinking when Costantino Rocca knocked that putt in from 70 or so feet to force a playoff?
If I didn't like him so much, I'd have just as soon had a fistfight with him right there on the 18th green. He's great. I love all those European guys. Darren Clarke tells me I should get European citizenship: "John Patrick Daly, you gotta be 80 percent Irish. Get yourself a passport, and you can play for us in the Ryder Cup." That would be something. Playing the Ryder Cup in Ireland next year. If I made the U.S. team, I don't know what would happen. Fans over there have been wonderful to me. I don't know if they would boo me. I've never been booed.
What about Vijay? He beat you at the Buick in Michigan last year and in a playoff at Houston this year.
I love Vijay. He's always been good to me. And he's funny. Hilarious. A lot of people don't see that side of him, but that's one thing I admire about him. He doesn't care what people think. I mean, people who know him, he cares about. I felt so bad in Houston. Before the playoff, I was on TV doing an interview, and Austin was with me. And he said right on the air he hoped Vijay wouldn't make the putt on No. 18, so we'd go to a playoff. I also felt bad when there was a roar from the crowd when he missed because they wanted a playoff. But that stuff doesn't bother Vijay.
I've never really gotten to know him. No particular reason, I don't think. I don't think it has anything to do with Loy. Phil does his own thing. We're all different. Maybe that's why he wins. He's got a wonderful family, so he must be doing something right.
Great. He's always been great to me.
Last year, there was a story that you agreed to play in the Deutsche Bank for him and he would then play the 84 Lumber for you.
That hurt a little. I passed up a big appearance fee in Korea to play his event, and I really wanted him to go to 84 Lumber. That's how much I think of Mr. Joe Hardy and [daughter] Maggie. They're the best. Tiger withdrew, and he apologized. And I think he wrote Joe and Maggie a letter. Tiger said he was just exhausted after the Ryder Cup, and I can understand that. It was the week after. I have no hard feelings.
What about Ernie?
He's so laid-back, he gets along with everybody. You hear stuff about how the four big guys [Woods, Singh, Els and Mickelson] aren't great friends, but I don't really know anything about that. I'm not a locker-room guy. I travel a lot with the mobile home, and I pretty much operate out of there. If there's a rain delay, I can go to the bus. I might go into the locker room early in the week, give the attendants a hundred bucks or a couple hundred, and tell them if somebody wants my locker, they can have it. Clean it out. And you don't have to clean my shoes, either.
You're a frequent neighbor of Davis Love III in the mobile-home lots. He says you're a good neighbor, too.
More and more guys are doing it, and the tour and the tournaments have been really helpful in finding us places to put the buses every week. I don't mind flying. I don't like commercial planes, and I do have some hours on one of those private jets. But the mobile home is easier. You pack up your stuff, pile in with the kids, and you're off for however long you've got to be gone.
Music is one of your favorite hobbies, right?
Love it. Jamie, my brother, plays the guitar. When I'm back home, we might sit in the music room, have a few beers and play the guitar. Then I've got so many other buddies who really are singers. Johnny Lee, Hootie and the Blowfish. These are some of my best friends. I must have a collection of 60 or 70 guitars, so when we all get together, we have a ball. Daron Norwood, another buddy of mine, helped arrange a CD we did for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Willie Nelson came in, too. Those guys are so good, and I'm so bad. I can't sing very well, so they had to work my voice in.
I like to write lyrics. During the rain delays at the Players Championship, I wrote two verses. They did something on it on The Golf Channel. It started out as an interview, and I wound up starting on a song. "I Just Want to Play."
Didn't you tell someone you wanted to be a porn star? What about those pictures on the Internet?
A few years ago, I missed the cut at the Canadian Open. I went to a party. There must have been 2,000 people there. It started out that a guy wanted me to come over and sing a couple songs. Winds up with these girls taking pictures of all these people with their tops off. I knew I shouldn't be doing it, but I was drinking, and I did it. I took my shirt off, and I wound up mooning the camera, too. They promised me the pictures weren't going to wind up anywhere, and they lied. I hate that. Got my lawyers after them. What can I say? I do some crazy stuff, but they lied.
Do you have more fun than most of the guys out here?
I don't know. Golf is a job, and it's hard, but I do love it. I've hung out with a few football players who don't think it's that difficult. Well, it's better than getting the hell beat out of you, but it is stressful, and to walk 18 holes you have to be in some kind of condition. And like I always say, I'm in great shape for the shape I'm in.
And now you get up in the morning when you used to get in?
Obviously, there's a lot of commotion around you whenever you play. Is it difficult for others to play with you?
I don't think so. I play fast, or at least I try to. And there's security with me, which is good. I don't think that stuff bothers Tiger too much. He handles the noise pretty well. Briny Baird played with me at the L.A. Open last year, and I birdied a few holes coming in on Sunday. I made a putt on the last hole, I think, to finish fourth. He said to me, "Man, this is like a football game ... this is unbelievable ... you inspire people. But I would never want to be in your shoes."
I took that as a compliment. I try to give fans a good show. This is supposed to be entertainment.
Would you like to be in Tiger's shoes?
Hell, yeah. Then I'd have nine majors.
Who are some of the famous people you've played golf with?
I played with President Clinton. At the Bob Hope tournament, I played with Bob Hope, President Ford and Vice President Quayle. Every year at Houston, I see President Bush and his wife, Barbara. I'm a big fan of theirs, and their son, because I like a president who doesn't take any crap. And this president doesn't take any crap.
A lot of famous people are my friends, too. Johnny Lee, the urban cowboy, I grew up listening to him in the '80s. I'm the godfather of his son. I don't think much about fame. I would love to meet Meg Ryan and Dolly Parton. My mom's favorites were Patsy Cline and Dolly Parton.
You miss your mom?
Every day. She died three years ago. One thing about moms: They always seem to say the right thing, even when you screw up. I have a lot of good people around me now, including Jamie, who's 14 months older than me. He owns the bar in downtown Dardanelle [Ark.], Daly's Downtown. Whenever I'm headed that way, I call and tell him to get my ribeye steak ready. Well done, 16 ounces. Great food. But I miss Mom. My dad worked nights, nuclear power plants, so I never used to spend as much time with him as my mom. Hanging around guys like Darius Rucker and Johnny Lee now, they know what it's like, being recognized a lot of places where you go. But it's not like I can't go out and eat.
You're at peace with your people?
I've never had so many good people around me, supporting me, without their hands out. These people would take bullets for me. I never felt so comfortable and so trusting. I'm afraid to start naming names, because I'm sure I'll leave someone out and hurt their feelings.
You said you never spank your kids. Did you get spanked?
My dad beat the crap out of me. He was old school. Most of the time, I deserved it. He doesn't drink anymore, and I'm proud of him for that. It's been three years. But when he was on the whiskey, he'd let me have it, and sometimes he wouldn't remember he did it. He was tough, but that's the way his parents treated him. I still love him, and he comes out to watch me play sometimes.
Assess yourself as a parent and husband.
I don't say "no" enough to people I don't know. But I do try to say no to the kids. I don't always succeed. I spoil them because I know I can. They can have whatever they want. What I have to work on is not taking bad rounds home with me. I used to let golf stay with me, but now when I come back and see the boys, they light me up. Sherrie is great, too. She'll talk to me. She'll listen. The other wives, they never wanted to talk, never wanted to listen. Like Sherrie says, "When I married you, I knew who you were. You play golf, you drink a little bit, you gamble a little bit and you smoke. And you don't go out, either."
She likes to go out to eat. I'm not big on that. I'll go to Hooters because I know the meal is coming quick. But I ain't much for dining or shopping. If I do go shop, I'll buy 10 of whatever I'm buying so I don't have to go back anytime soon. Sherrie, she enjoys going to the malls for what she calls "retail therapy."
You don't shop for clothes for yourself.
Nice part of having my weight fluctuate as it has over the years is my closet, where I have jeans divided up into size 36, 38, 40, 42 and 44. The 44s I used a couple years ago when I was checking in at 276 pounds. That's too much.
How do all of your exes get along with Sherrie?
Paulette and Sherrie don't get along. [Daughter] Sierra loves Sherrie; [daughter] Shynah adores Sherrie. Paulette hasn't remarried; neither has Bettye. Paulette's made it tough on me as far as seeing Sierra. I signed a piece of paper, and as it stands now, Sherrie can't be around anymore when I see Sierra, and I can only see her in three states: Arizona, California and Nevada. It's screwed up. Sierra asks me why she can't be around me more, and I tell her, "Talk to your mother." How's that for mixed up?
Where is your home base?
Memphis is where we spend most of our time. I still have a home in Arkansas, too. Sherrie's friends are mostly in Memphis. When I need peace and quiet to practice, I go to Arkansas, where I have three putting greens in the yard. Steve Holden, a buddy and sort of my new coach now, is a head pro down there, about 20 minutes from Dardanelle. Steve helps me with my putting. He had a practice green rolling 21 [on the Stimpmeter] when I was down there just before the Masters. Then, of course, it rains at Augusta and I can't get the ball to the hole.
You seem so relaxed now. It's difficult to imagine that you twice contemplated suicide.
After the incident with Bettye in Colorado, 1992, when it was all over the newspapers and ESPN that I hit her, I couldn't believe what was happening. I was driving to my first rehab, and I was going maybe 150 miles an hour and contemplating just driving the damn thing right over the cliff. I called Donnie [Crabtree], and he settled me down. Then in 1997, everything hit the fan: Jacksonville hotel, I lost a contract with Wilson, Reebok also dropped me, all the trouble with Paulette leading up to our divorce, game sucked, life sucked—I went to Betty Ford. That's when Wilson and Reebok dumped me, while I was trying to do right in rehab. I was on that Highway 74, thinking about killing myself, and I talked to Thomas Henderson [former Dallas Cowboy]. He told me, "I can't tell you I haven't thought about ending it myself, but think about the most important thing in your life"—which was my kids—"and think about all the fans you'd disappoint if you went ahead and killed yourself." That settled me down.
You made both those calls, to Donnie and Henderson? Does that tell you anything?
Maybe that I wouldn't have gone through with it. I guess, looking back, if I hadn't reached those two guys, I probably wouldn't have done it. We all say at times that we don't want to live anymore. But I did picture myself going down the cliff. Self-pity, feeling sorry for myself. After that, and after Betty Ford, I starting thinking more about doing what's right and being able to look myself in the mirror. Hasn't been all bad.
Do you fear death?
I think everybody does, unless you're one of those al-Qaida crazies.
Let's finish up with a name that should ring a bell: Lori Reed, who's now Lori Laird.
Yeah, Lori Laird. I met her as part of the Make-A-Wish Foundation in Memphis. That was in 1994. She was 16 and wasn't supposed to make it to 17 because of cancer. That's what they told her: No way. Six months is what they gave her to live, I think.
Well, Lori is now 27. She's married with two young girls in Arkansas. She has her own business, and she says she drew inspiration from meeting you. She says you taught her a lot about how to "keep fighting when you're down."
That's interesting, because that's the way I feel about her. We still stay in touch. And you're right about her beating cancer. Last Nov. 11, they declared her cancer-free. Now, when we go back to the area, our boys play with her girls. She's a miracle child, is what Lori is. I told you I wasn't religious, but I believe God put me together with her. Every time I think my life sucks, I think of Lori. God put me there for her, and God put her there for me. I really believe that. When I think of her, the hair stands up on my arm. There's a reason we met each other. There's a reason we're both still here. She says she's inspired by me, and I think of her and I feel stronger. Powerful. That's powerful stuff, don't you think?