A Daly Dose Of Self-destruction

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - May 10, 2006
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After a near lifetime of self-destructive behavior, it would seem John Daly would be hard-pressed to shock anyone. We’ve seen it far too many times already. Blowups on the golf course. Daly, fighting withdrawal, visibly shaking while playing before walking off the course in tears, his wounds open for all the world to see. His three failed marriages. His multiple times entering the Betty Ford Clinic and Alcoholics Anonymous. Daly strolling along on his Golf Channel reality show, Daly Planet, with a beer and cigarette in his hand. Yet with all this history, Daly managed to catch us with our mouths open.

In his book, John Daly: My Life In and Out of the Rough, Daly claims to have gambled away $50-$60 million. He did win on occasion. So he said the actual financial hit may be closer to $30 million. Feel any better?

During an interview on the Golf Channel, Daly spouted the addict’s lie - that his problem is somehow controllable. “I’m at that stage in my life where it’s very hard for somebody to quit. You take little mini steps. I’ll probably never quit gambling, stop going to casinos.”

That comment makes Dr. William Haning, director of the addiction medicine and addiction psychiatry services at the John A. Burns School of Medicine at the University of Hawaii, cringe.

“I have a very bad feeling about Mr. Daly’s prognosis if he’s willing to go on TV with these kind of idiot statements at this stage of the game.”

Ken Burger, a writer for the Charleston Post and Courier and recovering alcoholic, said about Daly in his May 4 column, “His recent decision to return to a life of drinking and gambling is no doubt a suicide attempt for a man who has already proven he cannot handle either vice.”

Let’s hope he is wrong. It would be an incredible waste.

On talent alone Daly is one of the very best. His natural ability to play the game is often said to be unmatched. That if he had Tiger Woods’dedication to his craft he would be nearly unbeatable.

It’s terrifying and mystifying how someone with so many gifts, athletic and otherwise, can feel an emptiness so great as to possibly throw it all away. But I guess that’s what addiction does. It finds a weakness and exploits it to become the most important thing in that person’s life. More important than finances, more important than family and definitely a hell of a lot more important than the game of golf.

In a 2002 study titled Pathological Gambling and Alcohol Use Disorder , doctors Jon E. Grant, Matt G. Kushner and Suck Won Kim of the University of Minnesota Medical School’s Department of Psychiatry suggested there may be a link between gamblers and those with alcohol use disorders (AUD). The study cited a report conducted in 1998 showing that “44 percent of those with disordered gambling behavior also report a lifetime history of AUD.”

Haning goes even further, saying, “It’s more than just a theory that there is a neuro-biological connection here. A lot of the impulses are mediated through the same brain pathways, whether it’s for alcohol, methamphetamine consumption, gambling, sex or just about anything that involved repetition.”

Daly remains one of golf’s most popular players. And it’s not because of his level of play. It’s because he is like us - unpolished and unkempt. He would rather sit on a porch drinking beer listening to Hank Williams Jr. with fishermen than hanging with CEOs and promoting the business of being John Daly. And because of this relationship with his fans, he is able to maintain his lifestyle even though his golf game has been mired in mediocrity for nearly a decade.

Haning says this can be dangerous.

“There’s always been an assumption they have to hit bottom, that they must plunge to the bottom of some behavioral elevator shaft. But it is possible to raise the elevator up a few floors so they don’t hit quite so hard. So that they don’t lose family and job and everything else.”

Haning says Daly’s wealth and fame could cause the fall to be even greater. So much gained, so much to lose.

Daly does everything big. He hits big, drinks big, gambles big, eats big, smokes very, very big and gives big. Over his career he has donated more than $2.2 million to the Boys and Girls Club and has handed over $4 million to the Make a Wish Foundation, including giving $30,000 college scholarships to two young girls, one of whom is now cancer free, a college graduate and mother of two. The other hopes to someday play on the LPGA.

At this point in time Daly will never recapture the talent that led to victories at the PGA Championship and the British Open. But that hardly matters. The only challenge Daly really needs to overcome is the one that will keep him alive. He doesn’t need to be surrounded by yes men who are happy enough to be part of the show. He needs help.

“What would be the nicest thing to do for Mr. Daly would be if every sports writer on the planet with an enormous raised community voice yell at this guy, ‘you don’t have a problem with controlling this stuff, you are out of control. Stop it and get to a doctor now. Stop doing this stuff that is killing you,’” Haning said.

Will anyone heed the call?

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