When the final threesome teed off on the back nine of the Safeway Open in Napa on Saturday, two of the golfers looked as though they had suited up in the same wardrobe department. Ted Potter Jr., 33, and Martin Piller, 31, both wore baseball caps, red golf shirts, khaki or gray slacks and white shoes.
Then there was the third member of the party. John Daly, icon of both PGA and TMZ, had no cap to cover his flaxen hair. His shoes were blue, and his pants were printed with outrageously colorful peacock feathers. His blue shirt read ROCK BOTTOM GOLF on the left sleeve and TRUMP on the right.
At 53, far removed from his glory days on the tour, Daly still stands out. Few of the other golfers here have bellies that hang prodigiously over their white, disco-era belts. And of course there are the cigarettes. Every other hole, more or less, Daly lit a Marlboro at the tees or while walking down the fairway. On 12, he drove a ball into the sand, then bent down to pick up a lit cig as he left the tee box.
Frequently, Daly held a white tee in his fingers while he waited for Piller or Potter to drive. (Neither of those two did the same.) I wondered if the tees were cigarette surrogates for someone who reportedly cut down to two packs a day after suffering a collapsed lung in 2015.
Fans love Daly for his individuality, as they always have. They call to him constantly from the gallery. They yell “I love you, John!” and “Let’s go, Johnnie!” and “Show us your (breasts)!” and “My wife was happy to meet you at Frida’s, baby!”
Frida’s is a Mexican restaurant, and not a fancy one, here in Napa.
As Daly walked from the 12th green to the 13th tee on the North Course at Silverado Resort & Spa, a young, bearded guy caught up and asked, “John, can I get a selfie with you?”
Daly ignored him, still moving, eyes forward.
“Please?” the fan continued. “I’ve been known as Little John Daly my whole life. It would mean more to me than you would know.”
Still Daly ignored him.
The man gave it one more try: “Is that a no go?”
“Hurry,” Daly said, and he paused his stride and smiled for an instant while the guy snapped a quick shot with his phone.
A little while later, I pulled the fan aside to ask him about the moment. Todd Warner is a 31-year-old from Placerville. He did not come to the Open solely to track down John Daly, but that was certainly one of the attractions for him.
Warner was a good golfer, a 3-handicap coming out of high school.
He was blond and hefty — 5 feet 10 inches, 260 pounds, he said, though he is nowhere near that weight now — and could drive the ball long, so “Little John Daly” it was. I asked Warner what drew him to Daly as a personality.
“His persistence and his uniqueness, you know what I mean?” he said. “He was always seen as somebody in public who wasn’t your typical golfer, and had these outlandish things. But he always pushed through everything I saw, and not only that, he represented a population of people that are underrepresented in golf. … He was a leader in terms of going through struggles that typical people can relate to on the golf course as well.”