Fan favorite John Daly was briefly leading the PGA Championship on Thursday, carding an opening round 72 at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa. The 56-year-old, who now competes primarily on the senior tour, has become a cult figure of sorts, owing to his flamboyant clothing and colorful, everyman persona, chain-smoking cigarettes on the course while frequenting his beloved Hooters.
Daly, who tied for 32nd the last time the PGA Championship was held at Southern Hills in 2007, has made his presence felt in Tulsa, puffing heaters on the range and getting around on a No. 69 golf court (he was granted a medical exemption following surgery on his arthritic knee).
Knowing he wouldn’t have to be back on the course until his 1:25 PM ET tee time Friday afternoon, Daly headed to a local casino for some late-night slots. Sporting a full beard and shoulder-length hair, Daly had already changed out of his elaborate Mexican skull pants by that point.
Daly’s brief appearance on the leaderboard Thursday had Will Brinson feeling nostalgic, recalling a time in 2008 when Daly headlined the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro. Brinson, who was covering the tournament for the now-defunct AOL FanHouse, remembers keeping a close eye on Daly during one of his practice rounds, noting everything the golfer put in his body. By Brinson’s count, Daly threw back an amazing 21 cigarettes, 12 Diet Cokes and six bags of Peanut M&Ms, all over the course of 18 holes. Not once did the 1995 British Open Champion reach for a sip of water.
Daly’s hard-living has caught up to him in recent years—he’s been diagnosed with Type-2 Diabetes and also suffers from chronic liver issues. Fortunately for fans, Daly doesn’t seem particularly compelled to tone down his blue-collar stylings and larger-than-life personality, standing out as a renegade in a sport overwhelmingly populated by clean-cut, silver-spoon types who grew up going to exclusive country clubs.