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CEDAR RAPIDS — A golf cart headed from Elmcrest Country Club’s clubhouse to its driving range for a youth clinic Monday morning contained Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Jim Furyk and Zach Johnson.
All are in the top 20 of the World Golf Rankings.
In a cart trailing them was John Daly, larger than 250 pounds and life itself. Daly wasn’t the single-most popular person at the Zach Johnson Foundation Classic because this is Cedar Rapids and you know the name attached to the event. Plus, U.S. Olympic men’s golf roommates-to-be Spieth and Fowler are mighty beloved, too.
But at 50 with no PGA Tour victory since 2004 and without exempt status on the Tour from 2007 through 2015, Daly still is a big drawing card and had a lot of fans following him this day.
He’s still grip-it-and-rip-it, still a self-described Arkansas redneck, still a chain smoker of Marlboros and chain-gulper of Diet Cokes. Though he has had his battles with alcohol and spent time in the Betty Ford Clinic two decades ago, his website promotes “handcrafted John Daly vodka cocktails.” The motto: Grip It and Sip It.
After morning turned into afternoon, Daly enjoyed a few Coors Lights and Miller Lites as he and his fivesome motored around Elmcrest. He signed a slew of autographs and posed for all sorts of photos, and got the prerequisite oohs and ahhs from his still-prodigious blasts off the tee.
People have loved John Daly, warts and all, ever since he came from nowhere to win the PGA Championship 25 years ago. People love him now that he’s a newcomer to the Champions Tour, for 50-and-overs.
“There aren’t too many sports where you can say you’re a rookie again,” Daly said.
He tied for 35th at the Champions Tour’s event in Madison, Wis., Sunday, then he and his fiancee, Anna Cladakis (she would be his fifth wife), drove to Cedar Rapids. They didn’t get to town until around 2 a.m., because their mobile home had been stuck in mud because of two inches of rain the night before. Tow trucks finally freed the vehicle at 10 p.m., and it was road-ready 90 minutes later after its bumper had been reinstalled.
But Daly and his girlfriend of the last eight years made it here, and he was an enthusiastic participant in the 9 a.m. clinic.
“I know what this means,” Daly said. “I like seeing guys like Zach do this for their communities. A lot of guys don’t go back home.
“I’m doing a Make-A-Wish event for the 14th year in Memphis, and my Boys and Girls Club tournament (in Arkansas) will celebrate its 25th year this year.”
It’s safe to say Daly became the first player to have recorded music (by country star Chris Stapleton) booming from his golf cart in the six years of Johnson’s event.
It’s safe to say Daly became the first player to sing to the crowd after being interviewed by ZJFC emcee Pete Seyfer at the 18th green.
Daly’s life hasn’t just been a country music song. It’s a whole album, minimum. So he cut an album in 2012 that includes the song he sang at 18 called “Hit it Hard.”
I’m still driving, I ain’t slowin’ down, there’s rules I love to break and bend …
Mistakes I’ve made again, but I’ll tell you this my friends I’m still around …
I hit it hard man, so far man, no layin’ up, no holdin’ back ...
Johnson got Daly to come here simply by calling him last week.
“I think a lot of people just relate to him,” Johnson said. “He’s a real person, he’s genuine. He doesn’t hide behind something or give you some PC remark. He’s brutally honest at times.
“Obviously, his talent, combined with that sort of personality, is very attractive.
“Let’s not kid ourselves, the guy’s won two majors, a number of tournaments. And when it comes down to it, he wants to give back and I mean that.”
Daly’s playing partners, who ponied up to Johnson’s foundation to play in the event, sure acted like they had gotten their money’s worth and more.
“A lot of fun,” said Greg O’Stean of Cedar Rapids. “Who else brought their own music and wrote their own songs?”
That was said just a few minutes before O’Stean made a long putt. It sent Daly hustling to O’Stean to high-five him.
The putt was 27 to 30 feet,” O’Stean estimated a minute later.
“Sixty-seven feet,” Daly insisted. Then he drove his cart to the next hole, country music booming out of it, and he hit it hard again.