State of the Hogs: John Daly
Southern Hills Country Club measures 7,131 yards for the 89th PGA Championship. It is a storied par 70 course with towering trees, some of which are estimated to be 150 years of age, perhaps some of the oldest in Oklahoma.
Perry Maxwell, the architect who designed it in the depression, is famous for his twisting, dogleg par fours that follow the lay of the land to perfection. They are built to hold a perfect tee shot measured just right and reward the player with a go at the pin from the proper angle. Of the 12 par fours he built at Southern Hills, all but one have a turn.
All of that makes for station-to-station golf. It's the kind of layout Southern Hills members like to call Tiger-proof because length is not something that gives anyone an advantage. Supposedly.
It's the kind of layout that should play best for those who can split the middle with those newfangled hybrid clubs, something with some loft and nothing built for true length.
It was suggested that few would even use a driver this week at Southern Hills. Tiger announced before the tournament he might unleash the "big dog" only four or five times despite the fact there are only three par threes on the course.
Enter John Daly with his big driver. The former Razorback laughed at all of those who said Southern Hills was about positioning with 240 to 250-yard bunts.
I was there Thursday to see Daly do what no one has ever done to Southern Hills before, beat it into submission with the driver.
With a huge throng whooping and calling the Hogs all the way around, Daly fired a 3-under par 67 that left everyone gasping — and it wasn't because of the terrible heat.
"You don't play our course with a driver," one Southern Hills member told me. "No one does that, not even Tiger. I just don't think it's possible to do it for three more days. I don't think Daly can last doing that."
I bet John tries it. As sure as he was headed to Cherokee Casino at the Tulsa city limits when he left the course Thursday, Daly will be hauling out the heavy lumber this afternoon in the second round.
It was vintage Daly in the first round. He hit towering hooks up and over the tree line that sailed back to the middle of the fairways, often just a few yards short of those greens on the dogleg par fours. Looking a bit slimmer even to those who know him, Daly almost drove the 366-yard dogleg 10th, just after coming within 30 yards of the green at the 374-yard ninth.
It was at the ninth that his gallery seemed to understand they were watching something special. Daly cleared the crosswalk just below the green that every other player had been short of by 40 yards. That was a blast into the southwest wind and up the hill that usually sends tee shots to a screeching halt.
"Never seen anyone up here," said the crosswalk marshal. "This is virgin territory as far as all of the majors I've seen hosted here. Why, I don't know if anyone has even thought about hitting it up here."
It was clear what had happened. Daly came to Tulsa ranked well above 400th in the world. He said he had no expectations. Why would he expect anything? He's rarely made a cut all year. He didn't take a practice round. He decided to just unleash his grip-it-and-rip-it approach no matter what anyone says about Southern Hills.
It's not the worst strategy because he's got his driver going big time. He told reporters afterwards that he might not have hit every fairway, but every time he looked up he loved the line his ball was taking off the club face. In short, he was hitting his driver where he aimed it and he decided to play to his strength despite the scouting report for Southern Hills.
No one else was taking the same lines off the tee. And, Daly kept cutting the corners even after climbing to the top of the leaderboard. He could have taken a conservative approach off the tee on the killer 18th, but instead hammered his driver over a creek that no one else can reach, over a bunker that no one has ever even thought was in play.
Lefty Mike Weir, in the group ahead, was hitting his third shot after encountering trouble off the tee.He turned to watch Daly's shot climb the hill near him and then roll back towards the creek. He just shook his head in disbelief. It was perfect, but in a place no one would even try for because of all of the risks and danger nearby.
Daly's 3-under round could have been much lower. His deft touch was superb on all of those 30- and 40-yard lob shots that he seemed to face all day on the approaches to the par fours. He left himself with 10-foot birdie tries just under the hole more times than not. He burned the lip about six times and his lone bogey came after a 12-footer down one of those slippery Southern Hills slopes stopped just one revolution short dead in the hole.
I probably was like Daly. I went to Southern Hills with no expectations. I went with Mark Shelton, a good friend from Fayetteville, hoping to catch a glimpse of Tiger, Daly, Jim Furyk or some of the other world greats. I wasn't even thinking about Daly providing fireworks. But we got them.
"This is about as good as it gets," Shelton said as we left the course. "John was just being John and letting it all go. I think he just went out there like he didn't care and tried to take the pressure off. It worked."
Daly was the leader in the clubhouse at the time, something that no one would have believed. I'm probably a little like the Southern Hills member who predicts Daly will not last. Odds are, Tiger is better positioned to win at 1-over than Daly is at 3-under. We saw Tiger chip in for par at the 17th. That might be a more relevant shot by Sunday afternoon than any of John's blasts.
I don't really care. It's more fun to see Daly go at the monster that is Southern Hills than watch all of those other guys patty cake it around trying to keep it in the heart of the doglegs.
The Southern Hills gallery applauded each perfect stroke that split the heart of the fairways on Thursday. They know golf. They know their course, too. They know what it takes to win at Southern Hills and I guess they are right.
But at this PGA Championship, on this Thursday, what John Daly did fired them all up. They yelled and marveled at his exploits just like they do when he does it at the Skins Game or at Paradise Valley when he comes home for an alumni event.
John Daly on Thursday played Southern Hills the way we'd all dream to play it. He went at it with a driver, a lob wedge and a putter. It was a blast in every way.
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