A long walk with long shot Long John
If there were any justice (not the big Jim kind), the flamboyant Arkansas native with outfits to match would cross the makeshift bridge over the lake on No. 18 in the final twosome, basking in a thundering ovation before facing a critical 6-foot putt for birdie.
Not to win outright, but to force a playoff. You know, some extra fun for the mass of humanity at the venerable Old White TPC.
More likely, we'll have to settle for Daly's flashes of brilliance, such as the time he eagled the par-5 17th on the final day last year, despite a pin placement that discouraged going for the gusto. He competes and makes a cut here and there, but his best finish this year is 38th.
It's understandable. At 45, he is in that place between his best competitive days on the PGA Tour and that magic 50th birthday, when he can join the Champions Tour. There's little doubt that he will liven up the senior circuit.
But for now, he'll liven up the fledgling Greenbrier Classic once again. Jim Justice, owner of the resort, made sure Daly will get to White Sulphur Springs on a sponsor's exemption.
Already, "Long John" has put his stamp on the tournament - and it has nothing to do with his really cool Loudmouth Golf outfits or his 395-yard drive on No. 6 in the third round.
Gregg Happe got a ringside seat - OK, a ringside walk - for Daly's most notable contribution.
A Marshall booster who sits courtside at basketball games, Happe helps old friend Larry Martin with the Pace of Play ambassador program, which will again play a part in the Monday and Wednesday pro-am events.
Happe played golf at Franklin College in Indiana with Martin, the founder of the Top Flite Junior Tour and former head pro at the Parkersburg Country Club. Martin came to Parkersburg out of college, then suggested Happe apply for a spot in the Berry Hills pro shop. Happe eventually left that profession but has stayed in touch with the game, especially since retiring from Allstate Insurance.
That includes his role in the PGA Tour event's pro-ams. The Monday pro-am includes 28 groups in a shotgun start, while the Wednesday pro-am has 52 foursomes split into morning and afternoon shifts. Each group has one pro and three amateurs using handicaps to contribute to a best-ball team score.
Several of the amateurs are either well-connected, well-known or both - NASCAR driver Denny Hamlin dropped in last year, for example. (FedEx sponsors Hamlin's No. 11 car. FedEx sponsors the Tour's playoff system. You get the picture.)
Happe had the ability to bounce around, but mostly tagged around with Daly, who played with Justice and two other top Greenbrier officials. He found the experience more entertaining and insightful than expected.
For example, Daly had trouble with drivers, cracking two club heads. Each time, he pulled out his cell phone and buzzed the men in a Taylor Made van, who jumped in a cart and express-delivered a new weapon.
Daly had even more trouble finding a putter. He was seen on the practice green with as many as eight of them, and didn't seem happy with any. That continued on the course.
"When I was with him on Monday, he had tried one out - he works out of the Taylor Made van," Happe said. "He had requested a putter, and he changed the loft of the putter. He had a new putter and a new grip; his grip, he has seven wraps of tape on it, and it's a Kangaroo grip.
"He gets out on the course and they bring him a putter. He's there with his caddy and he takes his putter and he's looking at it and setting it down for the loft and the lie and all that stuff, and he realizes that when they slipped the grip onto the putter, the grip was twisted, like, an eighth of a turn. So the grip didn't line up properly."
One-eighth of a turn? Just guessing, but that wouldn't have registered with me. That's why he's a pro and I'm a Parks and Rec chunker.
"Well, he had expletives to his caddy about, 'When we get finished with this, you take this putter back to 'em and you do what ... you know, yadda, yadda, yadda. He was verbal enough about that, I was standing there and didn't say a word because he was upset.
"But then he rolled in four birdies in a row with that putter. So when the round was over, I go back and say, 'Now, John, why don't you give me that putter? I'll be glad to take it back to the Taylor Made people and we'll just go ahead, we'll get you the right putter.'
"And he said, 'Screw you, Gregg!' Knew my name at that point and said, 'Screw you, Gregg!' "
Actually, Daly was on a first-name basis with all around him by about the second tee. He seems to have a hard shell after all those years of turmoil, but crack it and his homespun Arkansas nature flows freely.
"I was really surprised at how personable he was," Happe said. "From the moment he stepped on the tee, it took him one hole, but by the second hole he knew every person's name, including people who were just walking. He called them by name. He watched their shots, he complimented their shots.
"He truly put on no airs; he was the most relaxing person to be around. You know those amateurs just have to be scared to death, but he had the ability to put them at ease."
Happe and Daly have a few things in common. Happe played high school golf at Crooked Stick in his native Carmel, Ind., which was a nine-hole course years before Daly vaulted to fame by winning the PGA Championship there. Happe also has played the Old Course at St. Andrews, Scotland, where Daly won the memorable 1995 British Open.
"If you are ever lucky enough to get to St. Andrews, you will see pictures of John Daly all over that town," Happe said.
When Daly wasn't swapping a story or grousing over his equipment that Wednesday, he was critiquing the Old White course, which was about to be bombarded with 1,801 birdies in the four-day tournament.
"In that round and in the round on Monday, Daly was cognizant of the fact that he said, 'They're going to tear this golf course all to shreds.' " Happe said. "He said, 'You've got to make this golf course longer, and you've also got to get these greens more firm.'
"Like No. 2. He said, 'Jim, you need to move that tee back and across the road over there to make that a bigger dogleg,'" Happe said "And he went around that entire 18 holes and pointed stuff out to Justice. And believe it or not, after the tournament was over on Monday, Daly stayed over one extra day to go around with Justice and the people who were working with Justice, offering up his ideas.
"Lo and behold, Justice hires another company - but they took a lot of ideas, at least from my recollection, that Daly had pointed out. The tee on 16, moving the tee on 17 way back [to make] a really long par-5. He moved that tee all the way back [and] now it's back behind the lodge."
Daly will no doubt play to the crowd again this coming week, as he did last year. His final round in the 2010 Classic went south (a 6-over 76), but he went down "gripping it and ripping it." The gallery showed its appreciation.
Those fans who return should recognize Daly's contribution in making Old White a tougher course, which should make the Greenbrier Classic a better tournament. Happe witnessed some of that firsthand.
"It was interesting to be close enough to hear the interaction and the dialogue that Daly was talking about with Justice," he said.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or dougsm...@wvgazette.com.