A Look Back: Daly's Long, Strange Trip to Crooked Stick in 1991

By: Jay Flemma

If not for a staggering sequence of events, John Daly would never have even been playing at the 1991 PGA Championship, let alone winning the event like a bolt out of the blue. After seeing his huge drives and brilliant short game, it was the patrons and fellow players who were thunderstruck.

After failing twice to qualify for the field, Daly was listed as the ninth alternate. By Monday of tournament week, he had as good a chance of playing in his first PGA Championship as he did of getting to hitch a ride on the Space Shuttle. Then chaos erupted, paving the way for Daly's road to the miraculous. Here's what happened:

1. More than 10 living past champions - all eligible to play - chose not to play, leaving room for some alternates.

2. The first alternate, Jumbo Ozaki skipped to "heal from an injury." The injury in question was never confirmed or explained.

3. Roger Davis passed to play in Europe.

4. Ronan Rafferty canceled to be with his wife, who was expecting a baby.

5. The head professional at the host club is entitled to a slot, but this year Jim Ferriel declined, saying, "I have other priorities . . . like six merchant tents and 400 volunteers to manage for a major championship."

6. Mark James withdrew to play in Europe and solidify his chances for making the Ryder Cup team.

7. After talking with officials about how long and difficult a "monster" Crooked Stick would be Lee Trevino - a two-time champ - withdrew, saying "You can keep your monster."

8. Marco Dawson, as yet unqualified, only had to hold off the challengers for one round of the Buick Open the week before, which he led by three strokes on Saturday night. But he shot 74 and fell to 10th, missing his chance. By this time, three of the alternate spots opened.

9. Bobby Gilbert withdrew, giving his place to the fourth alternate.

10. On Wednesday, after two days of practice, Paul Azinger pulled out with a shoulder injury. At this point Daly, standing as the fourth alternate, drove to Indianapolis arriving at midnight Thursday morning . . . without ever seeing the course for a practice round.

All of the following events happened after he DROVE to Indy.

11. Nick Price, his wife also expecting, bailed when he received word she was closer to giving birth. His place went to sixth alternate Bill Sander. Sander declined, so Mark Lye got the invite.

12. Lye declined, citing lack of a practice round. The slot was offered to Brad Bryant, who bagged, saying, "I have been playing lousy and see no need to spend another two days in the rough."

Daly arrived. Daly started Thursday morning cold as last night's pizza. Daly won . . . without the benefit of any practice or any prior knowledge of the course, let alone facing one of golf's top fields in a major.

Amazing, isn't it?

Since launching his first golf writing website in 2004, http://www.jayflemma.thegolfspace.com, Jay Flemma's comparative analysis of golf designs and knowledge of golf course architecture and golf travel have garnered wide industry respect. In researching his book on America's great public golf courses (and whether they're worth the money), Jay, an associate editor of Cybergolf, has played over 220 nationally ranked public golf courses in 37 different states. Jay has played about 1,649,000 yards of golf - or roughly 938 miles. His pieces on travel and architecture appear in Golf Observer (www.golfobserver.com), Cybergolf and other print magazines. When not researching golf courses for design, value and excitement, Jay is an entertainment, copyright, Internet and trademark lawyer and an Entertainment and Internet Law professor in Manhattan. His clients have been nominated for Grammy and Emmy awards, won a Sundance Film Festival Best Director award, performed on stage and screen, and designed pop art for museums and collectors. Jay lives in Forest Hills, N.Y., and is fiercely loyal to his alma maters, Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts and Trinity College in Connecticut.