Big John ... Big, Bad John
By Leonard Shapiro
As John Daly began his triumphant
march up the 72nd hole at the 1991 PGA
Championship at Crooked Stick, a few
intrepid golf writers were waiting not far
from the scoring area behind the 18th
green to both witness the surreal scene
and interview some of the other principles
in one of the more remarkable up-from-nowhere stories in golf history.
And so it was that Miss Bettye Fulford,
a future Mrs. Daly but then only his girl-
friend and traveling companion, talked
about her main man in mostly glowing
terms, as might be expected. The notes
from that encounter are long gone, so
we’re paraphrasing the conversation here
from memory. The gist went something
“John was a wonderful player,” Bettye
purred that memorable afternoon in the
Indianapolis suburbs. Then she added a
kicker. “Truth be told,” she went on, “if
he would just cut back a bit on the Jack
Daniels, he'd really have a chance to be
It was a quote that never surfaced, if
only because no editor of that era would al-
low such a scandalous second-hand com-
ment to see the light of day unless we’d
actually witnessed up close and personal
Big John chugging whiskey from a fifth.
Still, her comments have remained in
the memory bank ever since, and sadly,
Bettye was dead solid right. Indeed, John
Daly was a wonderfully gifted player, ca-
pable of fabulous feats long and short
on the golf course, a big bomber of the
ball who swung from the heels and also
possessed a feathery touch around the
greens. But over the years, he also drank
too much, among so many other vices,
and never really has been able to fulfill
the seemingly limitless potential we all
saw that week.
tournament officials following the third
round, it was decided that Daly would not
be penalized. And on Sunday he would
go on to win by three shots, posting a
12-under 276 on Pete Dye’s 7,289-yard
creation, at the time the second-longest
course in tournament history.
Several times over the weekend, I
made it a point to plant my ear at ground
level from the side of a slightly elevated tee box to hear the sound of Daly’s
300-yard-plus drives. I must admit that
to this day, I can’t ever recall hearing anything quite like that sonic boom explosion
when clubhead collided with dimpled ball.
The golf world has probably never
seen anything quite like John Daly ever
since. Sad to say, thanks to Bettye Fulford,
a few of us that afternoon at Crooked
Stick also got an advance whiff of so many
more wild things to come. What a shame.
What a waste.
John Daly, with then girlfriend and future wife, Bettye Fulford,
surprised the golf world with his victory in the 1991 PGA.