Golfer John Daly took the golf world by storm when he won the 1991 PGA, entering play as the 9th alternate. As Daly tells you in the documentary “Hit It Hard,” which showed on Tuesday, March 14th at SXSW in Austin and was helmed by filmmakers (and non-golfers) Gabe Spitzer and David Terry Fine, “I got to town about 2 a.m. and got a phone call the next day telling me, ‘You’re in.'” This film will ultimately be shown on ESPN, which bit when the two filmmakers asked about doing a 50 minute documentary about the colorful golfer.
When asked after the screening how long it took to get Daly to agree to become the subject of this film, the duo said they followed him around for “8 to 10 months” and finally “found him selling his gear outside a Hooters at Augusta.” He soon agreed to appear in the movie. Films of this sort for ESPN can be 50, 77, or 100 minutes long, but the cost of getting the rights to Daly’s greatest filmed golfing moments were prohibitive and kept the pair from making a longer film.
It’s like watching a new species.
We see Daly, wearing a colorful patchwork quilt of a jacket (red, white and blue) saying, “Take the chances. Be aggressive. That’s the way I was raised. You can’t change for others; you gotta’ do it for yourself. Some people just never grow up and I could say I’m one of ’em.”
The film opens with Daly’s triumph at the PGA in Carmel, Indiana at Crooked Stick Golf Course in 1991, coming in as the 9th alternate and blasting his way to victory. David Feherly of NBC, commenting on Daly’s massive 300+ golf drives, said, “It’s like watching a new species.”
Growing Up In Arkansas
Born in Carmichael, California, Daly grew up in Dardanelles, Arkansas, where he taught himself to play golf from Jack Nicklaus videos and practicing on a baseball field near his house and at the Bay Ridge Boat Club, beginning at the age of 4. He attended high school in Helias, Missouri. Golf was not really the sport his contemporaries were interested in, so Daly also played football in Missouri and still holds some high school records for kicking field goals. (He demonstrated his barefoot kicking style for the camera.)
Daly’s father was an alcoholic who was often abusive. Said Daly, “My brothers and I would come home from school and he’d just start beating on us. My mom, too.” Daly spoke of his father once putting a gun to his eye and beating his children with garden hoses, switches and other objects. He said, “It’s tough to forget.”
He went on to say, “I got a scholarship to Arkansas, but they told me I had to lose some weight. I lost 67 and 1/2 pounds in 2 months on a diet of Jack Daniels and popcorn.” If that sounds like a crazy diet, at one point not shown in the film, Daly told the filmmakers that he sometimes put beer on his Wheaties “to save money on milk,” which, the filmmakers noted, wouldn’t really be an effective cost-saving measure.
Daly has always had a drive that fans crave seeing.
According to official performance statistics kept since 1980, Daly in 1997 became the first PGA Tour player to average more than 300 yards per drive over a full season. He did so again every year from 1999 to 2008; he was the only player to do so until 2003.
Daly confessed to the camera, “My life changed in 4 days, but I wasn’t ready for it. I wasn’t taught how to be successful. Look–I did it my way. You only have yourself to blame.” Daly’s swing coach, Butch Harmon, quit in March of 2008, saying that “the most important thing in (Daly’s) life is getting drunk.” Daly responded by saying “I think his lies kind of destroyed my life for a little bit.” It is undeniable that Daly seems to have an addictive personality. Among his addictions: golf, women, alcohol, Coca Cola, cigarettes and chocolate. When he won one tournament while on the wagon, he filled the winner’s cup with chocolate ice cream and ate all of it.
This feasting to excess led to lap band surgery, which allowed Daly to lose as much as 80 lbs., but may have contributed to loss of muscle and an accompanying decline in his golf game (although Daly, himself, blames poor eyesight, which affected his putting.)
As for women, the three-times married Daly (his fiance now is Anna Cladakis, following Betty, Sherrie, and Paulette) says, “I love pleasin’ a woman a lot every day.” He also hopes to play on the Senior Tour, as his 50th birthday arrives on April 28th.
One sportscaster described him as “the first charismatic golfer since Jack Nicklaus” and worried, openly, that he might burn out like a comet. Said another, “Sometimes, he can’t get out of his own way.” Arnold Palmer once told him, “We all respect your game, but we want to respect you.”
Daly claims, in the film, to have won $45 million, while losing $98 million gambling. The stories of his gambling are as legendary as the stories of his antics on various golf courses, which earned him the nickname “The Wild Thing” at St. Andrew’s, where he won a four-hole play-off against Constantino Rocca in 1995.
Although there have been many low, low moments in Daly’s colorful life, he has three children and says, “I feel like my life is surrounded by good things. I kind of love the way it turned out. I care and I’m still gonna’ be John Daley. I’m gonna’ hit it hard and I’m gonna grip it and rip it.” And, as he says during this short, entertaining documentary, “I don’t give a shit what people say.”
He sings too.
The film ends with Daly singing over the credits. He has released 2 albums of music and sings well. The following is John’s perspective on his music:
“The album itself is really my life. All of the songs have a meaning. Most of the record is happening or has happened in my life. I hope people can relate to some of the troubles I have had along the way. Everyone around the world has problems, and I want to connect with those people.”
(John’s first album, ‘My Life,’ included guest vocals by Darius, Willie Nelson and Johnny Lee.)
A very enjoyable short film. Watch for it on ESPN–but not on ABC.