John Daly by Gavin Newsham

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John Daly by Gavin Newsham

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Category: Biography
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: Gavin Newsham's award-winning biography of Daly is well-written and a real page-turner. It might appeal to the golfer but it certainly appealed to this non-golfer!
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 304 Date: June 2005
Publisher: Virgin Books
ISBN: 0753510103

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Sport is littered with them - the men of genius who fritter it all away, bedevilled by drink, gambling and almost any other addiction you care to mention along with the odd scuffle or worse. Football had George Best. Snooker had Alex Higgins. Golf has John Daly - or "Wild Thing" to his friends.

I've had a spell as an invalid recently and I ran short of books to read. My husband had just finished Gavin Newsham's biography of John Daly and I picked it up intending to flick through it and fill a few idle minutes. I read it cover-to-cover and found it un-put-downable. My husband found the reverse, but I'll look at the reasons for that later.

Daly was born into a dysfunctional family who were forever moving around the US. His one solace was the set of golf clubs his father gave him, but they were adult clubs and he was only a child. Daly wasn't to be beaten though and he developed his own swing, which you won't see repeated anywhere on the professional golf circuits. It defies all the rules and only works because of Daly's physique - but it means that he's one of the longest hitters around. Given that he's also got a very good short game this should mean that he's a consistent golfer and always in the money, shouldn't it?

It should, but I'm afraid that it hasn't and it's largely down to Daly's temperament and the fact that he's an alcoholic who thinks he can still drink. He leaves behind him a trail of trashed hotel rooms, houses and marriages. By the end of Newsome's book he'd been in rehab three times and married four times, but alcohol, it seems will always be his best friend.

It would be easy to write a book about Daly and ridicule the man with the silly hair. (If you ever watch any golf, he's the one with a haystack on his head, a beer gut and a Marlborough welded to his lips.) Newsham doesn't go down this road though. I sense that he has affection for Daly even if there isn't always respect to go with it. It's a straight-forward telling of Daly's life from the time he got his first golf clubs through to 2005 - no flash-backs or awkward devices, just a good story.

It's a powerful study in addiction, how it grows, overwhelms and destroys. Daly's first addiction was golf but it was soon joined by alcohol and then gambling. Forced to give up the alcohol, Daly turned to food. He'd consume several Big Macs at a sitting and then fill up on chocolate and cake. Add in Diet Cokes and cigarettes and you've got a heart attack waiting to happen. Some personalities are addictive and Daly is one of them. Beyond everything else the book proves that the only way to shake an addiction is to have the strength of personality to overcome it. Daly can manage this in short bursts, but like in everything else he's not consistent. Even his big swing is capable of sending balls all over the place.

It's also an indictment of the ridiculous amount of money paid to professional sportsmen and women. Even when Daly was out of form and not playing well he was still earning hundreds of thousands of dollars in prize money and endorsements. When he was in form it was millions. Admittedly he had considerable professional expenses to meet out of the income (and Daly was paying alimony to three wives as well) but he was still a multi-millionaire. He bought houses on a whim and he gambled and lost vast sums. He had too much money to throw around and he was still troubled and confused. I doubt that he likes himself very much.

The writing is very good, perhaps not in the highest order but it still made for a very readable book. He manages to get in details of matches, winnings and losses without resorting to lists and boredom. So, why did I like it but my husband didn't? Well, he's a die-hard golf fan and he wanted to read the book for the golf. I don't play and only have a little interest in the sport and this book is really about the man and the golf came second. It's a paradox, but this might be the book about a sportsman that appeals to the non-fan more than the fan.

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