Golf

Stress free and fresh, John Daly’s ready to attack Fallen Oak

John Daly talks with his caddie during Pro Am at the Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic at Fallen Oak Wednesday.
John Daly talks with his caddie during Pro Am at the Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic at Fallen Oak Wednesday. ttisbell@sunherald.com

Wearing doughnut-themed golf pants and holding a half-smoked cigarette, John Daly was at ease Wednesday as he sat in his golf cart at Fallen Oak.

He was just about step up to the tee on No. 13 during a pro-am when he took the time to talk about his first chance to play the course in advance of this weekend’s Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic.

“It’s one of the nicest ones we play out here, that’s for sure,” Daly said. “Those greens are so good and the golf course is in great shape. It’s one of the best courses I’ve seen on this tour.”

Daly, who turns 51 on April 28, began competing on the PGA Tour Champions last year. He has yet to break through with a victory, but he has had his bright moments, including a round of 65 on Jan. 19 in Hawaii.

Some believed Daly’s long driver would immediately put him near the top of the field on the Champions tour, but he’s still looking to find his stride.

“It’s a grind because the courses are a little bit shorter,” he said. “It takes the driver out of my hands, except for a place like this. Guys are so good from 150 yards in. It’s incredible. They putt it so well. That’s kind of the difference.”

‘No social skills’

While the wins haven’t come yet on the Champions tour for Daly, he’s enjoyed spending quality time with his competitors, catching a post-round beer or lunch.

“We talk. We don’t text,” Daly quipped. “We’re not texting each other like the kids do on the (PGA) Tour now. There are not a lot of social skills on that Tour right now.”

Daly recalled giving Danny Lee, a 26-year-old New Zealander on the PGA Tour, a ribbing due to his complaining about the inability to find a girlfriend.

“‘Danny, she’s sitting 10 feet from you and you’re texting her — Hey, will you go out with me?’ You can’t do that,” Daly said. “That’s kind of where the tour is, but we’re more social people. We’ll go out and have a beer and none of us are on our phones. It’s funny. That’s how the PGA Tour is. The kids are so young, so great.

“That’s just the way it is. It’s all social media and no social skills.”

As is custom, Daly has had moments of frustration this year on the golf course. He threw his putter into a lake during a PGA event in Boca Raton, Fla., on Feb. 12, before leaving the tournament.

He appeared in good shape to make the weekend cut during the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in Orlando on March 17, but shot a 77 on the second day to finish at 7-over.

‘Too much stress’

The performance at Bay Hill convinced him to take a week off and not even touch his clubs, but he declared himself “fresh” and ready to go on Wednesday.

“I’ve been working really hard at it,” Daly said. “I played Bay Hill and hit it really good. I just got to a point where I’m putting too much stress on myself. Instead of letting it happen, trying to make it happen.

“If I go out and hit 500 balls on the range that day, I expect to do more than what I’m going to do. I’d rather just come out and not expect anything and go play golf.”

Considering how demanding it is off the tee, Daly may find Fallen Oak more friendly than some of the other courses he’s played up to this point on the Champions tour.

Daly’s powerful driver was on full display during Wednesday’s pro-am, drawing expletives and awe as he sent the ball sailing down the fairway.

Daly ranks fourth on the Champions Tour among the long-distance drivers with an average of 301.4 yards, making him a threat to challenge on the lengthy course at Fallen Oak.

“You hope so,” Daly said. “The longer hitters have a better chance if you’re hitting it straight. The bottom line is it doesn’t matter. These guys, even the short hairs, win out here because they can putt. It all comes down to a putting contest every week.”

Game plan

What: Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic

When: Friday-Sunday

Where: Fallen Oak, Saucier

Tickets: Visit 2017MGRC.com/

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