It was 17 years ago and Bethpage Black was making its debut as the first public course in the modern era to host a U.S. Open, and John Daly was reveling in the idea.
“I think it’s tremendous,” he told me that Monday before the tournament began. “I think they should do it more often.”
Daly, of course, would endorse playing a major championship on a public course. He personified the everyman golfer, the underdog long shot who won the 1991 PGA Championship as a qualifier and made “Grip it and rip it,” part of the sports vernacular.
He was easy to like and the public identified with him. He had problems with alcohol, marriages and money and that seemed to endear him even more to those who followed golf. But now Daly is doing more harm than good, returning to Bethpage to compete in the 2019 PGA Championship after being granted special permission to use a golf cart.
The PGA of America said Daly applied to use a cart through its American with Disabilities Act policy and provided the necessary information for the PGA’s medical team to review. The request was ultimately approved. Daly will be the first player to ride a cart in major since Casey Martin in the U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in 1998 and 2002.
Reaction has been mixed.
“Personally I think walking is a physical part of being a professional golfer,” Nick Faldo said, “the physical element of walking and being able to do that. I’d keep it as simple as that.”
Faldo’s broadcast partner, Jim Nantz, doesn’t have a problem with it.
“I’m happy he’s playing,” Nantz said. “I don’t have a big issue with this. This was a national news story with Casey Martin years ago and it became a story bigger than the sport. But I have no issue with it at all.”
The few players at Bethpage during a rainy Monday did not want to comment.
“It’s not my decision,” said one player, who didn’t want his named used. “That’s up to the PGA.”
As far as this tournament is concerned, it will hardly be noticed. Cart or no cart, Daly, 53, won’t play well enough to be among the contenders to get enough air time to get noticed. But allowing him to use the cart sets a bad precedent the PGA may never be able to take back.
Faldo is right. No walk. No play. Walking doesn’t sound grueling, but the ability to hold up physically and mentally over four days of intense competition over a grueling course like Bethpage ultimately determines a champion, and giving someone a cart creates an uneven playing field regardless of the reason.
Daly’s excuse for needing a cart? He said an arthritic knee is the reason he can’t walk a rugged course like Bethpage.
“My knee is screwed,” he told the Associated Press. “I had the meniscus cut out. I have osteoarthritis so bad … I can walk up a hill. I just can’t walk down one.”
His pain sounds valid, but that doesn’t mean he deserves to play in a major championship. Daly certainly isn’t the first golfer with an arthritic condition that has hampered his ability to compete at the highest level and he won’t be the last. It would now seem difficult to deny someone else’s request based on an arthritic condition after approving Daly.
Martin was allowed to compete at the U.S. Open with a cart after successfully suing the PGA Tour. He suffers from a birth defect in his right leg that restricts his circulation. It made it painful and difficult for him to walk 18 holes a day for four rounds. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court. A birth defect is one thing. Getting old or injured is another.
Justin Thomas pulled out of the PGA Championship because of a lingering wrist injury. He pulled out because his wrist isn’t healthy enough physically to compete. Daly’s knee isn’t healthy enough for him to compete, yet he’s getting special treatment.
Daly is just getting old like the rest of us. But there’s a place he can use a cart all he wants. It’s called the Champions Tour.
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