Daly provides open window on alcoholism

Sunday, August 30, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

John Daly wore two coats in the 86-degree heat.
(AP photo)

| ZOOM |
It never ends. This is clear. It never goes away. You can stash it in a corner of yourself, the smallest of corners, inhabited only by memory and regret, and you can vow to yourself it will never come back. But it can and, often enough, it does.

I didn't see John Daly on the golf course Thursday, suffering the DTs, quaking like leaves in the fall wind and shivering beneath two coats in the 86-degree heat. People who did said it was almost too painful to watch. One said it looked like rivers of electric current were running through Daly. Here and there, between arm and leg and hand and foot, up and down, manic and random.

My best friend Fred saw it. He was at home in Tucson, Ariz., recovering from another lost bout with alcoholism. He started drinking in high school and didn't stop for 20 years, until he was ready to die. He went through detox, spent some time in a fine hospital with wonderful doctors and came out the other side whole enough.

Fred got married, inherited a stepson and stayed sober for a long time. Right up until the time he didn't.

The temptation

"I went eight years without drinking, and I started thinking, why can't I do this in moderation?" he said Saturday. "I saw people drinking and having a good time. They could handle it and get on with their lives."

Fred thought he could, too. Several months ago, he started drinking again. He drank one night a week. One night became two, two became seven and "pretty soon, I had a problem again."

He lost his job. He spent more time in another hospital. He's just now getting out. It never ends, is what he said.

Heaven help him.

Heaven help John Daly, who lives his personal hell in public, for all to see. It was not mentioned in any story whether Daly the recovering alcoholic had taken up drinking again. Fred assumes he has.

"He's shaking now because he has been drinking recently," Fred said. "The shakes disappear after you've stopped for a month or so."

There was a time, barely a year ago, when I felt Daly's act had worn thin to the point of transparency. The only things more frequent than Daly's apologies for his hurtful, destructive behavior were the acts that prompted them.

Changes short-lived

But this time, he seemed different. I saw Daly at the U.S. Open in June. He said he'd been sober for 14 months. For the first time, I believed him. He was a tragic, heroic, wonderful sight, overweight, ga-lumphing down the Olympic Club fairways, chainsmoking and power-eating M&Ms.

He'd reconciled with his third wife. He'd reconciled with himself. No longer Mr. Grip It and Rip It, crowd pleaser, course jester, trying desperately to be who we wanted him to be, but rather a man who had found some peace and direction in his life.

Daly even kept his driver in the trunk of his car at the Open. After the first round, he vowed to keep it there. The U.S. Open is no place for a driver. The Open is about control. For a fleeting moment, Daly had some.

It didn't last. He was using his driver by the weekend. His will to beat booze apparently didn't last, either.

How hard is it?

I ask Fred. He is unemployed, wrecked again, immobilized by doubt, guilt and fear. Hurting. "How hard is it?"

"To really understand, you have to be someone who has spent seven nights a week having four or five drinks a night, who wants only to quit or die or both," he said.

We all wrestle with our own demons. If we're lucky, we do it privately and with dignity. We come out the other side better people. The only difference between Fred in Tucson and John Daly is the depth of their pockets and the glare of the public. They struggle every damned day.

It never ends. "It's a terrible disease," Fred said.

John Daly spent lots of years killing himself in full public view. Heaven help him now.

Enquirer columnist Paul Daugherty welcomes your comments at 768-8454.