ALEX CHADWICK, host:
One more sports story now. Pro-golf, it's in Ohio this week. Big John Daly will be there, gripping his driver, ripping golf balls down the fairway. As NPR's Mike Pesca reports, his appeal is as much for his off course excesses as his prowess on the course.
MIKE PESCA reporting:
When John Daly swings a driver, the wind displaced by his thunderous club might just be sucked up in all the gasps he inspires. For a record 11 straight years, Daly was the longest hitter on the tour. And with soft hands and a good short game, as the golf gurus whisper, Daly had all the skills to win championships, which he's done one and off for almost 15 years.
As the ball is flying 300 or 350 yards, there's plenty of time to marvel at the fact that a person can have a golf swing so flawless, but have flaws with his everything else.
Mr. JOHN DALY (Pro-golfer): I don't drink the whiskey anymore, but I still gamble, not near as much as I used to. I drink beer, now. I still smoke, and I still drink a ton of Diet Cokes a day. So, why would I want to basically lie, you know? I mean, why would I want to say, hey I'm not going to gamble anymore, which I still do, you know?
PESCA: It's all laid out in Daly's new autobiography, My Life In and Out of the Rough: the Truth Behind all of that Bull Bleep! You Think you know about Me. The subtitle refers to a lot of the stories surrounding Daly: that he gambled away $50 million, that his wife is in jail for money laundering, that the uncontrollable shakes he once suffered during a tournament came from the Lithium he was taking for depression. But you know what? That's all true. Daly owns up to all of it and more: his hatred of Shakespeare, his craving for sex. Wilt Chamberlain wrote that book about athletes and sex, claiming he slept with 10,000 women. Daly's book also has a number that will forever be attached to it, the $50 million in gambling losses. Daly says if anything, that's low, once you subtract the millions of dollars he's lost from the millions he's won as he's had to do on his IRS forms.
Mr. DALY: We did that on the income tax returns, you know. It was like 91 losses and 33 - I think it was 33 to 34 million that I won over a 15-year span. And so it turns out to be 57, 58 million that I have really lost.
PESCA: And yet, Daly claims that he doesn't have a gambling addiction. In fact, he claims not to have any addictions. He's not depressed, just sometimes sad, even though he once told fellow pro Fuzzy Zeller that he wanted a gun to shoot his own head off. And he's not addicted to gambling, he loves it too much to be addicted.
Mr. DALY: You know, I don't care if I win or lose, I just love the action. I love to go in there and sit there and look at a machine. There's a time in everybody's life they really don't want to talk to people, they want to get away from talking or being on the phone and stuff. The slot machines is so relaxing for me. It's still adrenalin, like Black Jack's more adrenalin than the slots are, you know? I love it when they hit, but I could care less. It's just relaxation time for me.
Mr. ARNIE WEXLER (Former compulsive gambler): If you spoke to my wife, that was the same things that I told her every day that I gambled when she questioned me.
PESCA: Arnie Wexler - a former compulsive gambler - now counsels others, including, he says, many professional athletes.
Mr. WEXLER: She would say, stop gambling. I said, no, I need it for relaxation, I supervise 400 people. The work is a lot of pressure. I relax and I feel comfortable and this takes the edge off. But every gambler, almost every gambler believes that.
PESCA: Wexler believes professional athletes have a greater propensity to become compulsive gamblers than the average person. Some of the traits that serve athletes in competition: unreasonable optimism, the belief that you can't lose, are what damns them at the tables.
Recently, John Daly's revelations prompted NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley to admit to a gambling problem in much the same language as Daly. In the same sentence that Barkley said I do have a gambling problem, he also said, but I don't consider it a problem because I can afford to gamble. Barkley says he plans to manage his losses.
Mr. CHARLES BARKLEY (NBA Hall of Famer): I'm hoping in the next six months that I realize that I can gamble for a little money and be happy with losing a little or winning a little, instead of gambling for a lot and losing a lot.
PESCA: Daly, too, believes he can conquer gambling through moderation, though last year at the Wynn Casino in Las Vegas, that plan was put on hold.
Mr. DALY: I kind of had a bad relapse last year, but I was so eager to play a $5,000 slot machine. And I told myself I was going to do it that week, and if I don't do well on it, or even if I do well on it, I'll never play it again. Something I had to try and I enjoyed it and you know, I lost 1.6 million in that week and won like four, 500,000, so I lost $1.1 million that week.
PESCA: On the one hand, Daly says, I lost it, whoop-di-doo. But on the other, he writes in his book, what am I going to do if I stop gambling? Drink? This is coming from a man who has sworn off hard liquor, believing if he continues on with Jack Daniels, it will kill him. So by saying if I stop gambling, I'll drink, and if I start drinking I will die, you have to wonder how Daly can honestly believe he controls the gambling, not the other way around.
Then again, someone who has the gut of a half a case a day beer drinker is not supposed to be a professional athlete. But Daly is. A poor kid from Arkansas is not supposed to make millions of dollars by his mid-20s, but Daly did. A human being's not supposed to hit a golf ball that far, but Daly does. Bowing to life's contradictions hasn't served John Daly thus far. It's easy to see why he thinks the next pull of the slot machine might make him a winner.
Mike Pesca, NPR News, New York.
CHADWICK: Thank you for that, Mike. And dear listeners, you can hear an extended version of Mike's interview with John Daly. That's at npr.org.
DAY TO DAY continues in just a moment.
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