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Life lessons from the course clown

THIS being moving day at the 143rd Open, I offer no apology for indulging in a short ramble about golf.

Or rather, a golfer. A professional of savage instinct, primal brilliance and peccadillos at odds with the stuffy conservatism of the game.

During practice at Hoylake a few days ago, he rocked up wearing a comically loud pair of trousers emblazoned with SpongeBob SquarePants, a cartoon character seemingly dreamed up by someone with an LSD habit. For Thursday's opening round, he plumped for trews adorned by images of buxom starlets. Ladies and gentleman, I give you the nonpareil maverick of modern golf: John Daly. Wild Thing. The Lion.

If you're thinking there must be more to Daly than his choice of trousers, you're right. There's music - he has made two albums. There's clothing - those trousers come courtesy of an endorsement deal with Loudmouth Golf. Golf, however, isn't what he does best any more.

The reason he shows up at the Open every summer is an exemption granted after he won at St Andrews in 1995. In the intervening years, the best he could do was a tie for 15th, again on the Old Course, in 2005. He has missed the cut no fewer than nine times. As we go to press, his score of four over par at Royal Liverpool will again be insufficient to prolong his participation in the tournament.

It has become tradition for Open observers to scoff at Daly's outlandish apparel and boundless appetite for cigarettes and Diet Coke without once acknowledging their own transgressions and weaknesses, and that is a shame. But what's sadder is the fact that Daly, who is only 48 years old, frittered away arguably the greatest mojo golf has ever seen so early in his career. Let there be no mistake: peel away the layers (and they are legion) - the $55 million gambling losses, the yo-yoing weight, alcohol abuse, five marriages - and in John Daly you will find not only the world's most natural golfer, but also the only double Major winner (he won the US PGA in 1991) not to play in a Ryder Cup. What a waste.

Though lacking any literary merit whatsoever, Daly's autobiography My Life In And Out Of The Rough is to be recommended if only to get a glimpse of the courteous, humble man so often derided as a clown.

A "redneck from Arkansas" he may be, but Daly could teach the supposedly more urbane members of the golfing establishment a thing or two about living life in plain sight, admitting your failings and trying to be a better man.

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