Jonah Hill playing John Daly will be a home run for golf

John Craven
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Jonah Hill and John Daly

I’m getting old, folks. My body creaks. My hangovers hit harder than Mike Tyson and people keep asking me if I have any kids when I can hardly raise myself. My nephews attend my former secondary school, and I barely recognise a teacher when they run through the list. Next thing you know I’ll be coming up with an excuse not to attend our twenty year reunion, pushing forty and fighting metabolism when once I was the only winner.

I’ve become nostalgic in my thirties. Jaysus, I’m nostalgic for times that haven’t yet passed me by, but I’m particularly nostalgic for my schooldays, and when I was in school, Superbad was the movie of the moment, and Jonah Hill was its star.

If you haven’t seen it, Superbad was a coming-of-age comedy that captured my late teens to a tee – inept with girls, out of touch with fashion and forever refused alcohol because I always looked twelve.

Oh to look twelve again and to live life worry-free. Instead I’ve been introduced to stress and anxiety – a rite of passage to adulthood that has led me down a path of consuming content to better understand how my own brain is wired. The algorithm recently suggested that I watch ‘Stutz’ on Netflix, a documentary starring none other than Jonah Hill. Seems like we’ve both been on a journey of self-discovery far removed from his high-school portrayal of the obnoxiously funny Seth in Superbad.

In ‘Stutz’, the Holywood star shines a light on his intimate friendship with his long-time therapist, Phil Stutz. I’d challenge you to come away from watching it without questioning yourself, or your own relationships in life. Both blessed with a sense of humour, the pair discuss mental health, highlighting Hill’s own struggles with anxiety, particularly around movie promotion. Then I remembered Hill is supposedly nailed on to star as John Daly in a yet to be named biopic. And I guess, at least outside golf circles, it’s a film he’ll need to promote. Inside golf circles, well, let’s just say Daly’s reputation precedes him, and it makes for box office viewing.

‘Long John’ Daly jolted the golf world back to life long before Happy Gilmore brought the game to the masses. From 9th reserve to Major champion, Daly’s 1991 US PGA Championship victory made the rambunctious rookie an overnight sensation. As anti-establishment as golf could get, the rebellious blonde-haired wrecking ball became an instant crowd favourite, and nowhere more so than in Ireland.

Alex Higgins, George Best, Paul McGrath… the Irish have long had an affinity with flawed genius. It’s not that we think such talent is suddenly attainable, but faults are relatable, even endearing, and Daly, like most of us, had plenty.

When he teed up his petrified Titleist on the fourth hole at Druids Glen in the ’99 Irish Open, Daly was overheard delivering the message, “Anywhere in Ireland, little ball”. With Daly, you just never knew.

Famed for his ‘Grip It and Rip It’ philosophy on golf, his course-record equalling 65 in the final round of the ’94 Irish Open at Mount Juliet was an unforgettable display of power for those fortunate enough to attend.

“That’s the most drives I’ve hit on a course all year,” he gushed of a Nicklaus design which set up perfectly for a man who once proclaimed his course management strategy to be nothing more than, “I just hit it as hard as I can and if I find the ball, I hit it again.”

Daly was revered just as much for his antics off the course as on it. As a golfer he could send the ball into orbit like no other but it was his velvet touch around the greens that made his breakthrough win at the ’91 PGA possible. Fame and fortune followed his Major success and Daly succumbed to temptation easily. A troubled genius, he was fined more money than most professionals would earn. An alcohol dependency coupled with a gambling addiction bred stories of legend – the most famous telling of when ‘Wild Thing’ collected a cheque for $750,000 after the WGC in San Francisco in 2015, he hopped straight on a flight to Vegas and lost $1.65 million in five hours, including $600,000 in one half hour sitting!

Despite the demons that plagued his talent, and having not recorded a top 10 finish in his previous 26 starts, Daly won his second Major, the ’95 British Open at St Andrews following a playoff with Constantino Rocca. The crowd revelled in it, none more so than a streaker with an arrow pointing to his ‘19th hole’ who momentarily shared the spotlight with Daly.

But such celebrations were proving scarce compared to the public meltdowns. At the 1998 Bay Hill Invitational, Daly, sitting at two-under par for the tournament, did his best Rob McAvoy impression, dunking six into the lake before finally clearing the 270 yard carry to cries of ‘Tin Cup’ from the gallery, signing off for an ‘18’ on the hole. Tom Watson, playing with Daly on the day, described it as ‘a comedy and a tragedy all in one’, the story of Daly’s life.

Yet maybe the most telling anecdote of all comes straight from the horse’s mouth. It was after the Pro-am at the 2004 Target World Challenge as Daly and friends enjoyed a couple of beers in the clubhouse bar:

“Tiger’s there in his workout clothes and I said, ‘Tiger, come have a beer with us man’.”

But Woods declined, he was on his way to the gym for another session. Not one to take no for an answer, Daly persisted.

“I go, ‘man, you don’t need to work out, you need to drink a little bit with us’.”

To which Tiger replied, “If I had your talent, I’d be doing the same thing you’re doing!’”

Jonah Hill has one hell of a task on his hands to bring Daly’s career to the big screen, but it won’t be for a lack of material that the project fails. But if Hill needed a hit of confidence, Daly has already endorsed the Superbad, Moneyball and Wolf of Wall Street actor as the ideal man to play his part.

“I love him as an actor, I’m sure I’ll love him as a friend too if we get this done,” Daly said.

“He wants it bad and I’m sure he’d be great. I’m going to have to get him on the driving range and see how far he can take the club back and if he can do that, then he’s all set.”

According to Above the Line, the unnamed film “will examine the excesses, scandals, and athletic achievements of the PGA Tour golfer, who is considered by many to be the ‘Bad Boy of Golf’”.

Should it see the light of day, it will make for gripping and ripping viewing. Like a time capsule, it will take people back to a time when golf had its very own rockstar. A hard-hitting hometown hero who lived to excess, and survived to tell the tale. Though if Daly had the chance, he’d rewrite the script.

“If I knew I was going to live this long, I would have taken worse care of myself,” Daly says.

The golf world should be grateful he didn’t. Forget the hype around golf’s version of Drive to Survive. Roll on the Daly show!

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