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Long-hitting Daly not such a long-shot for Ryder Cup

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

Long John Daly has a mini-movement behind him to be picked for the U.S. Ryder Cup team, and why not? He's the quintessential American, a big, fat, hamburger-eating guy who smokes and drinks and hits it a country mile.

Having Daly play for the Americans would bring an added zing of excitement to the contest; imagine Daly and Tiger Woods stepping up to the first tee at Oakland Hills against the Euro-weenies.

I don't care how long you've been playing professionally or how many international trophies you have on your bloody hearth - watching your two opponents rip it 300 yards-plus is bound to cause a dip in the testosterone.

Daly is the new American fan favorite, hands-down. It isn't just his spectacularly long drives. He's one of the few pro players the average guy can identify with. It used to be Craig Stadler, now it's John Daly. Big fellas on high-carb diets are always guilty pleasures.

Did you happen to see Daly at the Buick Open? Vijay Singh won, but it was Daly who was carried along on the rowdy wave of an admiring crowd. It's the same at most tournaments he plays. Arnie had his army; Daly has his Dominion. If this were an all-star game, Daly would be a manager's pick and no questions asked.

Or the Battle of the Bridges. Four long-hitting pros - Daly, Woods, Phil Mickelson and Hank Kuehne - competing head to head in prime time, including four, long-drive holes, each worth $75,000.

Daly won three of the long-drive holes, including one in which he hit 345 yards on the seventh - 30 yards longer than Woods.

"It's a joke how far he can hit it," Woods said.

Is it a risk putting Daly on the Ryder Cup team? Maybe, but the fact is Daly is quietly having the best and most consistent year of his erratic career.

The stats back him up: Through he International, Daly was third in driving distance on the PGA Tour, to be expected, but also fourth in birdie average and third in putting average. Perhaps the most telling stat is Daly is first in the all-around rankings.

So it isn't just his crowd appeal: Daly is on fire. He's more of a complete player now than he's ever been.

Daly had never won more than $828,914 on the tour before. This year, he's won $2.1 million, putting him 14th on the money list. More tellingly, he's only missed two cuts. In the past, he never missed less than eight. His runnerup finish at the Buick Open was his fifth Top 10 this year.

And he wants to play in the Ryder Cup, despite the fact he passed up the British Open and reduced his chance of earning Ryder Cup points.

"I feel like I could help the team the way I'm playing right now, solid as I'm hitting it," Daly told reporters. "And I've got a little bit of confidence. I think that's what the captain would want."

Even history is on his side. He's the only pro who has won two majors and NOT played Ryder Cup.

He would have earned his way onto the team with his win at the 1991 PGA Championships, but that was the year they stopped giving an automatic berth for that feat.

The Ryder Cup match-play format wouldn't hurt Daly's past penchant for up-and-down play; if he screwed up temporarily, he'd lose just one hole, instead of several strokes. Daly's formidable talent and temperament is made for match play. He could overwhelm and intimidate if he's on his game. And it isn't as if captain Hal Sutton would have to use him every day. He could pick and choose when to use his home-run hitter.

Yes, there are other deserving candidates. Jay Haas, the 50-year-old veteran, and steady Scott Verplank, who hasn't missed a cut all year, to name just two.

Sutton reportedly has already made his two captain's picks to go along with the 10 who earn their way on. Ostensibly, he's waiting to see what happens at Oakland Hills to see if one or both his picks plays their way out of a berth on the team.

Daly would have to finish second to have a chance of getting into the Top 10. But even if he doesn't, he has a lot of backers - everyday hacks who eat, drink and smoke like Long John but who can only dream of hitting it like him.

Tim McDonaldTim McDonald, Contributor

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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