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Lean and clean, Daly makes his comeback after rehab

July 22, 1997

CROMWELL, Conn. (AP) _ A trimmed-down John Daly is preparing for a return to PGA competition following a five-week absence that started with his abrupt withdrawal from the U.S. Open.

Accompanied by his familiar crushing drives is another commitment to sobriety, and a push to get back to having fun with the game that thrust him into the spotlight after winning the PGA Championship six years ago.

``Everybody for the last three years has been saying go out and have fun. It’s easy to say that,″ Daly said Tuesday while practicing at the TPC at River Highlands, site of this week’s Greater Hartford Open.

``The only fun I used to have is what got me suspended,″ he said.

His golf bag carries more than just his clubs this time, bearing the words ``God, Serenity, Courage, Wisdom.″ Daly said he has been attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings as often as five days a week.

Daly, 30, was suspended in 1993 after quitting during the second round of the Kapalua International. After fighting with a 62-year-old man at the World Series of Golf in August 1994, he agreed to sit out the rest of the year.

He underwent alcohol rehabilitation for the second time in four years after a drinking binge at the Players Championship in March.

The rocky road continued at the U.S. Open last month when he quit at the turn in the second round. He said he withdrew because of shakes brought on by anti-depressant medication.

The once beefy Daly, slimmed down to 198 pounds and sober since March, said things will be different this time around.

``I feel good and my game is solid,″ he said. ``It’ll be a little different because I haven’t played in a month and a half, but I’m not going to worry about what I’m going to shoot. I’m just going to go out and play and see how I feel. There’s no goals these days, except sobriety.″

Tennis, swimming and dieting have helped Daly shed more than 40 pounds in four months.

He and caddie Brian Alexander arrived in Connecticut on Monday after a nearly 19-hour drive from Tennessee. They spent the previous three weeks working on every aspect of Daly’s game. The Daly that will tee off during Thursday’s first round is a more mellow man, Alexander said.

``It’s all going to work out for the best,″ Alexander said.

There were no shakes Tuesday as a steady Daly, cigarette dangling from his mouth, drained 10-foot putts on the practice green.

``The mental thing really wears on all of us to an extent,″ Daly said. ``It just kills your mind. Everyone thinks it’s all glamorous ... It takes a lot out of each individual here.″

On Tuesday, Daly played in a nine-hole Skins Game _ paired with Fuzzy Zoeller _ and his walloping tee shots were once again crowd-pleasers.

He out-drove the rest of the field, including defending champion D.A. Weibring and Paul Azinger, by more than 20 yards with a 316-yard drive on the 411-yard 12th hole. On the 158-yard 11th, he put a 9-iron within five feet for a birdie. The two won $8,000 of the $10,500 purse.

Daly’s fans said his long drives may have been their initial attraction, but his struggles were keeping them faithful.

``I think he deserves another chance. I think he’s good for the game. Tiger Woods is good but John Daly is still special for me because he’s coming from a lot of troubles,″ said Fred Rafaniello, a 70-year-old retired policeman from Inverness, Fla.

Bob Fluegel, a 52-year-old consultant from Glastonbury said a family member has a similar problem that makes Daly important to him.

``My message to John is just hear the prayers because a lot of people are praying for him,″ Fluegel said.

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