Which is what he did on Aug. 11 to win the PGA Championship at the Crooked Stick Golf Club outside Indianapolis. Controlling the game with his long, soaring drives, Daly, 25, took the $230,000 top prize with a 12-under-par 276. Yet he had never before seen the course (his hero Jack Nicklaus called it the most difficult he had ever played), was a last-minute substitute when a player dropped out, and had never finished better than third in a PGA event. "It's like a miracle," says Daly.
The chubby, towheaded tour rookie honed his game on a modest nine-hole layout in his hometown of Dardanelle, Ark. "I'd hang around from morning till closing in summers," Daly says. His father, Jim, had shortened two clubs for John when he was 4, and by age 9 the boy was whipping his dad on the links. At 12, he was winning adult tournaments; two years later he won his first U.S. junior title. "He never played golf with kids," says Jim. "He always played with the men."
Daly dropped his golf scholarship at the University of Arkansas after three years to turn pro in 1987. He will use his big check from Crooked Stick to pay off the loans on his new home in Memphis and on the new BMW he bought for his fiancée, Bettye Fullford, 30, who was a hotel conventions planner in Macon, Ga., when they met last year. However, Daly did set aside $30,000 of his purse for a charity of the PGA's choice. "I wish I could give more," he says, "but being a rookie, that's all I can afford." Why the generous gesture? "Money," says Daly, "is just paper that gets us through life."
THE MAN CERTAINLY DOESN'T ACT-OR look—like a professional athlete. He smokes. For years he was known as a party animal. And "his favorite vegetables," says his dad, "are the onions and lettuce on a Big Mac." But make no mistake, John Daly can knock the life out of a golf ball.