1991 PGA CHAMPIONSHIP
"Mr. Dye, I love the course…that it's long too.''
–John Daly, 1991 PGA Championship
JOHN DALY • CHAMPION
“I moved back almost every championship tee . . . ” Pete explains in his autobiography, “adding nearly 400 yards to the length of the course. Most of the PGA contestants, save eventual champion John Daly, were unable to fly the ball over the original landing area and they hit into the uphill inclines.”
And Pete’s fixation with length, as member Tom Reilly recalls, continues up to the very start of the tournament.
“It was the Sunday before the PGA and Pete is standing on the 18th tee. He’s worried about guys flying their tee shots over the hill with less than a driver. He wanted them to hit driver—which would make the hole harder. So he has Davis Love III, one of the longest hitters at the time, out there on the back tee with a one-iron hitting balls. Every one-iron he hits land into the side of the hill and dies. Pete . . . he just smiles.”
Many months before the tournament, the club receives a letter from the PGA, instructing that no further changes should be made to the course. Despite those best-laid plans, Pete Dye has other ideas, according to club member Don Fledderjohn.
“It’s early in the week of the tournament. Players are getting in their practice rounds and Jack Nicklaus is out there. On number four, he plays the black tees—which makes the hole play long. It’s so long; in fact, Jack says it’s the first time he’s ever had to hit a three wood into a par four green. Well, Pete just loves that. And he’s determined for the hole to play from that tee for the tournament. So to make sure, that night, Pete hauls a sod cutter out to the gold tee that sits about 20 yards in front of the blacks—and strips off all the grass! That’s where the PGA was planning to put the tees for the tournament, but Pete wants the hole to play longer. The PGA outfoxes him. They move the tees all the way up to the blues—so now instead of playing almost 500 yards, the hole only plays about 400 yards. And at that distance, the pros make a mockery out of it. Turns out Pete cut out the wrong tee. He should have cut out the blue!”
Nicklaus is coming off a bit of a hot streak; the previous week he wins the U.S. Senior Open at Oakland Hills. After his final practice round on Wednesday, however, he tells the media, “This is the toughest course I have ever played. Sometimes I’m not sure what I see. The greens are very difficult. A lot of guys will give up early; say they can’t play this course and move on to next week.”
Ian Baker-Finch, winner of the 1991 British Open Championship at Royal Birkdale just three weeks prior, adds this after his Wednesday round: “I think Pete’s pretty satisfied with himself with the design. He wanted to rattle a few brains with this course.”
David Feherty, who goes on to finish tied for seventh, tells the press, “Usually on a par five you have to worry about the wind. Here you have to worry about the curvature of the earth.”
One player not in the interview tent after Wednesday’s practice rounds is 25-year-old tour rookie John Daly. While other players practice, Daly does his driving behind the wheel.
The field for the 1991 PGA includes 46 of the world’s top 50 players, making it the strongest of the year’s four majors. At the start of the week, however, tour rookie John Daly is not among those who will compete. Instead, he is the ninth alternate. At 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, the day before tournament play begins, John receives a call from the PGA informing him that he has jumped eight spots. One player stands between Daly and a starting slot in the field.
With no guarantee of a spot in the field, Daly gambles, jumps in the car at his home in Memphis and drives through the night. While en route to Indianapolis, Nick Price informs the PGA he will withdraw to attend the birth of his son—and unknowingly, John Daly secures his spot in the field.
John arrives at the Radisson Hotel at 1:30 a.m. and after a few hours of sleep heads to Crooked Stick for his first look at what he faces. As the first order of business, he secures the services of Nick Price’s caddy, Jeff “Squeeky” Medlen. Together, they prepare as best they can, then head to the first tee for their 12:58 p.m. starting time, grouped with Bob Lohr and Billy Andrade. Despite his lack of course knowledge, and the cool, thunderstorm conditions, Daly weathers the course and a two-hour rain delay to open with a 69.
A disastrous consequence of the mid-day electrical storms, however, is the death of 39-year-old spectator Thomas Weaver of Fishers, Indiana. With play suspended, Weaver, on the way to his car in one of the nearby parking areas and carrying an umbrella, is struck by lightning and killed. The tragedy shocks club members, tournament officials, the community, and players.
At the end of the turbulent day, John Daly is tied for eighth, just two shots behind co-leaders Ian Woosnam and Kenny Knox. However, many top players struggle. Twelve players fail to break 80, including Curtis Strange and Ben Crenshaw who each card 81 and withdraw. Nick Faldo and Craig Stadler suffer double-bogeys at 16. Jack Nicklaus and Raymond Floyd both double-bogey the 18th (and repeat the feat again the following day). And Gary Hallberg ends his round with a double, double-bogey 12 at the 18th.
Weather conditions improve on Friday, as does Daly’s already impressive performance. He outdoes his Thursday score with a five-under 67. And day two ends with John Daly’s name atop the leader board at eight-under, one shot clear of Bruce Lietzke and Kenny Knox. It is a position he will not relinquish the rest of the week. After the round, he tells the press, “It’s the best I’ve ever played in my life.”
“He will not back off on the driver. He will take it out on every hole and hit it as hard as he can,” CBS commentator Gary McCord tells a worldwide TV audience on Saturday. Again, Daly cards 69, stretching his lead to three strokes over Kenny Knox and Craig Stadler.
In the span of three days, Daly, who begins the week as a no-name rookie, is transformed into a full-fledged sensation. Capitalizing on the frenzy, the Indianapolis Colts send a limo for Daly and his fiancée Bettye Fulford and escort them to their Saturday evening game as guests of honor. Led onto the field, Daly is greeted by thunderous applause as the Hoosier Dome’s giant video screen rolls action footage of his booming swing. “It was great. The people welcomed me,” he says later.
As play begins on Sunday, observers wonder if Daly, ahead by three strokes, will back off on his bold playing style. The answer comes early. For the first three days, Daly hits driver off the short 343-yard par-four first. Yet to the surprise of many, he backs off and selects a one-iron on Sunday. The play-it-safe experiment costs him a stroke as he scrambles to bogey. Awakened, perhaps, Daly shelves the safety shot. Opting for the driver on the second, he birdies and stays with the driver the rest of the way.
By the time he reaches 17, Daly stands five shots clear of the field. A bunkered tee shot there, followed by an indifferent sand play and three putts leads to double bogey (his second of the week—he had one in round 2 on No. 6). As John Daly walks to the 18th, he holds a three-stroke advantage over Bruce Lietzke. Shunning the safety play a final time, he fires driver down the middle. From there, he places an eight-iron squarely in the center of the final green. Two putts later, Daly closes with a one-under 71. The preposterous becomes real: John Daly wins the 1991 PGA Championship, three strokes ahead of runner-up Bruce Lietzke, at 12-under par—a number matching Pete’s winning score prediction.
While Pete Dye’s forecast proves accurate, the way long-hitting John Daly achieves the number leaves the course’s creator thunderstruck, as he explains in his autobiography.
Daly’s blasting of the ball brought Crooked Stick to its knees, since most of the hazardous areas never came into play for him. At the dogleg-left fourteenth (playing at 468 yards) . . . John crushed the ball over the out-of-bounds, the trees, and the creek onto the fairway just seventy-five yards short of the green.
The feat shocked me, since before the tournament I was obsessed with guaranteeing that none of the professionals could cut the dog-leg. I wanted to make certain they were forced to drive the ball out to the right side of the fairway and then have a long iron into the green.
At the post-tournament press conference, Daly sends kudos to Pete. “Where’s Mr. Dye?” he asks in front of the assembled news corps. “Mr. Dye, I love the course . . . that it’s long, too.”
In the moment of celebration, Daly also takes time to remember the spectator tragedy of the tournament’s first day. He donates $30,000 of his $230,000 winner’s check to the family of Thomas Weaver.
In the aftermath, Pete also reflects on what he has seen. “I don’t think the fellows who played here or the people who watched realize how hard so many people worked for the last four, five years to make this thing go so well,” Pete tells the Indianapolis News on Sunday. “It’s hard to believe it’s over.”
As the sun rises Monday, August 12, 1991, a makeshift TV studio is erected on Crooked Stick’s 18th green—and a bleary-eyed John Daly is interviewed live on the CBS This Morning show. A front-page story in Monday's New York Times gets in on the act, with Jaimie Diaz writing, "'Employing a battle cry of "Kill!" each time he stepped up to the ball with his white, ceramic driver, Daly made a generally unyielding Crooked Strick Golf Club bend to his will…"
Daly, of course, goes on to worldwide fame for exploits both on and off the course. And the name Crooked Stick becomes forever linked to his 1991 PGA victory—a feat later selected as the “Top Moment in PGA Championship History” by an international panel of 41 print and broadcast journalists including Johnny Miller, Jim Nantz, Ken Venturi, Jack Whitaker, Dan Jenkins, and Renton Laidlaw.
Given some time to take it all in, John Daly sums up his feelings about his remarkable victory at Crooked Stick. “I made a promise,” he writes later on his web site, “to win it for the fans. After the victory is when I realized that the fans had won it for me. All the excitement and encouragement I received kept me pumped up, and helped me close out the final round.”