Tom Sorensen: Golf might not need John Daly. But I do.

5/4/06 Golfer John Daly smokes a cigarette prior to teeing off during first round in the 2006 Wachovia Championship at the Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, N.C. Daly finished his first round at 2 over on the day. PATRICK SCHNEIDER – pschneider@charlotteobserver.com

Editor’s note: This column originally published in The Charlotte Observer on Sept. 10, 2009.

I’m a golf fan this week. John Daly, who is my favorite golfer and one of my favorite athletes, will return to the PGA Tour. The St. Jude’s Classic in Memphis offered him an exemption.

Memphis is a great town if you like blues. But to appreciate the music, you have to have lived it. Daly, whom the PGA suspended six months for being John Daly, has lived it. His Beale Street credibility is intact.

To some of you, Daly is a joke. He hit the ball hard, wore a mullet and probably spent his winnings on a triple-wide. His grip-it-and-rip-it mystique faded after his latest arrest, latest divorce or latest beer-drinking binge.

Every year, however, I wait for him to return. Golf might not need him, but I do.

After spending most of a week with professional golfers this spring at the Masters and a few days with them at the Quail Hollow Championship, they tended to blend together.

There was a dress-alike, talk-alike and look-alike quality about them. They stopped being colorful, unless pastel is a color. Maybe it’s the sponsors they must placate or the sycophants they attract.

Or maybe it’s something else. Maybe if your office were green and lush you, too, would behave. Maybe golf really is a sport for gentlemen and gentle women.

There’s nothing gentle about Daly. He is like NASCAR’s Kyle Busch, but spontaneous. He’s not playing a character. He is one. Daly would stand apart in any sport, but he especially stands apart in his.

Golf is and always will be a product of the country clubs. Most of us are not country club members, although some of us would be if we had the money.

I would not. I’m not criticizing people who spend more to be part of a club than I did on my convertible. We are entitled to spend our money any way we choose.

But I don’t even know anybody named Muffie. If there’s a cue ball bouncing gently off a rail, a reasonably dark beer on tap and a bartender who knows my name, I’m good.

Daly is one of us. I’ve interviewed him at least three times, most recently in April when he was selling souvenirs across the street from Augusta National Golf Club.

What stands out about him is that nothing stands out. He doesn’t wear color-coordinated outfits like Tiger Woods, doesn’t charm like Phil Mickelson and doesn’t tell stories like Boo Weekley.

I don’t even know if Daly is smart or courteous or cool. But he is real. He gets married and he gets divorced. He gambles and he loses. He puts on mass quantities of weight and he undergoes lap band surgery to remove it. He gets drunk, he gets arrested and now, at 43, he gets another chance.

Daly no longer is a contender and he will be outnumbered in Memphis and at every other tournament he enters. But don’t you like it when, between drags on his Marlboro Mediums, a man from Arkansas can walk up and challenge the elite?

The country club guys will win. The country club guys almost always win.

But when Daly plays, at least we’re in the game.

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