At 12:25 Thursday afternoon, Joe Daley will lean over and place tee and ball into the ground at the first hole of TPC Sawgrass, one of the world’s most famous golf courses.
You’ve possibly heard of the place. Stadium Course design. The lethal island green at the par-3 17th. THE PLAYERS Championship is played there every year.
A mere 18 miles down the road is a place called St. Augustine, Fla., where a guy named Juan Ponce de Leon is said to have discovered the Fountain of Youth – are you sitting down for this one because it’s a whopper – exactly 500 years ago.
Old Juan was the governor of Puerto Rico back then. But enough of the history lesson for now.
Well, let me throw this one in before I get to the meat of today’s blog.
The legendary Satchel Paige, who pitched professionally in the major league’s at the ripe old age of 59, was famous for saying “Age is a case of mind over. If you don’t mind, it don’t matter.”
Which brings us to Joe Daley, a Monarch through and through who bleeds ODU blue.
If Daley can get back up after he tees up his ball Thursday, he’ll become the oldest player to make his debut at THE PLAYERS. Daley, you see, is 52 years old.
But hey, this has been Daley’s gig all along. Start late, finish strong.
He didn’t turn pro until he was 32, this after giving about a decade’s worth of a go at being a credit manager.
He won a couple of times on the minor league circuit, picking up wins at the 1997 Louisiana Open and the 2005 Wichita Open. To classify Daley as a journeyman pro would be about as accurate as it gets.
But a very unusual thing happened on the journey. Last year in Pittsburgh, Daley put together four masterful rounds of golf in the Senior PLAYERS Championship at Fox Chapel Golf Club, finishing 14-under and banking a first-place check for $405,000. As Daley stood on the practice green after his win and chatted with friends and associates, Champions Tour president Mike Stevens said, “You know, this gets you into THE PLAYERS Championship.”
“I had always wanted to play in THE PLAYERS, but I certainly didn’t know winning the Senior PLAYERS got you a spot at Sawgrass,” Daley said.
What a pleasant surprise. Kind of like winning the lottery then learning there’s a Jeep thrown in for good measure (Oh, that’s right, the lottery actually has a game where a Jeep is the prize).
Daley has been to TPC Sawgrass before, but it was a long time ago. He went there in the mid-1990s for PGA Tour orientation and at one point one of the speakers asked if any of the players worked out and paid careful attention to their diets.
“I was one of maybe two people who put their hands up,” Daley said.
Daley was into fruits and veggies, lean protein and going to the gym long before it became en vogue on the pro circuit.
Let there be no doubt, Joe Daley works out. And eats well, too. There’s really no other way to explain that, at 6-foot-3 and 162 pounds, he is just three pounds heavier than he was the day he graduated from Old Dominion University in 1983.
The other thing he does is look on the bright side. You want to talk to someone who sees the glass half full and figures something good is right around the corner, talk to Joe. He’s played just about every tour there is, traveled to just about every country and played in just about every climate. He was a walk-on at ODU, playing two years there after a two-year stint in junior college. It didn’t look like he’d play much at ODU in the early going, but then he had surgery during Christmas of his junior year and had some chips taken out of his elbow.
“I’d done a lot of skiing and played a lot of hockey in my youth and my elbow was a little messed up,” Daley said. “I hit the ball shorter after the operation. But I also hit it a whole lot straighter.”
Daley broke into the lineup and became good enough to win on the college circuit. But it took almost a decade after that to turn pro.
He was somewhat of an internet sensation in 2000 when he rolled in a four-foot putt at the final hole of Tour Qualifying School, only to have the ball hit the hole’s poorly installed plastic sleeve and bounce out. He simply was too perfect with the putt, hitting it dead center of the hole. It might simply be the most famous missed putt in Q-School history and Daley threw his golf cap to the ground in sheer disgust, doing a wonderful Earl Weaver imitation in the process.
What made the putt even more famous was that Daley missed earning his Tour card that year by a shot.
Sometimes the golf gods shun you.
Sometimes, they shine on you.
Did I mention that Daley will be the oldest player to ever make his debut in THE PLAYERS?
He may have had to take the odd job on occasion, but somehow Joe Daley has kept crawling back onto the pro golf scene.
“I’d go broke, wait tables, get my game back together and then find a way back out there,” as he said.
Of course, there’s always been one consistent: classmate and friend Steve Merritt, who runs a certified public accounting firm in Virginia Beach.
“Steve reminds on a regular basis that he’s got a job for me when I stop playing golf,” Daley said. “He’s been my best bud for a long time.”
As well as wonderful incentive.