Wednesday, May 03, 2006

When Long John met El Diego

John Daly and Diego Maradona don't just share a tendency to put on a few pounds - although the newly stomach-stapled and sleek Maradona that featured in last night's When Gary met Diego documentary on BBC1 looks as fit as he ever has. They have also both lived lives of excess, voracious consumption, and equal amounts of triumph and disaster.

But while the bold Diego has redeemed himself in spectacular fashion, hosting a bizarre but highly successful chat show on Argentine television which has featured as guests the likes Fidel Castro, Mike Tyson, Robbie Williams and Pele, Daly has revealed in a new autobiography how his gambling addiction has cost him in the region of $33m in the last decade. He said "If I don't get control of my gambling, it's going to flat-out ruin me."

Again like Maradona, Daly's every trouble and crisis has been followed by fans who adore him for his swashbuckling approach to golf and to life. His rejection of the country club ethos which characterises much of the golf world earned him hero status enough, but, when added to his "grip it and rip it" style of golf, makes him a cult figure. He also travels to events in a RV motor home, and donated generously to charity, burnishing his man-of-the-people reputation.

His roll call of extra-curricular activities is colourful: alcoholism, which saw him checking into AA and the Betty Ford Clinic at least three times, three divorces, and more recently the revelation about his gambling problems - most notably the loss of $1.5m on $5000 slot machines. Not exactly Scott Verplank.

Maradona's recovery from the brink of death has been so unlikely as to give hope to all of sport's wayward geniuses. The central theme in Maradona's story was the quasi-religious love which he inspired in 'his people', and the devotional nature of the support he received as he battled for his life after two heart attacks.

While stomach-stapling and a chat-show are probably out of the question, one hopes Daly can take heart in his current struggles from the example of El Diego.

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