Daley hoping for repeat performance at Senior Players
Life changed some for Joe Daley after his improbable victory in last year's Constellation Senior Players Championship at Fox Chapel Golf Club.
The Chestnut Hill native was thrust into the spotlight after toiling for nearly two decades on the PGA Tour. Four near-flawless rounds rid him of the angst of pre-tournament qualifiers. He no longer had to rely on sponsor exemptions to tee it up in Champions Tour events.
“This really changed my life,” he said recently. “It opened up opportunities for me I never imagined.”
Winning, though, didn't change his life completely. He still drives an old, beat-up car. He joked that his wife, Carol, still talks to him even if his fluid swing is uncharacteristically erratic.
However, Daley's stunning performance amid the searing heat significantly altered his career projection. The self-proclaimed fitness fanatic returns this week to the rolling hills of Fox Chapel with a little more swagger as he attempts to defend one of the tour's five major championships.
Only this time, the oddsmakers are hesitant to characterize the 52-year-old as an underdog.
“When I won here, it was literally like jumping out of an airplane,” Daley said. “It was the best natural high you could possibly get. I had a natural high for about a month. I was riding a wave.
“But the ‘wow' went away, and my focus wasn't as good. It was a grind being on tour and trying to maintain that edge.”
Daley enters the Senior Players in search of the frame of mind that enabled him to beat back the charge of his nearest pursuers, including runner-up Tom Lehman, Mark Calcavecchia and Fred Couples. He also has spent nearly a year “getting back down to earth” after his first professional title, said Carol Daley, who for 21 years has helped manage her husband's career.
“We had a rhythm of life with qualifiers,” she said. “Then when he won, that rhythm of life changed.
“When that ball fell in the hole on the last hole, I don't think I ever screamed so loud. It was an absolutely awesome moment, because it was a lifetime journey of work. We're learning how to live that life, but it's different for us.”
Daley's routine has changed, too.
The weekly grind sometimes takes its toll on even a fit body. Now he manipulates his schedule instead of dictating it. The result of success includes far more travel and far less time on the range and in the gym.
So far, the 2013 season has been a series of ups and downs for Daley, who along with 80 other Champion Tour members will begin preparation for Thursday's opening round with a practice round Tuesday.
Daley, 63rd on the money list entering this weekend's event in Glenview, Ill., is without a top-10 finish in 12 events. His best effort was a tie for 14th at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai.
While his problems are reflective of inconsistency, Daley expects similar conditions at Fox Chapel. Again, he hopes a physical advantage will enable him to become the first repeat winner since Arnold Palmer in 1985.
“If you slip a little bit physically, your decision-making isn't as good,” Daley said. “I don't care who you are. If you're tired climbing a hill, you start complaining about the heat.”
Daley turned up the heat as he confidently marched toward the closing hole last year. He fired a 2-under-par 68 on the par-70, 6,710-yard layout.
“I thought he might get a little shaky in the back, but he was solid,” said Calcavecchia, who was paired with Daley in the final round.
A year ago, Daley prepared himself mentally by reading “Zen in the Martial Arts” by Joe Hyams, who trained Bruce Lee.
“It's a fascinating book where you can get a different perspective,” Daley said. “It helps you approach things differently if you focus on stuff others aren't.”
Daley spent time reading “The Edge” in the months after winning the Senior Players. It's a book in which a Pennsylvania high school wrestling team asked accomplished athletes to chronicle the origins of their successes and how they dealt with adversity.
“I'm learning how to deal with success better,” Daley said. “Just coming back here is phenomenal. I just enjoyed being here and getting the good karma from this place.
“Coming down the stretch, I maintained the attitude — that's what it was. I hit the shot, boom; I played it over here and hit the next one with an attitude. It was a culmination of training and getting the edge over a period of time.
“These are all my playing competitors, but they're not my competition. For me, it's a mental challenge of being able to say, ‘Think this way, and let's see what happens.' ”
Daley never has left anything to chance. He relies on his mental and physical stamina. That allowed him to control his emotions and deal with the pressures of winning a major title.
“I train all the time, so I can think a certain way,” Daley said. “I've put in the time. A lot of guys are moaning and complaining. I don't think that way. I don't go there. I stay in the frame of mind to do my best.”