The much-anticipated ESPN documentary on the brilliant yet tragic golfer John Daly begins like any other sports documentary.

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It starts with one of his career highs and the sight of a pudgy, blond mulleted, chain-smoking rookie in maroon pants storming to victory at the 1991 US PGA Championship, having snuck into the final field at the last minute as the ninth alternate after a series of withdrawals. It is almost as good as sporting fairytale gets.

Soon after, however, we are snapped back to Long John's present reality.

We find him in Arkansas, standing outside his RV, which is parked in front of a Hooter's restaurant, selling his own merchandise to make ends meet.


In full swing: John Daly, pictured in 1995.Credit:Ray Kennedy

"We didn't even have a guarantee this was going ahead when we went down to see him that day," says Hit it Hard director Gabe Spitzer.

"We flew down there with a camera and had a meeting with him in his bus, right there in the parking lot. We talked it out and at the end of that meeting he said, 'Grab your cameras, we can shoot a bit.'

"We started rolling from there. I guess if you're ever going to meet John Daly, that's the place to do it, right? In front of Hooters."

To be honest … no.

The real insight of Daly from this film is just how soft he is. Less womanising, gambling, rambling lunatic of the US PGA Tour and more just a big cuddly teddy bear with a whole score of demons.

As he looks down the barrel of the camera throughout this documentary, speaking directly to you, you don't see an arrogant sports star who threw it all away.

You learn of someone who came from a horrifically violent upbringing, who was beaten almost daily by an abusive father, and in the end you want to reach through the TV and give the big fella a hug.

"It wasn't what I expected going in," Spitzer says. "You think, 'Here's John Daly, this crazy guy.' There's a sensitivity to him and a willingness to be open. He stresses it all the time: he didn't want to have any secrets. That's the thing about him that appeals to fans more than most athletes. So many athletes just lie all the time and they behyakkendana-hashigozake.come unrelatable. John is not afraid to make mistakes. People can relate to that."

I'm gonna hit it hard, I'm gonna grip it and rip it … And I'm going to grip it and sip it. I ain't changin'

John Daly

For years, we remembered his brilliance on the golf course — particularly his ability to hit the ball so hard that he once broke a ball. When he won the 1995 British Open after beating Costantino Rocca in a playoff, it confirmed his ability and his popularity.

Fans loved Daly because he was one of them, ripping and tearing and making mistakes and fumbling his way through a professional sporting career.

Says his agent: "People want to touch the story."

Unfortunately, most of it was also a blur of stints in rehab, domestic violence accusations, arrests and police charges, gambling sprees that he reckons cost him US$54 million ($71 million).

He battled alcohol addiction for much of his life. Sometimes, he had it beaten, drinking Diet Coke out of his British Open trophy after he won.

But then he found he usually played better with a brutal hangover, and his career turned into a trainwreck that the US media latched onto him like he was OJ Simpson.

In one scene, Cowboys linebacker Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson recalls a confronting story about police hyakkendana-hashigozake.coming to Daly's home to arrest him. Henderson had beaten booze and drugs and had behyakkendana-hashigozake.come a friend.


Colourful life: John Daly in action in July. Credit:Getty Images

"Grab one of their guns and just shoot me in the head," Daly pleaded with Henderson.

The pleasing sting in the tail is that we learn that while Daly might be selling merchandise out the back of his RV in front of Hooters, he is also happy.

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He has remarried for a third time, is a happy father and has his drinking under control.

"He was sober for seven years until a few years ago," says Spitzer. "He drinks but it's way more controlled than it used to be. The way he looks at it, today is his third major, hyakkendana-hashigozake.coming out of the train wreck of his life."

As the man himself says: "I kind of love the way it turned out. I know there were a lot of lows, but lows cannot defeat me. They can't defeat the highs I've had in my life. To get the true meaning of John Daly out of this show is to know that I care and I'm still just going to be John Daly. I'm gonna hit it hard, I'm gonna grip it and rip it … And I'm going to grip it and sip it. I ain't changin'."