John Daly's story has always been the stuff of fiction. You just don't win one of golf's four major championships having never seen the course, let alone getting into the field as an obscure alternate. Yet, 30 years ago, in 1991, John Daly emerged as the long-hitting "grip-it-and-rip-it" folk hero when he won the PGA Championship at Crooked Stick Golf Club in Carmel, Indiana.
Then 25 years old, Daly was the ninth alternate, only getting into the field after Nick Price withdrew for the birth of his first child on the eve of the first round. So Daly made the 7-hour drive from his home in Memphis to Indianapolis, arriving in town about midnight and without a practice round. The next morning, guided around the course by Jeff "Squeaky" Medlin -- Price's usual caddie -- Daly opened with a 69, then powered his way to an improbable victory and became a household name.
But that is only part of the story of that week, one lost amid the disbelief of Daly's achievement and forgotten with the passage of time. There was tragedy that intersected with triumph that week at Crooked Stick.
During the first round, a weather delay required that the course be evacuated. Tom Weaver, who lived in nearby Fishers, Indiana, and had recently gotten into golf, was there with two other friends. Weaver was walking to his car and was struck in the chest by lightning and died at the scene. He was 39 years old. He left behind a wife, Dee, and two daughters: Emily, who was 12, and Karen, who was 8.
Days later, having just won his first major championship, going from obscurity to stardom, Daly (who had won $230,000) quietly, without fanfare, wrote a check for $30,000. He sent it to Dee Weaver to set up a college fund for her two daughters.
"For him to win this iconic tournament and to be so selfless and share his winnings with us, it does shed a light on his true character and what he values most," said Karen, whose last name is now Kirschner and who is a doctor in Indianapolis.
The 30 years that followed have been a wild ride for Daly, filled with ups and downs, big wins and very public failures and disappointments. He won The Open at St. Andrews in 1995 and claimed a total of five PGA Tour titles. He has also been fined and suspended, gone to rehab for alcohol problems, endured messy divorces. In September, he announced he has bladder cancer.
Through it all, he remains the Everyman who swings as hard as he can to launch drives into orbit. In 2019, at the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black in New York, he was given special permission to ride in a cart because of a medical exemption. He chugged Diet Cokes and chain-smoked his way around the course, followed every step of the way by cheering New Yorkers despite shooting 75-76 and missing the cut by 7 shots.
As a past champion, he will be back again this week when the event is played at the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, where he will again be afforded the use of a golf cart under a request made via the Americans with Disabilities Act. Fans will be back after none were allowed a year ago at TPC Harding Park because of COVID-19 restrictions. They will cheer John Daly. There will be a few others, not on site, who will cheer him, too, for what he did 30 years ago.
"I'm not a big golf person, but I tried to follow him, and some things I found were not in a positive light," said Emily, whose last name is now Edmondson. She has four children and lives outside of Indianapolis. "I just kind of chose not to be naive. I wanted to focus on what I knew of him. I didn't want it to jade my thoughts or perspective on him. To me, it's not important. It doesn't negate what he did. It just speaks to his true character and the person that he is."
Daly said in a recent email exchange with ESPN that he had read in the paper about the tragedy that week.
"I just felt like I had to do something, almost a responsibility, since I felt [Tom Weaver] was out on the course because of us players and I thought in my heart it was the Godsend thing to do," Daly said.
"I'm so proud of those girls and happy to help take care of them and for what they've accomplished."
Emily attended Purdue for two years before getting married and then getting an associate's degree in respiratory therapy from the College of DuPage, near Chicago.
Karen majored in biology at Indiana before going to medical school at American University of the Caribbean-St. Maarten. She then did a family medicine fellowship at Louisville, followed by another fellowship at the University of South Florida.
She now works at Franciscan Health in Indianapolis as a palliative physician.
Daly said he felt $15,000 for each girl might be an appropriate amount to help get a head start on a college fund. So he sent $30,000. Dee Weaver sought a financial adviser to invest the money.
"I didn't understand the magnitude of John's sacrifice at the time," Emily said. "I just assumed it was some guy who had gotten a big paycheck and was generous enough to give some of it to us. We were very young, and it was his first win and he had obligations and debts, and that whole part of it I didn't know.
"My mom got it invested, and the funds had grown. My sister used all of it for her schooling, and I used it for what I needed to pay for school at the time, and the rest of that money is still invested. We have four kids, and it's a legacy that has been created for our family."
Daly gives all credit to Dee, who has since remarried, and what she has done in raising the two girls, who now have six children between them.
"It really was amazing," Daly said, "what their mother did with the money to help her children at the time."
Daly was always reluctant to reach out to the family. He feared hearing from him would just bring back the bad memories of losing a husband and father. But in 2005, 14 years after the accident, Steve Fisher, who married Dee in 2000, reached out to Daly through Golf Digest to let him know what his generosity had brought.
Daly was moved. He worked out a plan for them to meet at a charity golf tournament conducted by his friend Fuzzy Zoeller in southern Indiana.
"I just met two wonderful people," Daly said. "I met a great mother and a great stepfather, who also stepped up to take great care of those girls. I told them that I was just so proud of them for what they accomplished and, to this day, was so sad for what they went through at a young age.
"I was just so glad I could step in to help them. And I wasn't looking for any publicity; I was just so happy because it's such a memorable place and special place and special for me in my life."
When they met, the family brought a gift for Daly.
"We had made a scrapbook for him of pictures of us growing up and were able to give that to him," Karen said. "He was able to look through that and just sit down and talk. I didn't feel like it was rushed. I felt like it was a very genuine, intimate time that we were able to spend with him. I know he was kind of hesitant. He said he'd often thought about us, wondered how we were doing. I was so glad that Steve reached out, and we were very grateful it happened."
All these years later, Daly remains happy to have played a small part in the family's lives. He said they hadn't been in contact recently, save for an email update from Fisher several months ago.
"What's tough to sink in is that I still cannot believe that was 30 years ago!" Daly wrote. "I've shared this story with my kids and would love to meet up with them again somewhere."