FARMINGDALE, N.Y. (Reuters) - John Daly said it had been almost embarrassing riding a cart in the PGA Championship first round at Bethpage Black, where he limped and puffed his way around the long and hilly course on Thursday.
“It’s very awkward, to a point it’s almost embarrassing, but I love the PGA, and I feel like as past champion I belong to play ... I feel obligated,” the 1991 champion said after shooting five-over-par 75.
Daly, who has an arthritic right knee, was granted permission to ride under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), even though there are no cart paths at Bethpage, a walking-only public course.
He walked with a slight limp and said his knee was about the “size of a softball”.
Tiger Woods and Nick Faldo are among those not thrilled that Daly is being allowed to ride this week, but the 53-year-old from Arkansas remains a crowd favourite judging by the reception he received from the galleries.
Six-times major champion Faldo said last week that walking was an “integral” part of being a professional golfer, while Woods on Tuesday noted that he won the 2008 U.S. Open walking on a broken leg.
Daly was greeted warmly by the vast majority of fans, though he shamelessly curried favour with locals by wearing white replica pants of the famous New York Yankees baseball team, courtesy of his clothing sponsor.
“I love you man” and comments of a similar ilk pierced the relative silence as the American rode around Bethpage Black.
The PGA of America placed Daly in the other side of the draw from the marquee names, meaning the galleries were fairly small as most fans followed the bigger names.
But big John was still an attraction for those stationed at various holes, cameras quickly whipped out to capture a shot of the first golfer to ride a cart at a major championship since 2012.
Daly’s fiancee was even afforded the use of a cart at times, Anna Cladakis wearing a shirt with “Trump” emblazoned on it.
Daly was not allowed to park next to greens, instead having to leave his cart, which had a disabled sticker, in designated spots nearby.
At the uphill par-four second he sucked on a cigarette while waiting for his second shot, then threw it on the ground, played his shot and resumed smoking.
But his playing companions Rich Beem and Y.E. Yang, both also former PGA champions, reached the green long before Daly had parked his cart behind the grandstand and limped on to the putting surface.
“Doctors tell me I’m too young to get a knee surgery and get it replaced,” said Daly, insisting he would prefer to walk if he could.
He said he could only have managed about four holes at Bethpage without a cart, and that he would not play next month’s British Open unless granted permission to ride.
“I’m not one that wants to ride all the time,” he said.
“It’s just something that if I don’t, I’m not going to be able to play, I won’t be able to finish.”
Reporting by Andrew Both, editing by Ed Osmond