An arbiter of golf's hip new image comes to the AT&T.
Thursday, February 7, 2002
Photo by Brett Wilbur
Photo: MTV veejay and talk show host Carson Daly started playing golf at age 8. "When I was younger it wasn''t cool--I used to be embarrassed to wear my letterman''s jacket," he says.
The blue golf bag stands upright in my hall closet, each contoured titanium club shiny and unscuffed. It''s an expensive Christmas gift from my 90-year-old grandfather, a tournament player in his day, and so far, only a promise of a passport to an unknown land.
Today, armed with an AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am media badge, I venture into uncharted, though expertly manicured, territory. I''m on a mission to discover why golf--a pastime of cocktails at the lodge and funny pants and slow, tedious play--is really the thing for Generation Xers. All my friends in their late 20s and 30s have at least attempted it, and some are becoming quite regular players. My quarry is 28-year-old tournament participant Carson Daly, MTV veejay, talk show host and teenage idol. If anyone knows the secret connection between "golf" and "cool," it''s him.
After taking a bus from the parking lot, I arrive at the 9th hole just as Tiger Woods is putting. When he''s done, the crowd shouts and moves in a giant swarm to the next hole. A few of us stragglers, not loyal to any particular player, remain behind as a new mob moves in. It''s Bill Murray''s group, and you can hear them coming before you see them, a gale of laughter ringing through the still forest. Murray''s in a pink oxford shirt, pouting, rolling his eyes, lowering his head in mock sorrow at his last swing. The crowd roars encouragement and follows him along to the next tee.
The crowd is thin and subdued as professional golfers lacking celebrity partners make their way through. People perk up when they hear Daly is on his way. "Who''s that?" asks one teenager''s mom. "The MTV guy, mom!" she says. Two youngish-looking guys approach the hole--Daly and his pro partner, Dave Stockton, Jr.
After Daly sinks a putt, a dad prompts his three-year-old son to shout out, "Good job, Carson!" "Thanks, pal," Daly says, and offers a golf ball to him. Daly looks over at a group of gawking teenagers. "What are you guys up to?" he asks as the girls erupt in nervous laughter. "Hi, Caaaaarson," they reply. Daly walks over to a lovestruck pimply teenager forlornly clutching an autograph book and staring in awe at her Gen X hero. "How''s it going?" he greets her, signing her book before she has to ask.
It''s now or never. "Mr. Daly," I venture, "Do you have a few minutes to talk about golf and what it means to this generation?" "Sure, no problem," he answers. "Can you walk with us?" I follow the small group moving along with him, noticing a man in a red ESPN jacket perched on a collapsible seat. Daly looks straight at him and the woman in a sequined black jacket next to him and holds up four fingers. "Rock on, Carson!" yells the woman. It''s Daly''s mother, Pattie Daly-Caruso, with his stepfather, Dick Caruso. "One of the pro''s wives told me that she saw me cheering for Carson, and thought I was one of his fans," Daly-Caruso says with a laugh. "I told her I am!"
There''s a slowdown as the players in front of Daly finish up their round. I approach Daly. Does he think golf is becoming cooler with the younger set?
"Absolutely," he responds. "There''s cool commercials, there''s Tiger and Michael Jordan. It used to be your grandfather wearing knickers." Why play it? "Golf''s a gentleman''s sport," Daly surmises. "It says a lot about a person if they''re into golf. You play by the rules and follow a certain etiquette." Doesn''t it get boring and frustrating? Frustrating yes, boring no. "I love being outdoors, it''s like therapy to me," he says. "My life is so exciting that this is a nice counterpart to it."
Daly, who started golf at age 8 at the encouragement of his stepfather, a tournament organizer, was good enough at one point to consider going pro, and he played with Tiger as a child. "When I was younger it wasn''t cool--I used to be embarrassed to wear my letterman''s jacket," he says. Daly looks behind him as Kenny G. and Alice Cooper approach, ponytails sticking out of the back of their baseball caps. "I don''t have any time to play now," Daly laments. "I used to play good--now I suck."
As we walk on, Daly-Caruso, who hosts a talk show in Palm Desert, chats about Carson. "Carson''s birthday is June 22, he''s a Gemini on the cusp of Cancer," she informs me. "It''s a very interesting combination. I don''t believe in the horoscope you read in the paper, but this can tell you a lot about him..." We are interrupted by a tournament volunteer telling the crowd to be quiet, and the tantalizing information is left dangling, never to be continued.
Gen, a 22-year-old San Franciscan in blue-tinted sunglasses, hands a Corona to Daly''s caddy, Anthony Morabito, who passes it on to Daly. Daly pops open what must be the third beer a fan has given him since I''ve joined them and toasts the girl, who waves back.
"Why did you do that?" I ask. "My boyfriend dared me to," she answers. The Corona sits half empty on the green as Daly drives and misses the water. "Good boy, Cars," yells Dick Caruso.
"I like golf but it''s hard and it''s frustrating," says Gen. "Ever since Tiger Woods came on the scene it''s opened it up to younger people. It''s almost everyone I know has at least tried it, and it really helps in the business world," she says. "With the celebrities like this it makes it a little more fun--easier to get into."
"Oh Jeez," says Daly, picking up his ball and letting Stockton finish. A gaggle of high school gigglers approaches, asks for autographs, then leaves, shouting, "We have to go to class!" Daly-Caruso smiles at the twittering girls fawning over her son. "It cracks me up," she says. "But Carson''s nice to everyone."
Daly''s step-brother, Rick Caruso, 34, shows up with his girlfriend and introduces her to Daly. "We play golf to get away from our girlfriends," he laughs. "Put that in your paper. Carson''s really good, though."
Rick Caruso golfs when he gets the chance. "You''re out here with your buddies having a couple of beers," he says. "Even when you play bad it''s fun to be out in the beauty." His famous stepbrother''s golf rounds have a bit more star power than average. "Carson''s played with the drummers from No Doubt and Sugar Ray," Caruso says. "If people like that are playing, of course younger people are going to pick it up."
PGA groups offer discounts for juniors, hoping to get them hooked early. "You get started now and you can play for the rest of your life," says Dick Caruso, as Daly finishes the last hole, anti-climactically. Two high schoolers from Robert Louis Stevenson stop Daly on his way out of the tournament. "Can you give us a funny random quote for our paper?" Daly stops. "Funny and random?" he asks. "How about, ''I suck at golf.''" The students stare, hoping for more. "Okay," says Daly. "Goddamn, this beer tastes good," he toasts, walking out of the event.
For all his talk of sucking at golf, Daly makes the cut into Sunday''s final round. But he''s already got tickets to the Super Bowl, so playing in the finals will have to wait until next year. "If they''ll have me back," he says.
At home, I take a club out of my untouched golf bag and try a swing in my living room. It''s fairly ridiculous--like having the keys to a brand new car and having no idea how to drive. But if Carson can make time for golf, why can''t I?