John Daly draws a crowd, dazzles with his distance on first day of Kentucky’s PGA event

Photo slideshow: PGA Barbasol Championship opening round

The PGA Barbasol Championship opening round Thursday at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville.
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The PGA Barbasol Championship opening round Thursday at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville.

When the opening round of the PGA Barbasol Championship got underway at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville on Thursday, it didn’t take long to identify the day’s main attraction.

Two-time major champion and five-time PGA Tour winner John Daly began the day on hole No. 1 with a sizable fan following that grew into a rowdy crowd by the time he parred No. 18 to finish the day with a 1-under 71.

Coming down the back nine, more spectators attached themselves to the group following Daly on every hole. They spoke to each other in hushed tones about his lively outfit (a pair of colorful patchwork pants), his apparent continued love for chain smoking cigarettes on the course, and the booming tee shots he seemed to reproduce on every hole.

Two of those fans who spent their day trailing the enigmatic character who zipped around the course in a golf cart (Daly suffers from arthritis in his knee and entered the Barbasol after British Open officials denied his request to use a cart) were 24-year old Michael Tarbet and his father-in-law, 53-year-old Lewis Grounds.

Fans follow John Daly as he makes his way up the 18th fairway during the first round of the PGA Barbasol Championship. Alex Slitz

Tarbet invited Grounds to the Barbasol after receiving a pair of tickets from a friend, and he earned plenty of goodwill in the process.

“He’s my new favorite son right now,” Grounds said.

Grounds was born and raised in Arkansas but has lived in Lexington for the last 12 years. Grounds said he’s long been a fan of Daly, who played at Arkansas in college.

“Being from Arkansas and being a big Razorbacks fan like John, you definitely want to follow him,” Grounds said. “But obviously a lot of people want to follow him because he has such a wild reputation.

“I know he wanted to be at the British Open but couldn’t be, so what a nice win for this tournament to get him here. Of course there’s the narrative about him driving around in a cart, but some of these shots he hits are amazing. And he’s just such a persona.”

John Daly uses a golf cart to navigate around the 16th green during Thursday’s opening round. Alex Slitz

Early on Thursday, Daly provided an example of the erratic play for which he’s become known in recent years. He shot out of the gate with back-to-back birdies. After parring hole No. 3, he blasted a 326-yard drive on No. 4, but ended up with a triple bogey. On the par-5 No. 5 hole, he followed up another huge drive and a beautiful iron shot by running in a 48-foot chip for eagle.

Daly nearly carded a double eagle on the par-5 No. 15 hole. He sent a 300-yard drive to the middle of the fairway and his approach shot landed on the front of the green and rolled past the cup about 2 inches to the right. Daly two-putted for his fourth birdie of the day.

“Well, I drove the ball well, I just putted bad. Just couldn’t make anything,” Daly said of Thursday’s round. “I can’t gripe about how I’m hitting the ball, I’ve just got to get the ball in the hole a little quicker, make some putts.”

The fans certainly weren’t griping about Daly’s performance. After finishing up on No. 18 he exited the green to a huge ovation, then drove his cart to the scorer’s table through a throng of cheering spectators that lined either side of the cart path.

Daly’s significant other, Anna Cladakis, was among the crowd that followed him around all day. Wearing a pair of shorts that matched Daly’s pants, she was escorted from hole to hole in a cart by an official.

After Daly’s round, Cladakis spoke about how impressed she was with the fan reception he’s received in central Kentucky this week.

“I love how Kentucky has embraced John,” Cladakis said. “All day long I’ve been hearing these great stories about how people loved reading his book or about how excited they were to meet him at so-and-so tournament ... The hospitality has just been the best.”

J.T. Poston tees off during PGA Barbasol Championship on Thursday. Poston shot a 10-under-par 62 to secure the first-round lead. Ryan C. Hermens

Poston joins record-holders

J.T. Poston, a 26-year-old who earned his PGA Tour card in 2017, is in good position to make a run at his first PGA victory. The Western Carolina graduate tied Keene Trace’s Champions Course record by firing a 10-under 62 in the opening round. He’s now tied for the record with UK graduate Steve Flesch and Troy Merritt, who rode an opening-round 62 to victory in last year’s Barbasol.

When told after his round that he’d tied the course record, Poston replied, “Yeah, we’ll take it.

“Hopefully (I’ll) keep that same momentum that Troy did. You’ve got to make birdies out here to stay on top of the leaderboard. Just going to try and keep doing what I did today.”

PGA Barbasol Championship

Where: The Champions Course at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville

When: Through Sunday

Purse: $3.5 million

Defending champion: Troy Merritt

Website: (for information about tickets, volunteer opportunities, event schedule, July 17 pro-am and more)

Friday’s TV: 5-8 p.m. (Golf Channel)

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Josh Sullivan has worked at the Herald-Leader for more than 10 years in multiple capacities, including as a news assistant, page designer, copy editor and sports reporter. He is a graduate of the University of Kentucky and a Lexington native.