Life has gone back to normal for Joe Daley. Two years after he stunned the golf world with a victory in the Constellation Senior Players Championship, he is back where he began in the months and years leading up to that incredible moment at Fox Chapel Golf Club when he stood up to the best players on the Champions Tour and never flinched.
Daley was a credit salesman before he decided to give the professional tours a try, and he bounced everywhere, all around the world, chasing his ball, chasing his dream, until it all came to fruition on a hot steamy Sunday afternoon in Western Pennsylvania.
He won the Senior Players Championship by two shots — his first victory on the Champions Tour — and he did it by overtaking Mark Calcavecchia, a former British Open champ, and holding off defending champ Fred Couples and Tom Lehman in the stretch.
What’s more, he did it in grand style, holing a 20-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole — his tournament-best 24th birdie of the week — to claim the $405,000 first prize, the largest of his nomadic career. With the victory came a one-year exemption on the Champions Tour and a spot in The Players Championship on the PGA Tour the following year.
Life was good for Daley.
“That was a big goal for me to achieve what I achieved,” Daley said. “At that time, I had a lot of preparation time, a lot of time to work out, I went to all the qualifiers, which was continual play for me, and you get an edge that way.”
Daley, 53, is looking to regain that edge.
He was standing outside the equipment trailer Monday, not far from the practice range, waiting for some new steel shafts to be placed in his irons. Finding the right feel to his equipment is what he hopes will put him back on the right track to winning.
Daley is in the field of 81 players at the 32nd Constellation Senior Players Championship that begins Thursday at Fox Chapel because he has a five-year exemption into the tournament for winning in 2012. Since his victory two years ago, Daley has not had another win.
He still has some exempt status on the Champions Tour after finishing 49th on the money list in 2013, but the one-year exemption that got him into every event has expired. Daley has even gone back to Monday qualifying, which is what he did before he won the Senior Players Championship.
“When I won, of course you’re in everything, and at the end of year I was fatigued,” Daley said. “And going into next year it’s where I was struggling with clubs. When greens get firm I wasn’t spinning it enough because my clubs were worn down. That led to a lot of shots rolling over the green and not having control of the ball.
“Since then I’ve been struggling to find equipment that allows me to do that. I’ve had some OK finishes. It’s one of those things, I need to use more of the current stuff to play with.”
Then Daley added, “My short game is getting pretty good because I’ve been missing a fair amount of greens and hitting a lot of bunkers.”
In the 46 events he has played since his only victory, Daley has just one top-10 finish. His best finish in nine starts this year is a tie for 15th at the Insperity Invitational.
His biggest problem, he said, was expecting too much after he shot 14-under 266 and won at Fox Chapel.
“That’s exactly what I did — I pressed,” Daley said. “And I expected to make the number of birdies I made or birdie every hole, and that’s not going to happen because you’re playing different grass, different weather, different texture, different speeds. You just can’t adjust week in and week out. I just need to become more consistent striking it and with distance control.”
•NOTES — Couples, who won the tournament in 2011 and played the first two years at Fox Chapel, is not in the field. Couples always waits to the last minute to commit, but decided against playing. … The Champions Challenge featuring three players from the Champions Tour and one player each from the Steelers, Pirates and Penguins will be 2 p.m. today at the practice area at Fox Chapel. Rocco Mediate, John Cook and Jeff Sluman will team up with former Steelers safety Mike Wagner, former Penguins winger Phil Bourque and former Pirates pitcher Kent Tekulve and selected TV personalities. The winning team will receive $10,000 for its designated charity. … A clinic by PGA professional and trick-shot artist Ben Witter is at 3 p.m. at the practice range.
Gerry Dulac: email@example.com and Twitter @gerrydulac.