Published Apr 28, 2016Though it's almost certain to be overshadowed by the expansive five-part saga about O.J. Simpson, the other documentary from ESPN's "30 for 30" series at Hot Docs is an engrossing profile of a larger-than-life figure who's not exactly used to being overshadowed by anyone: golfer John Daly. Hit It Hard is an appropriately freewheeling account of Daly's emergence on the golf scene from out of nowhere, his struggles with addiction and relationships and his uncanny ability to maintain his down-to-earth country charm throughout it all.
Ever since he amazingly won the PGA Championship in 1991 despite being a ninth and final alternate who almost didn't even play, Daly has been a lightning rod for publicity both good and bad, due to how his mantra of "Grip it 'n' rip it" (and occasionally "sip it") manifested itself in monster drives and bouts of heavy drinking. It's not hard to see why the 25-year-old Daly became a media sensation and a rich man following his surprising victory; he was pretty much a real-life version of Happy Gilmore with a mullet.
But like so many before him who have battled with the pressures of overnight fortune and fame, Daly couldn't quell the vices that led him to lose large sums of cash on gambling and landed him in rehab on more than one occasion. He emphasizes here, as a point of pride, that he never drank while he was golfing at a PGA event, except for the one time that he chugged a bunch of booze in the clubhouse after a less-than-stellar front nine and then went out and shot much better on the back nine while half in the bag. At one point, though, we see Daly dealing with alcohol withdrawal on the course while shaking violently.
The documentary doesn't shy away from his failed marriages and allegations of domestic abuse (one ex-wife even appears in an interview, though she doesn't appear to hold too many grudges), and though it doesn't dwell too long on these issues, it hardly glamourizes the realities of Daly's career either. Throughout, we're subject to Daly's many failings on and off the course; we see how Daly now makes a buck the hard way, by regularly meeting with his fans to sell merchandise while sharing the unvarnished truths of his life with them.
There's something mythical about great performances in sport that the passage of time only has a way of accentuating. The victory Daly had at the PGA Championship, and another thrilling one he later secured at St. Andrews in 1995, will be there to behold forever, in all their glory. He may not be perfect, but as the surprisingly decent title country song goes that Daly himself capably sings, boy did he ever "hit it hard, man." (ESPN Films)