As the Masters went on without him, Daly was signing and selling less than two miles away.
Al Tielemans/SI
Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Masters rookie approached the two-time major winner last Thursday looking for advice. "I'm Dave Womack," said the 28-year-old from McDonough, Ga., sticking out his hand. "I won the U.S. Mid-Amateur and played in the Masters today. What do you do after you shoot an 84?"

John Daly's response was quick and predictable. "Go get drunk, man," he said. "Might as well enjoy yourself." All those within earshot roared with laughter.

For most of Daly's 17 years on the PGA Tour, such an exchange during Masters week would've taken place in the Augusta National clubhouse or on the practice tee. This year it happened exactly 1.7 miles from Magnolia Lane, in a parking lot on Washington Road. Daly, now a lowly 229th in the World Ranking and a nonqualifier for the tournament for the first time since 2003, nevertheless spent the entire week in Augusta. There, every night from six to eight, he signed autographs, posed for pictures and sold hats, T-shirts, flags and other assorted Team Lion-branded merchandise from a trailer parked beside a Hooters restaurant. And Womack, like a kid at a sideshow, was simply one more fan filing by to gawk at the one, the only Long John.

Daly gave the people what they came to see, chain-smoking Marlboros, knocking back bottles of Miller Lite and trading bawdy jokes for hours as he signed whatever was put in front of him. When a man handed him a risque Hooters T-shirt, Daly looked down at the scantily clad waitress on it and asked, "Do you want me to sign her [breasts]?" When another fan asked him if he felt old, Daly, 41 on April 28, came back with, "We only feel as old as the women we feel." After someone told Daly that he saw him make an 18 on a hole at Bay Hill, Daly said, "Oh, yeah, I missed that four-footer for a 17. Hey, we're all human, man."

Daly knows his demographic, so he was not surprised to see the traffic at his trailer, which had filled the parking lot on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday (the practice-round days), fall off dramatically once the tournament began and the more staid patrons arrived. "Thursday is like the changing of the guard," said Tod Dundas, a regional manager for Hooters brought in for Masters week. "The blue-collar crowd goes home, and the business crowd comes in."

The juxtaposition of Daly swilling and smoking in a parking lot while the year's first major was being contested mere blocks away did lead to some awkward moments. On Thursday a well-oiled fan handed Daly a hat to sign and asked, "How'd you do today?"

"I'm not playing," Daly answered.

When the fan guffawed and asked, "What's your problem?" Daly responded with a wan smile.

Another man handed Daly his cellphone and asked him to say hello to his girlfriend. Daly complied. Long pause. Then he said into the phone, "I didn't play, baby. I didn't get in this year."

A woman pushed a hat in front of Daly and said, "We're glad you're here."

As he signed, Daly lifted his chin toward the tall Georgia pines swaying less than two miles in the distance and said, "I'd rather be over there."

As usual, Daly was staying in his tricked-out RV, which he had parked a few hundred feet from Hooters. During a quiet moment there on Friday afternoon he admitted that spending the week in Augusta without being in the field was not as easy as he was making it look. "It's eating the living s--- out of me," he said. "I've never done anything like this before, but I'll probably do it every year whether I'm in [the Masters] or not. It's good for the fans, it's good for Hooters, and it's good for me."

Daly palled around with the guys from TaylorMade, one of his sponsors, but besides Hooters duty, his only regular obligation was a meet-and-greet with the folks from 84 Lumber each day. He also got over to Sage Valley Golf & Hunt Club in Graniteville, S.C., twice to play a few holes, but he didn't once set foot on the grounds at Augusta National. By Friday he was sufficiently bored to show up two hours early for his Hooters shift, and he occasionally glanced at the small TV in the trailer showing the Masters.

Someone asked if it was hard to watch. "No, it's boring," Daly said. "I don't like watching golf on TV. I'd rather play."

Turning from the screen, Daly said he wanted to clear up something. Contrary to published reports, he said, he and his fourth wife, Sherrie, were not divorced. "We're not even separated," he said. "It's still a roller-coaster marriage, but we're great whenever we're together. It's when we're apart that stuff happens." Daly did not deny that he and Sherrie have a lot on their plate. They're taking care of their three-year-old son, Little John, and Sherrie's sister's two young children. "I keep asking everyone, 'Is there a plan here, or are we all assuming good ol' JD is going to take care of things?'" he said. "I mean, I have four kids of my own to worry about."

Two of Daly's best buddies on Tour, Ian Poulter and Fuzzy Zoeller, had stopped by the trailer earlier in the week, as had former NBA star Dan Majerle. Jimmy Flynt II, a nephew of Larry's and a vice president of marketing for Hustler magazine, also made an appearance, telling Daly that he found the golfer's autobiography My Life in & out of the Rough, "inspiring."

The locals were clearly enthralled. On Thursday night Ricky Dudai, 53 years old and a member of the Augusta Fire Department, brought over dozens of thick-cut rib-eye steaks. After Daly was done with his Hooters commitment, Dudai grilled a batch for John and a few friends outside Daly's RV. As they sat in armchairs, steaks in their laps, beer beside them, a squad car rolled up and out popped two waitresses from Hooters carrying baked beans and mashed potatoes. Lifting yet another Miller Lite to his lips, Daly opined, "Isn't it great to be drinking a beer in front of a cop car? That's beautiful."

Yes, beautiful. But during Masters week, in Augusta, location is everything, and a parking lot was about 1.7 miles from ideal.

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