It’s a tradition like no other.
Not the Masters, but John Daly selling hats, shirts, pants, towels, pin flags — you name it — out of his luxury bus in the Hooters parking lot.
The chain-smoking, grip-it-and-rip-it, everyman golf hero has been selling his logo-bearing merchandise at tournaments for at least 25 years, including when he was a rock star on the PGA Tour and had fresh victories in the British Open (1995) and PGA Championship (1991) to his name.
“It says, he’s us,” said Daly pal Dave Saracino, vice president of field sales for Bic, which makes the pens and lighters. He said he brings about 40 clients to the Masters every year, and the first stop they want to make is to see Daly.
“There’s nothing else you can say except he’s the real deal.”
And Daly is happy to make a deal. He doesn’t charge for photos with fans or autographs — “I don’t play in the NBA,” he said –-- and his stuff is reasonably priced. For instance, one of his more popular T-shirts — which reads “Daly Daly” in a style reminiscent of Bud Light’s “Dilly Dilly,” — goes for $20.
Belts, ball markers, even cans of his “Grip It and Sip It” drink ... Daly runs a wall-to-wall mart, assisted by his girlfriend, Anna Cladakis, and others. He declined to say how lucrative the business is, only that it’s bustling from the moment he opens around 10 a.m. to the evening when he shuts it down for the night.
The booth is set up about a mile from Augusta National Golf Club, many of the golf spectators choosing to find parking in the area.
“I just figured it’s a good way to sell the brand,” said Daly, 53, who wears a shorter mullet than during his playing days that is now dyed platinum blond. “When I started back in ’97 with the logo, I just figured it was a great way to sell it. We’ve got a great relationship with Hooters, I love it, they’re awesome. I help them, they help me this week.”
He said fans will knock on the door of his bus at all hours, with some even trying to wander in.
“I’ve found people knocking on the bus, beating all the bus — all good stuff,” said Cory Moore, his linebacker-looking bodyguard. “I just talk to them. They’re just having fun, and they’re excited to see him. Because nobody else comes and does this.
“I have a video of about 200 people chanting his name when he walked off the bus.”
Golf fan John Duke of Eufaula, Okla., made the pilgrimage to Augusta to watch a practice round this week. First stop: Daly’s bus.
“Our buddy that went to Arkansas [Daly’s alma mater], our whole drive here he was talking about John Daly and wanting to see him,” Duke said. “That’s all he cared about. So we made our way to Hooters and bought a towel. Got it signed and [Daly] took a picture with us. He was really cool.
“You just wouldn’t see very many pros doing that. He’s probably the only one that would ever do that, honestly. Get out and meet the public. He just seems like a good ol’ country boy to me.”
Daly said various celebrities stop by from time to time too, among them Dallas coach Jason Garrett and Cowboys legend Ed “Too Tall” Jones, and Eric Trump, the president’s son.
Asked if fans ever question if it’s really him, Daly said, “Oh, all the time. I just play stupid.”
He said he’d love to return to competitive golf but he’s got a bum knee that gives out after five or six holes.
Daly said the Hooters where he parks is so supportive that he’s written into the restaurant’s lease. He plans to maintain his personal Masters week tradition for the foreseeable future. If the fans keep coming, so will he.