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Kelly: On the outside looking in, John Daly joins merchants outside Augusta

I'm standing in the parking lot of a Hooters trying to catch John Daly's attention.

The former court jester of golf is wearing a University of Arkansas T-shirt and matching gym shorts. A loose-fitting gold Rolex is banging around on his wrist. He's hacking a butt, and eyeing me suspiciously.

His wife, Anna, moves to intercept.

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"John did interviews on Monday and Tuesday. Did you make an appointment?"

Uh, no.

Daly drifts over to listen, but isn't looking in our direction. We're talking across a couple of folding tables covered in Daly-branded tchotchkes. Behind them is the double-wide RV they sleep in.

"What if I bought something?"

"Well then, maybe. But that's up to John," says Anna, and looks over. Daly flashes some sort of secret sign. Anna turns back to me.

"Everything's $20."

I grab the first thing I see – an autographed Masters pin flag.

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"That's $50."

This'll work out to about 10 bucks a minute. If my brother is reading this, he already knows what he's getting for Christmas.

Daly's been doing this for 15 years – rolling up to major tournaments in an RV, parking beside a Hooters and hawking his goods. Back when he was still a viable golfer and a major champion, it was a bit of fun. It may still be, but it also needs to be a viable business.

Daly's won about $10-million (U.S.) in prize money. He claims to have lost more than five times that gambling. He's 48 years old, hobbled by injuries and the results of a heroically louche lifestyle. He can't golf the senior tour until he's 50. So here he is.

People are rolling by in small groups – three or four at a time. Buying a shirt. Briefly touching what may once have been greatness.

The merchandise tables are arranged like a moat around the RV, so that no one is encouraged to invade Daly's space. When he takes a photo with his fans, Daly leans across awkwardly.

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"My mom's always taught me that everyone's the same," Daly says. "I'm an everyday, average person. I think a lot of athletes might get indulged, and think they're better than the average person."

Every few minutes, a pickup truck will roll by on Washington Boulevard – the tatty thoroughfare that leads to Augusta National – and someone will lean out the window and yell, "JD!" Daly doesn't bother turning around, but he does raise his hand reflexively.

"Doing this stuff makes you realize … we're on our feet 12, 13 hours a day out here. Not too many athletes could do that. Not too many athletes have the patience. Ninety-five per cent of the time I got patience with people. Then there's that 5 per cent where people get out of line, and you gotta stand up for yourself."

Daly has a weary drawl. It's late morning, and he seems tired. We're about a kilometre from the main gates.

"It's right over there," Daly says, and points past a crumbling Dollar Tree. He turns wistful for a moment: "I'd love to be back in there." He knows he won't.

One of the dualities of Augusta National is the world around it. This section of town looks like so many second- and third-rate cities in America – an endless procession of grubby restaurants and oil-change joints. There's no sidewalk. Getting over to meet Daly is a form of urban orienteering.

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Augusta National has taken steps to create a protective bubble between itself and the John Dalys of the world, steadily buying up adjacent land that remains largely undeveloped. The people who run this place are modern Robber Barons. They are practising a micro-form of Manifest Destiny.

Next year, they will simply pick up and move a road that runs the length of the complex. This will effectively extend the Augusta boundary outward by several hundred metres. It's only a matter of time before they begin absorbing the strip malls of Washington Boulevard. All they need is money and local political co-operation, and both appear to be inexhaustible resources.

As it stands, tens of thousands of ticket holders park free on rolling grass fields that straddle the west side of the club. This land is pretty in its way, but not Augusta pretty.

Without giving any specifics, club chairman Billy Payne said this week that the lots will be "beautified" this fall.

"It will look appropriately as though it belongs inside the fences of Augusta National."

One presumes that means marble paving stones or some such. No one knows how much money Augusta National has or how exactly it collects and distributes it, but it's thought to be many tens of millions. If it needs to top up the fund, it can just pass the hat around to members such as Bill Gates (est. net worth: $79-billion), Warren Buffett (est. net worth: $70-billion) or hedge-fund manager Dirk Ziff (est. net worth: $4.9-billion).

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The members are few, but in their green jackets, impossible to miss. All are expected to 'work' during the Masters – everything from leading tour groups to running news conferences.

They share the same look – robust, impeccable white men of a certain age, elegantly coiffured. They resemble clones of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. He's also one of them.

The other day, I watched a member dip into a bowl of jellybeans standing on the entrance desk to the media centre. He scooped the candies out with a plastic spoon, dumped them in his hand, picked out three or four he liked, and then dropped the rest back in the bowl.

These folks are used to helping themselves.

Even the crowds share that look, or try to. They have their own uniform – polos, fashion shorts, ball caps. Everyone here is homogenized, which is how they seem to like it.

It's a golf tournament. It's also a 1-per-center convention.

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Out there, it's the real world. It isn't encroaching. It's receding.

Back in the parking lot, Daly is worried about foot traffic.

"It usually picks up around 4," he says. At 3 p.m., he's "competing" in a putting contest. A couple of Hooters girls are cleaning trash off an adjacent Astroturf green in preparation.

Daly's ruminating about his career.

"I wish I would've played better in that '96-to-2001 window. I wish I would've practised on my game the way I do now," Daly says. "My problem is I didn't say no. Went everywhere. Took the money. Wasn't able to sit back and take the time to practise for a whole week. I kind of let my game falter."

For a few years, John Daly was probably the most typical American allowed through the Augusta gates. But that's done now. Like most of the rest of them, he's back on the other side of the fence.

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