Uh-oh. CBS Sports has unleashed a borderline loony on the staid, oh-so-traditional game of golf. His name is Gary McCord, and as a commentator on the network's golf telecasts he is liable to say or do something outlandish whenever the mood strikes, which is about every 90 seconds or so. You can find him cutting up behind the commentator's mike at the 16th hole.
McCord, 39, who is also a semiactive member of the PGA Tour, has already had two fender benders on the air, either of which could have caused his removal. The first occurred at the Los Angeles Open in February. CBS ran a feature in which Mac O'Grady, whose wife, Fumiko Aoyagi, is Japanese, talked about Bushido, a word that describes the discipline and courage of a samurai warrior. After McCord allowed that he once got in trouble for saying a word that sounded a lot like Bushido, CBS Sports president Neal Pilson called and told him to clean up his act.
Then there was the Doral Open in Miami the following week. McCord, who confesses to being a little bored at times, brought a slide whistle to the tower and blew it (Whoooo-EEEEE-whewwwww!) as Lennie Clements chipped over a bunker onto the green. CBS golf producer Frank Chirkinian told McCord that if the whistle ever sounded again, the commentator would go the way of the gutta-percha ball.
"Gary's like any other child who constantly tests your authority," says Chirkinian. "He's like the kid who keeps pushing the ashtray to the edge of the table. You say, 'Don't push it off; he goes ahead, just to see what will happen."
June 7, 1987
Golf traditionalists are probably ready to take McCord out behind the caddie shack. But you know what? The guy is refreshing. He makes listening to golf fun. He talks about pterodactyls in the lagoon and evil lurking in the trees and humongous putts being longer than his ex-wife's memory. McCord is the perfect contrast to all the straight arrows at CBS—Pat Summerall, Ken Venturi, Steve (White Bread) Melnyk and, especially, the delightful-to-dump-on Ben Wright.
McCord, whose best finishes in 15 years on the Tour are seconds at Milwaukee in 1975 and '77, asked CBS for a gofer job at the '85 Memorial and was put to work as a color man with announcer Verne Lundquist. He still is working without a contract for relatively bargain-basement wages of $3,500 per tournament. His assets are his expertise, the many contacts he has with the players and a certain sophomoric charm.
No wonder Masters chairman Hord Hardin invited McCord into his office the week of the Masters for a little heart-to-heart talk. "It was like going to the principal's office to get yelled at for something I hadn't done yet," McCord said. Somewhat ominously, Hardin said that he knew McCord would do "a straight telecast." Replied McCord, "Does that mean I can't wear my clown outfit and have my colored balloons with me in the booth?"
Hardin may not have known that McCord masqueraded on an NBC telecast of the 1981 Houston Open as an emissary sent from the planet Blothar by the archbishop of Vess to inhabit a human body. He also is a member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians and has plans to move next winter into a new home—a caboose off the 14th green at the San Luis Rey Downs Golf Course and Country Club in Bonsall, Calif.
McCord may seem to need a good whuppin' for all his shenanigans, but the fact is that he has been a polished communicator from the day he started. "I knew that if I ever got on the air, one thing I'd try to do is get rid of the jargon and make golf understandable." And so he has. Say a player is hitting from deep rough to a hard green that slopes sharply to the right. "You know what that's like?" McCord will tell his audience. "It's like hitting from your front lawn onto your blacktop driveway and then yelling for the ball to stop."
McCord is also an able entertainer, as in his mock feud with Wright. The eloquent Wright, whose sentences often resemble a string of pearls, drives McCord insane and suffers good-natured abuse in return. After much on-air discussion of the weaknesses of their respective golf games, the two played a celebrated "grudge" match last week at The Golf Club in New Albany, Ohio, on the eve of the Memorial. Venturi caddied for Wright. With O'Grady as his tuxedo-clad caddie, McCord, in a Rambo-type outfit, won one up, giving Wright a stroke on every hole.
Traditionalists may cringe, but as long as McCord doesn't get too outrageous on the air, he should be around for a very long time.