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Gary's Off-the-wall Tee Party

April 05, 1993
April 05, 1993

Table of Contents
April 5, 1993

Golf
Horse Racing
Basketball
The NCAAs
Sports People
Baseball '93
Baseball' 93
Environment
Boating
Point After

Gary's Off-the-wall Tee Party

CBS golf telecasts can be cheerfully loony affairs when spacey Gary McCord chips in

For those of you who don't keep track of such things, Blothar is a planet of wine tasters on the third parsec of the void called Creer. Though Blothar is a with-it kind of place, life there can get pretty dull. Which is why a Blotharian named Bi-Productivity 17 came to Earth. "I was sent by our leader, Torgotten Nine Clarius Ton, Archbishop of Vess, Most Wholly Father of the Four Vows and night clerk at Blothar's first 7-Eleven, to find new recreation," says Bi-Pro, known in these parts as Gary McCord. "My spaceship landed in the middle of a driving range, so I decided to learn golf." You can tell McCord is from Blothar by the way he ambles up the 18th fairway. "I always tilt my head to one side," he says. "If I don't, my brain tends to drain out my other ear."

This is an article from the April 5, 1993 issue

Nothing about this golfer manquè turned TV commentator seems convincingly human: not his gleaming, saucer-shaped eyes; not his pinball-machine mind. "There isn't such a thing as Gary McCord," says Ben Wright, his sidekick on CBS golf telecasts. "He's just a cardboard figure with a scruffy growth on his upper lip." Indeed, one suspects that tiny aliens are encased in McCord's skull, working the levers that move his arms and legs.

It's true that for two decades on the PGA Tour, McCord, 44, was more or less invisible. "I started off slow and tapered off," he says. "I've had more ex-wives than wins." For the record, he has been divorced once and has never won a PGA tournament. "Gary has made the most of minimal talent," says Wright. "He has made mediocrity an art form."

McCord's career earnings total $606,488, or roughly $30,000 a year. "Seven caddies are ahead of me on the alltime money list," he says. "One by only $400." McCord's best finish: runner-up at the 1975 Greater Milwaukee Open, and a $14,820 check. McCord's next-best finish: a tie for runner-up at the 1977 Greater Milwaukee Open, with a $10,053.33 payday. "Jack Nicklaus and I determine our schedules around the majors," he says. "Jack points toward them, I point away from them."

It wasn't until McCord joined CBS in 1985 that the public became aware of him at all. He has since gained a certain eminence by combining impudence with affability, thereby establishing a low-key rapport with his audience. "I hired Gary for that creative speck of irreverence," CBS golf producer Frank Chirkinian has said. "This is a troubled world we live in, and anyone who treats a golf telecast as a totally serious exercise is demented."

Before McCord came along, golf announcers were so respectful of the game's traditions that their comments were delivered in hushed, cloistral tones. But McCord refuses to take anything seriously, and his humor is based on the unexpected, the improbable, the outrageous. In 1987 he used a slide whistle to accompany footage of a short chip shot at the Doral Ryder Open. A year earlier, at the same event, McCord teased viewers by pretending to predict the winning shot in a sudden-death playoff. With Andy Bean and Hubert Green tied for the lead at the end of regulation play, the network cut away to a boxing match. By the time it cut back to the Doral, Bean had won on the fourth playoff hole.

While McCord and fellow announcer Jim Nantz did point out to their audience that the action had been taped several hours earlier, McCord nevertheless got carried away. As Bean began lining up his tape-delayed victory putt, McCord said, "Jimmy, this tournament is over. Andy can't miss! He's gonna throw it at the right center of the cup. I guarantee it!"

Nantz's jaw dropped. "Gary!" he whispered off-mike. "You can't do that!"

"Why not?" McCord whispered back. "I might as well sound like I know what I'm talking about."

Actually McCord knows the game quite well. You pick up a few things after 21 years of Monday qualifiers and sponsors' exhibitions. "Gary can break down technical flaws and explain them very simply," says Steve Elkington, one of several pros who often ask his advice. Which doesn't mean McCord is universally popular with the players. "Some think Gary is loud and empty," Wright says. "Tom Watson once laid into me for lowering myself to Gary's level."

McCord shrugs off his detractors. "I've been called an idiot, terrible pond scum, lower than pond scum," he says. "I've been called bacteria that hasn't even been named yet." How long has this been going on? "Only since I was seven."

Born in San Gabriel, Calif., McCord refined his game on a nearby public course, San Luis Rey Downs. Among the regulars there were a 428-pounder he dubbed the Kitchen and such characters as Unemployed Lloyd, Fairway Louie, London Sam, Bag-Room Bob, the Rodent, the Savage and 20/20, a blind duffer who played only at night. McCord graduated from UC Riverside, where he was a two-time All-America and the 1970 NCAA Division II individual champion. "I got a degree in economics," he says, "which means I could add up a scorecard using a theory."

For his first three years on the Tour, McCord was sponsored by Lawrence Welk after being introduced to him through a mutual friend. During his first year he appeared on Welk's TV show. To McCord's chagrin, Welk asked him to hit a golf ball at an archery target 35 feet away. "I a-want you to hit the bull's-eye," Welk told him. "I a-want you to show everyone here how well you can hit that golf ball."

McCord began taking deep breaths through his mouth, like a guppy in pain. "I was sure I was going to shank it and kill the 73,000 old people in the audience," he says. "But I couldn't bug out. This was being taped in front of a live audience."

Perched precariously on his new platform shoes, McCord grabbed a four-iron and nodded toward the smiling Welk. He took a long, slow backswing and an equally slow downswing back at the ball, which jumped off the AstroTurf and just clipped the target.

As a golfer McCord peaked in 1975, the year he finished 59th in earnings and qualified for a one-year Tour exemption. One year was all he got—ever. "I'd go out, play, play bad and go home," he says ruefully. "I was a nothing, zip, a doughnut, a big glazed doughnut." By 1980, with Tour winnings of only $13,521 for that year, McCord was supporting his golf habit by putting on magic shows.

McCord's life changed forever in 1985 when he spied Chirkinian on a plane bound for the Memorial in Dublin, Ohio. "Pay my motel room and I'll be your gofer for the telecast this weekend," McCord said. Chirkinian had him sit with commentator Verne Lundquist in the tower above the 16th green. McCord was nonplussed when he was handed a headset. "Didn't they tell you you're the guest analyst?" Lundquist asked.

Apparently not. McCord's first major call came when Payne Stewart was lining up a treacherous downhill chip shot. "Imagine hitting a ball on a concrete driveway and asking it to bite," McCord said.

"I love it!" Chirkinian shouted into McCord's earphone. He was given another week's work and, eventually, a contract.

"Television rescued Gary," says Wright. "He'd been a habitual dweller on the dung heap of life. And deservedly so." The comically pompous Wright, a portly Englishman, is the perfect foil for McCord. Wright's questions, pauses and murmured comments frame McCord's one-liners.

"I can't say that I really like Gary," says Wright. "It's the kind of relationship you have with an old dog that's become sick and evil-tempered, and you're waiting for him to die." Even that cool wisecrack is laced with affection.

The closest McCord has come to dying a dog's death on TV occurred during last year's AT&T at Pebble Beach, when he referred to a putt as being "faster than a Jamaican pickpocket." Chirkinian gets apoplectic just thinking about that ill-advised remark; McCord merely shrugs. "I only got one angry letter," he says.

"One letter!" exclaims Chirkinian. "The network got thousands! And every one of them had an off-with-his-head mentality."

Wright thinks McCord's decapitation is inevitable. "I'm sure Gary will make some terrible remark that will finally give our employers justification for firing him," he says. When that day comes, Wright expects McCord to return to Escondido, Calif., and become a street sweeper. "I can't wait to throw garbage in Gary's path," he says. "Of course, he'll probably be mediocre at street sweeping, too."

McCord takes exception to that crack. "I might make a mediocre street sweeper," he says, "but at least I'd entertain myself doing it."

PHOTOJACQUELINE DUVOISINElkington says McCord, whose attitude toward teaching is relaxed, is good at finding flaws in a game.PHOTOJACQUELINE DUVOISIN...perhaps. Effective, certainly.PHOTOJACQUELINE DUVOISINOn more than one occasion Chirkinian (left) and Wright have felt the need to admonish McCord.