Gary McCord lives to surprise us, to be unpredictable, to shake
up our world. There's anarchy in his heart and just as much
impishness as his trademark handlebar mustache suggests. Banned
from CBS's Masters telecasts for some relatively innocuous
comments, he's the closest thing televised golf has to a shock
Tour player Brandel Chamblee once called McCord at his home in
Vail, Colo., to arrange a visit. "Beautiful," said McCord. "I've
been working out. We'll just do my normal routine." Chamblee
asked what that was. "I get up every morning, strip off all my
clothes and run naked with the elk near my house," McCord said.
"I'm sure that's in anybody's morning routine," says Chamblee.
So was McCord going for the shock-value laugh? "I guarantee you
he has probably run naked with the elk," says Chamblee, who
lives in Scottsdale, Ariz., where McCord has a second home. "I'm
surprised only when Gary does something normal."
Ready for another shock? McCord hits the magic number--he turns
50--next May. Although he still seems new and fresh, McCord has
been injecting offbeat humor into golf telecasts for a dozen
years. "You don't think of Gary as 50," says CBS colleague Jim
Nantz. But the fact is that McCord and his wife, Diane, have
four grandchildren. "He's definitely not the image you conjure
up of your grandpa," says Nantz. "Boy, 50 will never be the same
The serene Senior tour may never be the same either. With
apologies to Hale Irwin, whose nine--and counting--victories
this season are remarkable, the Senior tour could use a boost
from someone like McCord, a guy whom millions of hackers think
of as one of them. Despite Irwin, TV ratings for Senior golf are
in a tailspin. "The numbers are down 15 to 20 percent," says
ESPN commentator Andy North, a two-time U.S. Open champion. "We
wish they weren't, and Cadillac [a major sponsor] wishes they
weren't. At the Senior tour sites, galleries are breaking
attendance records and sponsors are happy, but on TV more people
want to watch what Tiger [Woods] is doing."
The Senior tour was built around superstars, and they've gotten
old. Arnold Palmer is pushing 70. Jack Nicklaus, 57, teed it up
only six times with the Seniors in 1997 and, for the first time
in five years, failed to win. Lee Trevino hasn't been the same
player since neck surgery in 1994. Johnny Miller has played only
twice since turning 50 in April, and because of his miserable
putting--he averages 31.67 putts a round--will probably never be
a factor. As fans look for someone to challenge Irwin, they see
Gil Morgan and Larry Nelson, two great players who nonetheless
have limited marquee value.
Says North, "Look at two players coming out at the same time
next year--John Mahaffey and Gary McCord. You can't even compare
their careers, yet who's the public going to watch?" The answer
is not the guy with 10 victories, including a PGA Championship.
There's a catch, though. McCord has a day job and a dilemma. His
CBS gig is so good, he may not give it up to play full time on
the Senior tour. Plus, he has other interests. He writes an
irreverent column for iGolf, an Internet site, and wrote an
instructional book, Golf for Dummies, as well as Just a Range
Ball in a Box of Titleists, which is about his own adventures
(including a chapter about his appearance on the Lawrence Welk
McCord also has his hand in movies. He was Kevin Costner's swing
coach and appeared as himself in Tin Cup, and he's working with
Tin Cup director Ron Shelton on a film about the legendary
hustler Titanic Thompson.
McCord's CBS contract runs through 1998, during which he is
committed to 26 telecasts. His plan is to play as much golf as
possible next fall on any tour--PGA, Senior or Nike--to prepare
for the Senior tour qualifying tournament in November. That will
be something of a formality. McCord's career earnings of
$659,479 on the regular Tour--he never won--are not enough for
an exemption on the Senior tour, but even if he fails at Q
school, he's sure to receive as many sponsors' exemptions as he
The bigger decision is: Give up show business, play full time
and go for the glory that has always eluded him, or become a
part-time player and probably never be a force? "I can't imagine
that Gary would want to go on without broadcasting," Nantz says.
"Then again, if he finds himself in the top five on the Senior
tour, that's pretty irresistible."
That's the other unknown in the equation. Can McCord really
compete on the Senior tour? Even half awake at seven in the
morning, having flown from Pinehurst to Scottsdale the night
before, McCord is pulsing with energy, his glee at being asked
the question only thinly veiled. Despite his carefree image,
he's always prepared. "Here's what I wrote down for that
question," McCord says. "Those who have dined on my festering
carcass in the past will have the distinct pleasure of pulling a
chair up to the table again. My other line is, Those guys beat
the living hell out of me in the past. There's no reason why
they're not going to beat the living hell out of me again.
That's basically it, but it would be fun to go play."
Asking McCord about his potential is like asking Bob Uecker
about his chances of making the Hall of Fame, but the truth is
that the put-downs, like Uecker's, are pure shtick. McCord
actually is a stick. "Gary is a much more accomplished player
now, by a long shot," said Jerry Pate, the 1976 U.S. Open
champion who works with McCord at CBS. "I've been telling him,
'Gary, you're good enough to beat those guys, but you've got to
believe it.' It's all confidence." McCord has made fun of his
game for so long that the public probably doesn't realize that
he's an excellent player. "I was in a pro-am when my amateur
partners watched Gary hit a tee shot," says Chamblee. "A couple
of them were amazed that he got it airborne. They were saying,
'No way!' They thought he was a chop."
There's not much evidence to make them think otherwise. McCord
likes to say that his on-course career went downhill after he
won the 1970 NCAA Division II championship while attending UC
Riverside. (He graduated in 1971 with a degree in economics.) "I
started slowly, then tapered off," McCord says jokingly. He
first played on the Tour in 1973, and over the next 10 years,
when only the top 60 players were exempt, he made their ranks
just once, in 1975, when he finished a career-high 59th. When
McCord quit playing the Tour full time, in 1986, he was better
known for being one of the driving forces behind the expansion
of the exempt list to 125 players than for anything he had
accomplished as a player, his best showing being a pair of
seconds in the Greater Milwaukee Open in the '70s. The only pro
tournament McCord has won came later, in 1991, when he took the
Gateway Open in Fort Myers, Fla., on the Ben Hogan tour. The
Gateway Open dropped off the schedule the next year, and McCord
claimed the kill.
He still plays occasionally on the PGA Tour--this year he made
one cut in four starts, his best finish a 74th in the Buick
Invitational--and is much more relaxed on the course. Like
Trevino, Jim Colbert and Bob Murphy, who watched and learned
during their years in the TV tower and then hit the Senior tour
running, McCord has spent the last decade closely observing some
of the best players in the world. More important, he has changed
his own game. After giving up Tour life, McCord asked Mac
O'Grady to help him build a simpler, low-maintenance swing. The
switch took a long time but was ultimately successful. "I was
screwed up from 15 years of flailing on the Tour," McCord says.
"Mac taught me so much. I'm not saying I'm a better player, but
now I don't go to the practice tee and try to figure out how I'm
going to hit the first tee shot. For 15 years there were 4,000
things going through my mind. Now I'm comfortable. I understand
my swing and know what it's going to produce."
Pate isn't alone in thinking that McCord could make an impact on
the Senior tour. Says David Feherty, another CBS colleague and
occasional playing partner, "Gary is a lot better than he would
have you think. When you see some of the Seniors who have won, I
honestly believe he could win, although it would be a great
shame to destroy his no-win record. But the USGA will have to
look very carefully at his mustache. I think he plans to use the
left curl as a sighting device."
McCord, though, is more comfortable talking about failure than
success. His Uecker routine is a deep-rooted defense mechanism.
"One thing you don't want to do at this stage of your life is
let your ego get in the way," McCord says. "Mine has been
bruised and battered after years on the Tour. I'd like to think
my abilities are better than when I played the regular Tour, but
what I have now is a pretty good gig."
The official McCord sound bite on the appeal of the Senior tour:
"No cuts, golf carts and free Cadillacs." Sounds good. In fact,
it sounds exactly like his television job.