Remembering Mark McCormack

May 25, 2003

Sifting through the massive folder of biographical material on
Mark McCormack, the sports superagent who died last Friday at age
72, I came upon a cartoon featuring McCormack as an octopus
sitting atop the globe, his tentacles reaching out over all the
continents. Fair enough. Over the years, beginning with his
association with Arnold Palmer in 1960, McCormack and the company
he founded, International Management Group, became the General
Motors of sports marketing, creating fortunes for clients and for
IMG.

I knew McCormack for the better part of 40 years. Over that span
I frequently wrote or edited parts of his annual The World of
Professional Golf, even though the books carried his byline
alone. Because of that association, for years I received an
itinerary (as did many others) reporting where he would be in the
upcoming month--Paris, London, Cleveland (the last city being
where IMG had its main office). And always I would listen quietly
as he insisted that one of his clients, Bobby Cole, for instance,
would be the next great golfer.

One afternoon McCormack invited me to his New York City office
across from the Plaza Hotel to propose that we collaborate on his
autobiography. The meeting ended many hours later at the Plaza's
Oak Bar. I didn't come away with a deal, but I did hear him come
up with the idea that the Olympics should be totally
professional, with sponsors and cash prizes for winners of, say,
the AT&T 10,000-meter run or the Exxon long jump.

He could bite, sometimes painfully, as many who associated with
him learned. I felt his sting at a dinner party one evening.
Sometime earlier he had asked if I would write something with Rod
Laver, one of his stable of stars, and I had agreed. However, I
kept putting it off and after a while assumed it had been
forgotten. There was a large friendly group at the dinner, and
when it was over and everyone was telling old stories, he
suddenly looked at me, the smile of a cobra on his face, and
said, "How are you getting along with Rod Laver?"

My introduction to McCormack coincided with my introduction to
the Masters in the mid-1960s. I was part of this magazine's
coverage team, staying in a small house SI had rented for the
week. After dinner one night, four of us drove into downtown
Augusta for what I was told was still another Masters
tradition--the annual putting contest on an Arnold Palmer
miniature golf course. There waiting for us was McCormack.

I remember that there was no charge for playing and that there
was no indication McCormack was on the threshold of becoming the
czar of sports marketing. He was obviously fond of the magazine
staffers I was with, but the intensity of the competition that
followed was second only to that of the tournament that would
conclude on Sunday afternoon. I think he lost, or at least didn't
win, for I have a vague recollection of his proposing, late as it
was getting, another round with amended rules that favored Mark
McCormack.

The incident that most identifies McCormack in my recollections
occurred in 1978, in Augusta again. Our group of SI staffers had
invited members of the USGA hierarchy over for drinks one
evening. There must have been six of them, all wearing the USGA
uniform--blue blazers, gray slacks, striped ties. Suddenly, in
from the carport door came McCormack, hoping to borrow a lemon.
There were none in the rented house he was sharing with Gary
Player, and Player was planning on having fish for dinner. Our
house was nearby and, yes, we had a lemon.

We poured him a drink, and after a bit the conversation turned to
the question of whether or not Jack Nicklaus and Johnny Miller
should accept a huge sum of money to play a series of
head-to-head matches around the world during the height of the
Tour season. (The point was academic because I believe Nicklaus
had already rejected the offer.) The cadre of USGA men,
predictably, were strongly against it. McCormack was all for it.

The nut of McCormack's argument was that a Nicklaus-Miller tour
would help stir interest in the game where it hadn't been seen
before. He was outnumbered six to one, but in retrospect, that
was probably just the kind of odds he liked. As the minutes
passed, the decibel level in the living room rose, and I sensed
real anger in some of the voices. Suddenly McCormack got up and
said, "I guess I'd better get back and give Gary his lemon."

Thinking back on that discussion, I'd have to side with
McCormack. Golf, which once was pretty much the province of the
U.S. and Great Britain, is now truly a worldwide sport, with
winners of major championships from Australia, Fiji, Germany,
Spain and Zimbabwe. I don't know how much credit McCormack should
get for that, but it certainly was one of his goals.

COLOR PHOTO: KIERAN DOHERTY/REUTERS AGENT PROVOCATEUR Tom Cruise (right) played a sports agent like McCormack in Jerry Maguire.

He could bite, sometimes painfully, as many who associated with
him learned. I felt his sting at a dinner party one evening.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)