GOLF'S MISSING LINK

WITH HIS WIT AND EXPERT TV COMMENTARY, GARY MCCORD BRINGS PANACHE TO A PRIM AND PROPER GAME. BUT SOME GOLF PURISTS THINK HE'S OUT OF BOUNDS.

Though he is truly funny, McCord also cultivates his wild-man image. And like many to whom success comes late in life, part of him always stands sentry. He explains:

"When the CBS job came along--total luck--I told myself, 'You will not join the long list of brain-dead announcers out there. Do not blow it, jerk.' And I've always kept this in mind: No one gives you anything in golf. Ever."

I think what Gary said was wrong, it was way the hell out of line. Gary--the greens are not that fast at Augusta. And if you knew anything about greenskeeping, you'd know there are no body bags by 17--ever. Tommy Watson and I have decided that in a year, maybe two years, you can be allowed to caddie again at Augusta. But for now, this year's Caddyshack award goes to the greatest golf announcer in the United States of America, Gary McCord.

--Comedian Bill Murray, at February's Northern California Golf Writer's Association dinner

JANUARY 9, SCOTTSDALE
Gary McCord rarely sits still, even between golf seasons. He's spending the day at Grayhawk, a shiny new course in north Scottsdale.

A crew is to videotape several 90-second segments of McCord and his colleague Peter Kostis for a show called Arizona Golf. But all McCord really wants to do is work on his golf game.

He and Kostis--also a TV golf announcer--recently opened a "learning center" at the course, a place to instruct advanced golfers. Today, McCord leaves the teaching to Kostis and a member of their staff.

Instead, he's at the driving range honing his own game for upcoming Tour events in Tucson, Phoenix and Southern California. (McCord's CBS schedule will allow him to play in six or seven PGA tournaments this year.) He's placed two bath towels about 125 yards away, one about ten yards in front of the other. He's aiming between the towels with a pitching wedge.

McCord is wearing a Planet Earth cap, Italian slacks--made of 95 percent summer gaberdine wool, 4 percent cashmere, 1 percent mink, he says--and a multicolored golf shirt.

He's a trim six-foot-two, but seems taller. These days, McCord's swing is smooth, without frills. Watching him swing so effortlessly, it's hard to fathom that his long career on the Tour was marked by far more disappointment than success.

McCord's Bob Ueckerlike line, "I was a professional golfer for 16 years, though I can't prove it," is always good for a laugh. So is, "There are 17 caddies on the all-time money list ahead of me."

But he's dead serious about his golf game; always has been.
"Playing the Tour for a few weeks every year is a reality check," he says, firing away at the towels as he talks. "When every shot counts for something, the trolls and the gargoyles, the demons in my attic, are bound to come out. I think, 'I remember this game. It's evil!'"

Thwack!
Next to McCord, a staff member is instructing an LPGA golfer on her grip and stance.

"I want you to go to the library and look up a book on Gestalt philosophy," McCord tells the assistant during a break.

"Huh?"
"Really, it will help. Basically, it says to go to extremes to make your points. Don't bother with nuances. Exaggerate the stance change, that sort of thing. You need to teach the big picture, the whole equation, rather than just the sum of the parts."

"Okay."
The morning flies by. McCord hops into a golf cart for the short trip back to the Grayhawk clubhouse. He slows to watch an acquaintance hit a five-iron.

"How long you been doing that?" McCord shouts.
"Doing what?" the guy asks anxiously. "What?"
McCord doesn't answer, and speeds up the cart path.

"Golfers are fragile beyond comprehension," he says, laughing devilishly. "You can really screw with a golfer big-time. Any golfer. We're only as secure as our last shot."

After lunch, McCord heads to the putting green, where the video unit for Arizona Golf is setting up. He steps into a bunker and sandblasts a ball to within six feet of a hole--with a blade putter. He taught himself the trick years ago, and has taken more than a few pesos from fellow pros foolish enough to wager with him.

The crew is ready.
"Hi, I'm Gary McCord, and I'm an idiot," McCord says during a sound check. "Or maybe, 'Hi, I'm Gary McCord, and I've got crotch rot.' Nah."

As the camera operators crack up, McCord affects an East Indian accent.
"You must become one with the ball before you hit it into the Ganges."
When the tape starts to roll, McCord and Kostis run through a few hastily conceived sketches--how to correct a hook, how to line up a putt. They can do this stuff in their sleep. But something's missing.

"We need a tag line," McCord announces, "something to remember us by."
He huddles with Kostis.
"If you're gonna play good golf," the two then say in unison, "you have to practice hard."

They pause, then do a goofy little swing and chime, "Schwing!"
"That's stupid," McCord says, as the taping ends. "Perfect!"
The show's director asks McCord off-camera if anyone could do the suggested drills.

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