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.

He flies his next shot over the green. His fifth shot is a mediocre chip. He needs to sink a 15-footer to save bogey. The devils are dancing in his head.

But he buries the putt. This sport is twisted: If McCord had missed and double-bogeyed, things likely would have gotten very ugly. Instead, he ends with an excellent 68.

He scores a 71 in the third round.
On Sunday, McCord has a 9:53 a.m. tee time at Tucson National. He also has an 8 a.m. speech at La Paloma Resort, 15 minutes from the course. The $5,000 payday for just being Gary is too much to pass up.

McCord's early-morning audience is the Master Contractors of the Firestone Building Products Company. He zips through his pathetic golf career shtick, his hiring by CBS and so on. The material is good, but his comic's timing is what rouses the sleepy group of 300.

McCord asks for questions after 30 minutes and gets them. The first one: "What happened at the Masters, Gary?"

"I thought I might get that question," McCord replies drolly, earning a laugh. "Whatever I do for the rest of my life, I'm always gonna be the guy who got kicked off the Masters. But I'm not complaining. It's made me lots and lots of money."

At 9 a.m., he excuses himself and jogs to his car. He arrives at Tucson National at 9:20, scurries to the range for a few practice shots, and makes it to the first tee with eight minutes to spare.

Diane McCord has driven down from Scottsdale to watch her husband play. Those who know the McCords well have a standard response when Diane's name comes up: "You think Gary's crazy . . ."

Actually, Diane is a gregarious woman with a streak of zany--which makes her and her husband a good fit. As McCord begins his final round, Diane relates how the couple started dating in the mid-1980s.

Diane had been engaged to marry an acquaintance of McCord. But a week before the wedding, her fiancā was killed in a fall from a horse. After paying his respects, McCord waited about a year, then called her. Diane thought he was asking her out, which was fine. But she wasn't pleased to find McCord surrounded by other women when she showed up at the appointed restaurant.

As her husband plays the eighth hole, Diane relives the "date" in a giggly whisper: "The other girls were drinking Deep Throat specials, and they were drooling them all down their fronts. I ordered one and drank it down, no problem. I told Gary, 'By the way, I never spill a drop.' Then I got up and left."

Their next meeting, some months later, apparently went more smoothly.
They married in 1989.
As his final round progresses, McCord finds himself momentarily in that mythic Zone. Birdie follows birdie, and his name appears on the leader board--six strokes behind leader Phil Mickelson with eight holes to go.

His play draws an ever-growing gallery.
McCord ends with a 66, tying the day's low score. He finishes eight strokes behind winner Mickelson--in a tie for 17th place--and collects $15,813.

"I was stroking it pretty good today, baby," he says after the round. "Flat stroking it."

When I was 25, I thought a high-profile Hollywood sponsor could open up doors for me. One day, I got a call. "Hello, Gary, this is Lawrence, ah, Welk." Yeah, right. But it is. So I sign with him. Later, he says, "Ah, Gary, come on down to the, ah, studio, and, ah, bring your clubs." Then it's, "Ladies and gentlemen, this is a new member of our, ah, musical family--Gary McCord." I'm wearing a floral polyester shirt, bell-bottoms and four-inch-high wooden platform shoes. My Fu Manchu is running wild. Lawrence opens a curtain. He's got a bull's eye set up about 30 feet away. "Ah, Gary, I want you to, ah, hit the bull's eye." No rehearsal. The audience is right there--400 elderly folks. I'm thinking, "You're gonna kill someone." I break out in a wicked polyester sweat. Bang! I nail the bottom rung. But that's not good enough. "Ah, Gary. I want you to, ah, hit the bull's eye." I say, "Why don't we have a member of your musical family come out here, one of your dancing girls?" I never did shoot at it again.

--Gary McCord
FEBRUARY 2, PEBBLE BEACH "McCord, are you there, goddamnit?" CBS golf chief Frank Chirkinian roars into the headphones minutes before the opening at Pebble Beach.

Gary McCord is seated in the tower behind the 16th green. He's wearing headphones, but they're not working.

It's a sunny Thursday afternoon, Opening Day 1995 for the CBS/USA Network golf team. (USA "borrows" the CBS unit for the first two days of coverage at several PGA events.)

A student of pop culture, McCord has brought reading material to fill slack time: People, Sports Illustrated, Golf Digest--and two books. One is titled Dimboxes, Epopts and Other Quidams--Words to Describe Indescribable People. The other is David Letterman's Top Ten Lists, Volume 2.

Chirkinian tries again to get McCord's attention. "Do you hear us, you idiot?"

McCord's headphones suddenly start operating.
"Oh, Bentley," he tells Ben Wright, who's sitting in the tower at 17. "I wanted to tell you. I feel a certain sexual tension between us this year."

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