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.

"Holy Christmas," Wright says.
He and McCord have been feigning exasperation with the other for years, on and off the air. Their mock mutual disdain is famous in golf circles.

"You two are not going to be sharing a house in Augusta this year," Chirkinian notes. "You, McCord, are not going to be sharing anything in Augusta. One minute to air. Have fun--where it's appropriate."

The monitor in McCord's tower displays a stunning view of the Monterey Peninsula. A swell of jazz-lite golf music fills the headphones.

Chirkinian tells the USA anchor to start talking, and he does: "One of the most spectacular sites in the world, creating an almost perfect symmetry between man and nature . . ."

It used to be known as Bing Crosby's "clambake," which fit the tourney's festive ambiance. Bing is long gone, and the event now is called the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. But it retains an informal charm missing at most golf events.

That's because famous amateurs play with the pros for the whole tournament. The throngs rub shoulders with Hollywood stars and politicos. This year, Don Johnson, Jeff Daniels, George Bush, Joe Pesci, Jack Lemmon--he's always here--and homeboy Clint Eastwood, among others, are on hand.

But the star of stars is Bill Murray.
Remember when he serenaded the elderly woman in the bunker at the 1994 tourney? Almost everyone adored the moment, which CBS must have replayed 1,000 times. But Murray's future at Pebble seemed doubtful after then-PGA commissioner Deane Beman blasted the Caddyshack star for his antics.

Murray left Pebble last year railing against the Tour's "Nazi mentality." Beman, however, retired, and Murray's back.

So is McCord, who first played this storied course when he was 15. In 1974, his rookie year, McCord was tied for the lead with Johnny Miller going into the final round. He shot an 80 and slipped to 24th, but no matter.

McCord loves this course.
The 16th hole is a beauty, a 402-yard par-4 with a green protected by sand and cypresses. The CBS tower behind the hole can accommodate a camera operator, announcer, spotter and a guest.

With his laptop computer, literature, television monitor and Frank Chirkinian's omnipresent instruction, McCord is right at home.

"It's the guy from Dumb and Dumber," he says as actor Jeff Daniels walks up the 16th fairway. "It's my favorite movie."

"Well, it would be," Ben Wright chimes in, his British accent oozing sarcasm. "I'll get to it sometime."

"I've seen it three times," McCord shoots back. "You'll love the plot."
Chirkinian alerts everyone over his headphones to an upcoming ad.
"We'll really get some excitement going now," says the CBS golf boss, making a little joke for the crew. "We'll do a couple of promos. Then to commercial, as we see a couple of sea lions relieving themselves. . . . Whew."

During the break, McCord watches his monitor as talk-show host Maury Povich--Connie Chung's mate--gets ready to putt on another hole. "`Connie, this putt's a bitch--but don't tell anyone,'" McCord says, practicing a possible line. "Won't use that one. It would absolutely kill Frank."

Suspecting that the sodden greens at Pebble would be treacherous, McCord already has several lines on his laptop screen ready for possible use:

"It's like putting on two-day-old oatmeal."
"Like putting over lumpy Hollandaise sauce."
"Like putting over warm dinner rolls."
"Just before you putt, you receive the Miranda warning."
"Looked like a frozen ham rolling up there."
"Like putting over cottage cheese."

Although he uses none of these lines during the tournament, their presence illustrates his attention to detail and sense of fun.

Many golfers wave at McCord as they pass beneath the tower to 17. In an unspoken ritual, some toss a ball up to him, especially after a bad hole.

Aside from Tom Watson and probably a few others, most Tour pros express respect for McCord. And it's not just because he's quick-witted.

In the early 1980s, the Tour expanded the list of automatic tournament qualifiers from the top 60 annual money winners to the top 125. McCord--then on the Tour Policy Board--was instrumental in convincing the PGA to go that route.

"Most people think of Gary as this goofy guy in the booth," says Irish-born pro David Feherty. "He is goofy. But he's also someone who made it possible for a lot of us to make great livings. We won't forget that."

Midway through the day's coverage, the Goodyear blimp zeroes in on a pod of gray whales. McCord asks his spotter, Karel Schliksbier, to find out everything he can about the migrating mammals.

"You want the whole blowjob, don't you?" asks Karel, who has spotted for football announcers John Madden and Pat Summerall for years.

"I want to know how many babies they have, how much milk they drink, everything, yes," McCord replies. "I'll kill them with this thing."

Within a day, McCord learns from Schliksbier and literature he digs up that the whales are up to 50 feet long, weigh 40 tons, migrate between Baja and Alaska, mate by rolling at the bottom of the ocean, and eat mud.

McCord types these facts into his computer. But, like the one-liners about the greens, he never gets the opportunity to spout them. "No big deal," he says later. "There will be another year. That's the beauty of this job."

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