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.

After the telecast, McCord races back to the CBS trailers. He's promised to go on-line for an hour with the Prodigy computer network. There, two women from Prodigy read incoming questions to McCord, then type in his answers.

"Say, 'Hi, Dysfunctionally yours, Gary McCord,' okay?" he starts.
One question: Who would you like to play a round of golf with, dead or living?

"Jesus, Michelangelo, Mozart--he was nuts, died young, was on the edge--and somebody I could beat," McCord says.

Most of the 148 questions, though, are about the Masters and Tom Watson.
"Will you be going to Georgia that week?" someone from Arkansas asks him.
"I will be nowhere near Augusta," McCord replies. "They have guard dogs and an old sweater that has my scent."

"Will Tom Watson win another event?"
"Yes, but he won't be receiving a Christmas card from my family."
McCord and Watson have spoken here at Pebble Beach for the first time since Watson's vicious letter to Frank Chirkinian became public. McCord says he asked Watson why he'd backstabbed him.

"Tom said I wouldn't have listened to him, anyway," McCord says, forgetting his on-line duties briefly. "He thinks I'm an evil to the game."

He ends the Prodigy session with sage advice: "Keep your putting low."
On Saturday, McCord is assigned as usual to the 17th tee, a daunting par-3 with an ocean backdrop. For the past few years, he's invited golfers there to chat with him on a sofa planted on the tee box.

This year, however, he tries something fresh: McCord does Letterman.
There's the familiar desk, an interview chair, even a jar of pencils and an old-fashioned microphone. Behind McCord, a painter named Leigh creates a colorful montage on a large canvas.

It's theatre of the absurd, Saturday afternoon on CBS.
During the telecast, McCord gabs with an ex-president of the United States, two Academy Award winners, a Wimbledon tennis champion, a Hollywood starlet and several pro golfers. Former vice president Dan Quayle takes a seat, saying to the camera, "I'm with Gary McCord. This makes my day."

That's Clint Eastwood's line, isn't it? But Clint's back on 14.
Bill Murray marches to 17 wearing an oversize beret that resembles a putting green, complete with pin and ball.

McCord crawls under his desk, as if to hide from his fellow raconteur. The mob scene--it's okay to use that phrase here--is delighted. Murray soon "finds" McCord, and the two carry on until the telecast ends.

MARCH 23, SCOTTSDALE
Gary McCord's strong showing at Tucson had given him hope for continued success on the links. But he's missed the cut at each of the last four tournaments he played.

Now, after playing and broadcasting golf in Arizona, California and Florida for two months straight, McCord has come home for a few weeks.

This morning, he's lounging around his home in a gated subdivision near Taliesin West. Diane is in Colorado visiting friends. The McCords live well, but not extravagantly.

Signs that this is a golfing couple are scattered throughout the house. McCord, for example, has a six-iron in his main bathroom. "Always practicing my grip," he says.

Though McCord loves such bands as Hootie and the Blowfish--he's golfed with Hootie himself--he's chosen elevator jazz as background this morning. Golf music.

"Helps me chill," he explains. "Got to chill every once in a while."
McCord has converted a small back room into his office. The cluttered space includes more mementos of his broadcasting career than of the days when he played golf full-time. There are framed pictures, boxes filled with letters from his fans, but only a few golf trophies.

Before he and Diane moved here from California last year, McCord gave most of his golf memorabilia to his gardener. He kept only his NCAA championship plaque, and a large trophy for winning a satellite Tour event in 1991.

The phone rings constantly. Reporters from Sports Illustrated, TV Guide, the London Sunday Mirror and Golf Week call within an hour with similar questions: What are you going to do during the Masters? Do you hate the men who run Augusta? Do you hate Tom Watson?

McCord tries to be tactful: "They run a great tournament, but it's an autocracy, not a democracy. They can do what they want. Hooray for them. And Tom is entitled to his opinion . . ."

He repeats that he doesn't know what he's going to do during the Masters; he's a man without a country club.

McCord retreats to his garage, ignoring the ever-ringing phone. He pulls out two large, banged-up metal suitcases and opens them.

The contents tell the story of McCord's mercurial adulthood: piles of yellowed clippings from his days on the Tour, long-forgotten snapshots, handwritten notes to himself--"Don't ever give up," one undated reminder says.

There, gathering dust, are props for the magic tricks that sustained him during lean times.

Sitting on the concrete floor, McCord tries a sleight of hand with a deck of cards. His face lights up when it works to perfection. He has an epiphany.

"When I play golf too well," he says, "it's almost too good to be true. Then I'll hit a bad spell, always. . . . It makes me realize that everything is temporary, everything isn't always going to be ideal. But right now, in my life, I'm doing just what I want to do.

"Frightening, isn't it?

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