Longform

GOLF'S MISSING LINK

It's the final round at the Doral-Ryder Open, and Gary McCord is scatting. His solo begins as Peter Jacobsen, the hottest player on the PGA Tour, eyes a putt on the 12th green.

"He's in that ever-present Zone that these guys get into once in a while," the CBS golf announcer says softly. "It's hard to find out what the Zone is. It's a blending of color and the sounds are kind of soft. Your brain's organized. You have to figure out how to stay in it all the time."

McCord's British colleague, Ben Wright, pipes up.
"Have you been in that Zone, Gary?" he asks, tongue in cheek.
"Back in 1963, for about three and a half minutes," replies the 46-year-old McCord. "Boy, was I playing good."

There's painful subtext to his last comment. For many years, McCord was a nonwinning journeyman on the Tour.

Weeks earlier, he had typed something about the Zone into his IBM laptop, which he sometimes consults for fresh material during broadcasts. The words on the computer screen say, "A place beyond normal space where mind and body unite."

Although McCord has modified that definition today for public consumption, he hews to the theme. Millions are listening.

"It's amazing--the Zone," he continues. "If you're putting good and you're in that Zone, it doesn't matter how you hit it, it doesn't matter how you read it. You hit it and it just goes in. Most of the time, you're a mess. Peter is not a mess right now. You're in the Zone: You kick the ball and it will go in."

Jacobsen's putt should have been like most others, soon forgettable. But Gary McCord had made the moment meaningful.

Alas, the Zone works in mysterious ways. Jacobsen misses his six-footer and eventually loses the tournament by a stroke. TV golf announcers often spew more clichs than a Kenny G saxophone solo. McCord, however, is the Jimi Hendrix of his profession--you don't know where he's going, but you want to follow him there.

McCord at his best emits the sound of surprise during the eight minutes or so he's on the air each telecast. He uses offbeat metaphors and images to describe the polo-shirted wizards and their quest for birdies and bucks.

Because he is at once entertaining and knowing, McCord has become golf's most popular announcer. But those who tune in starting Thursday to the Masters--the sport's premier event--will not hear a peep out of him.

Just before the '86 Masters, Frank Chirkinian wanted me to meet [then-Masters chairman] Hord Hardin at Augusta. I'm wearing my Panama hat, floppy sweater, tennis shoes. We take a left down into the Catacombs, where the Druids roam, down a dark hallway. Creakkkkkkkk. A figure appears, backlit, a ghostly figure--Hord. It's me, Frank and Jim Nantz. I know I'm in the principal's office. There's a picture of Bobby Jones looking down at me. Hord asks how I'm doing. "I'm having fun." Nothing wrong with that, he says. Then it comes out. "But this is the Masters, this is about tradition." He goes on for 15 minutes, and it was beautiful. I was getting a bit teary-eyed myself. "Gary, I'd just like you to cool it a little bit." I tell myself, "You have to do something stupid." I stand up and say, "You mean I can't wear the clown outfit on Saturday?" "No." "But then I'm gonna lose the deposit." Frank's head is in his hands. That was the beginning of the end for me there.

--Gary McCord

McCord's unceremonious ouster from the broadcast team at Augusta National last August is not news to golf fans. But for everyone else, here's the skinny:

The greens at Augusta are fast. Last year, they apparently were even slicker than usual, which merited comment. But longtime CBS golf producer-director Frank Chirkinian didn't hire McCord to be trite.

Instead of droning, "The putts are moving faster than ever this year," McCord suggested mischievously that groundskeepers had rubbed "bikini wax" on the greens to speed them up.

And instead of resorting to, "He's dead," he observed that "body bags" awaited a golfer fool enough to overshoot the 17th green.

At the time, McCord says, he thought the lines were cleverly benign.
"I'd been reading an article up in People about women's hair and body massages," McCord recalls. "Facials. Electrolysis. Hot bikini wax. Smooth. Slick. Like glass. Speed. Putts. 'Bikini wax' rang a bell with me. So I ran with it."

His second sin that day last April came as a Spaniard named Jose Maria Olazabel studied a shot on 17:

"Jose and his caddie are in the fairway talking in Spanish," McCord recounts. "I say, 'Let me interpret what they're saying for you. There's a little knoll over the green, straight down to nothing. Hit it over, it's gonna be down there with the body bags. The dead are down there with a tag on their toes. Stay short.' That was it." (The commentary was prescient; Olazabel played it safe, stayed alive and won the tournament.)

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin