IN THE ANNALS OF CALAMITOUS partnerships, Gary McCord and Augusta National ranks right up there with Wile E. Coyote and Acme Products, a bitter War of the Azaleas that spelled disaster from its very inception. McCord was witty and irreverent, a "smart ass from Southern California" as he puts it today. Augusta National was, well, Augusta National. The marriage never stood a chance. The end came on April 10, 1994, the fateful Sunday when McCord, perched in the CBS tower at 17, quipped on-air that the greens at Augusta were so slick that the club must have "used bikini wax" on them and that the bumpy terrain looked "suspiciously like body bags."
Oh, the horror. McCord was out. The dismissal, however, marked a new beginning for an aging Tour pro and broadcaster scrambling for credibility. McCord's expulsion made him an instant celebrity (even The Late Show called), and his signature conquistador mustache cemented his brand. Since then he's written three books, made a not-so-small fortune appearing at corporate outings, acted in a Hollywood film (Tin Cup) and become arguably the CBS golf team's most recognizable face. Who needs Augusta National? Not Gary McCord.
Billy Payne, Augusta's new chairman, has been billed as a guy who might shake things up. What if he invited you back to the telecast?
That thing is so old. No one gives a damn anymore. I don't give a damn. They don't give a damn. CBS doesn't give a damn. I have no willingness to go back, CBS doesn't have a willingness for me to go back and I know Augusta could care less because all those people who fired me are probably dead by now.
You really don't give a damn?
But it's the pinnacle for a golf broadcaster.
I know and I don't care. I get more exposure not being there. It's an annuity of exposure. If I go back, the exposure's gone, and the only exposure I could get would be bad because, "Oh, he's back. He's not saying anything. Is he tongue-tied?" I probably wouldn't say anything. I might, just to test them again, and that'd be the worst thing in the world.
You really believe that CBS doesn't give a damn? You're one of the network's most popular analysts.
What good would come of it? I'd be put back in a position to fail again. Why put a guy in that position? Why take the match, go up to the kerosene and go, "Watch this! Hold your ears -- BOOM!"
Before the Augusta brass agreed to give you a mike, they must have known exactly what they were getting with you, didn't they?
No question -- and I wanted to make sure they knew what they were getting. And that was my shtick. That's how I started the whole deal. You go in there and you say, "OK, I'm the first one who's an idiot and I'm the first one who doesn't have any pedigree whatsoever. I'm gonna go in there and be who I am: just an absolute idiot, and we're gonna talk about golf." So I found out I was fine at first and then over a succession of events, you know, they decided to put me in the penalty box.
Tom Watson, who wrote the infamous letter demanding your expulsion from Augusta, has said everything's cool with you guys. But did he have any business whatsoever writing that letter and threatening your livelihood?
For his own personal edification, he should have written the letter and tore it up. I wasn't real happy. I went to the Tour with it. I didn't think one player had the right to dictate, especially regarding a peer of his, and that he didn't like the way it sounded and this and that, and to get him kicked out, basically, of his job. That's just corrupt in my mind. It's kind of a character assassination. But, you know, all I did was try to take that, a negative, and turn it to a positive as fast as I could, and I think I did.
You still sound a little salty. Have you forgiven him?
Tom and I are, you know, we're friendly -- we say "Hi." We're not gonna go fishing or hunting together. And in actuality he did me a big favor, bottom line. I didn't see that at first. I see it now. So that's the forgiveness that I give.
He did you a favor?
I'm more famous. I mean, I was on the Leno show for one reason: I got kicked out of Augusta. Take the movie, Tin Cup [which McCord consulted on and played himself in]. The only reason [director] Ron Shelton included me is because he thought it was cool that I got kicked out of Augusta. First thing I asked him, "Why me?" He said, "You got booted out of Augusta. That's great."
So you don't miss the Masters at all? The buzz? The pageantry? The azaleas?
No. Everybody goes, "Oh, man" because I don't want to go. But I really don't.
No, no. The snipers would get me.
Some of your lines are premeditated, called up from a catalog of material you store in your laptop, right?
I used to. The computer's still there, but I never look at it. I read. I have seven to 10 magazines up in the tower with me, drives my producer nuts. That's all I do is read. Half the time I don't know I'm on the air. My spotter hits me and is like, "You're on!"
But, yeah, I write stuff. I've got lines. We all have lines. You better have lines -- you're supposed to be an entertainer, you know? About 70 percent of our shots are of guys over three-footers. And you're gonna use every line you know in the first two minutes of your first show about a guy over a three footer. For the rest of it -- for 20 years -- you better write something because that three-footer is gonna be a three-footer for the rest of your life, and you better make sure you say it differently every time. The only way you can do that is to write. The guys who don't are gonna get stale. Take the "body bags" line, OK?
You hear broadcasters constantly say, "He's dead there. Oh, he's dead there. Oh, my God he's over there -- he's dead." So I just sat there and wrote, "Tag on his toe. Flat line. In the morgue. Body bags. Body bags!" So every time a guy tweaks it into the crap, you don't say "He's dead." It's redundant, you know?
You stay fresh, you'll last longer and that's it. It's Darwinian roulette. You just stay ahead.
The bikini wax line was premeditated.
It was. Two seconds before I went on I was reading People magazine, and it caught my attention because it was about the Golden Door [spa] in Escondido, Calif., where I lived. And they listed all these things, you know, electrolysis, tea-leafwraps, bikini wax. Uh-oh. Fast greens. That's Sunday at Augusta: fast greens.
But as an announcer how do you relay how fast those greens are to the people out there? How do you make it meaningful and funny? Paint a word picture, paint it quick, and if they laugh they'll remember it. If they don't laugh, they ain't gonna remember it. So I don't think they mow these greens, I think they bikini wax them.
You had to know that analogy might cause you a problem before you said it.
I didn't think anybody there at Augusta knew about bikini wax, actually. It was the description of it, obviously, "bikini." The concern was with the area, not the wax.
Your other three options were "they use Nair on them," "they use electrolysis on them" and, my personal favorite, "they pluck them."
Pluck, tweezer, tweeze them.
All of those lines might have gotten you in trouble.
It was probably an overflow from all the other stuff [that got me banned]. I remember one time I was sitting there on the 14th hole and the winds are blowing every ball -- woooooosh -- up into the gallery. One hop, up in the gallery. After about the third one, I go, "Watch this: "Whoa, there goes another one in the cheap seats.'" Then I went, "One, two, three." By number three my director, he's screaming at me: "No cheap seats at Augusta, you idiot! What are you talking about?"
Always being the funny man -- the pro-ams, the dinners, the schmoozing. It has to be exhausting.
Totally. I'll give you an example -- what's this week? See, I have no idea where I was Monday. Wait, Monday I was in Dallas for a pro-am, got washed out. Week before -- get in an airplane after Hickory [the Greater Hickory Classic in North Carolina], we fly into Greensboro to pick up the regular Tour players, so there's like nine of us in this airplane. Fly over to Kansas City, get off the airplane -- bam! -- limo, great. Right to the hotel. They whisk me out of the limo, they're pushing me up, put a lavaliere on me, hand me all this paper, everything else. And they're screaming at me: "OK, now you're gonna go on the right, Garth Brooks is gonna be on your left over there. Here's John Robinson, he's your auctioneer. We're gonna have the stuff on there. You just read off this stuff, duh-duh-duh -- boom! -- all of the sudden I'm on the stage and there's 900 people there, and I don't know what the hell's going on. We're going and going, and we raised $1.1 million in two and a half hours. I had no clue what was going on, and then -- boom! -- the next day you're doing the outing and then back in the airplane the next day. Thank God at 100 years old I've still got energy. It really does wear on you.
What's your corporate outing rate?
[Pauses] Right now it's $30,000 to $35,000.
You worth it?
Are you kidding me? No, nobody's worth that. I'm very fortunate to get it and do a lot of charity and other stuff. But, no, no one's worth that. To play golf? No. Absolutely not. By most accounts you were and are a highly skilled player. How come you never broke through and won in all those years on the PGA Tour?
Mental midget. I have a very small capacity to focus, to think. Too many things going in my mind other than hitting a 4-iron there and take your time. My game was fine. I wasn't outstanding in anything.
Looks pretty, doesn't function real well. You can get away with pretty because everybody thinks you should be a good player. If you've got a bad swing and can't play, you can go home. But at least my swing is aesthetically pleasing. It helps sell books anyway.
Your pal David Feherty shared a few tidbits about you with us. Tell us if they're true or false.
(1) You're a closet granola-muncher, always going for long solo hikes and eating tofu.
Yup, granola with yogurt in the morning. And I hike constantly in Vail, Colo., where I have a home.
Yeah. Hope to get eaten by a bear, live my legacy down. What we do out here, the constant travel, the constantly being on stage -- I love to wander around up there. The farther you get up, the more isolated you get. It's just perfect.
(2) You drink like a Girl Scout. It's pathetic. Two Coronas and you're anybody's.
If I'm really gonna get happy, three. I'll go for three Coronas. I grew up in an era when, in this business, drinking was a prime-time sport. And I grew up around the legends of the game and I watched and I went, "Wow, longevity-wise out here, if you conduct yourself that way, you're not going to last." It's three and out. There might be two guys who have ever seen me drunk in 25 years out here.
(3) One word: Depends
OK, so I'm going out the damn door to my 50th birthday party, and there's a ring at the door. It's a big old box from David Feherty. I open it up and here was an industrial-strength load of Depends. I look at these things and I went -- I put one on, went in and got some black high-top Converse shoes. I got a cashmere broadcloth coat, floor-length. I put a beanie with a propeller on it and that was it. I went to the party.
There's more to this story, right?
Well, it's like 2 in the morning, and we've had a hell of a time. I mean, Jesus, a great time. And I'm driving my truck home and I got to take a back way to get home because, you know, 50th birthday party. I'm sitting in my car, come to a light. I'm in residential area, just paying attention, doing OK, and I see these lights come up from way back behind me, and I looked over like this -- aaaaaah! -- Scottsdale Police right next to me. So he looks over at me and I turned this way and I got my cashmere long coat on, and I got no shirt on. I've got my hat with a propeller on it and it's 2 o'clock in the morning. I look and he's looking at me and all he's doing is he's just shaking his head and I just sat there. I let him go and I went about two miles per hour, and I thought, "Man, can you imagine if I got arrested?" Holy shit. That's when I went home and I'm running and I've got to take a leak and I'm halfway there and I went, "Hey, I got Depends on." Ahhhhhhh. It works! It works! And I'm at that age now where now that I know it works -- yeah, I'm ready.
(4) You're unbelievably anal. The Queer Eye guys wouldn't change a thing.
David's right. I'm very structured in everything I do. Clothes have to match, all that stuff. Nothing's a mess in my room, you know? I go shoe shopping with my best friend, Johnny Jacobs. Two old guys going shoe shopping. We're trying on shoes and asking each other, "What do you think?"
That's a little scary.
It's a little gay -- not that that's a bad thing but it's, you know, it's really an anal-kind-of-gay-kind of thing. And you stop and think, "Oh, well." I'm at that age that I don't care.
CBS replaced Lanny Wadkins with Nick Faldo quite suddenly and unexpectedly. How's Lanny holding up?
After he found out he left me a message to call him and when I did he goes, "Blah, blah, blah, blah and oh, by the way, I got fired."
"Yeah, right," I said.
"They fired me," he says. "They hired Faldo."
So I'm going, "Wait a minute! What?"
Because we usually hear rumors. There were shockwaves because we had -- as long as I've been with CBS they've never done it that way. You've always heard. You've always, not been consulted -- I would be the last person to be consulted -- but like [Jim] Nantz or somebody would be consulted. And we'd have an idea. This erupted out of left field. All of us are just now grabbing our head so it doesn't get detached, you know? Holy Jesus, if they can do it to him, they can really do it to peons like myself. So you become concerned with the whole process. Lanny will get through it. He's gonna play the Champions Tour full time, and he's pretty good now.
Why did it all happen so quickly?
I think Faldo was probably gonna go to NBC. I'm guessing the 17th hole and then to the tower when Johnny [Miller] wasn't there. And of course when another network, the only other network doing golf, hears about that, they think that might be a pretty good move, so all of a sudden they -- us -- become interested. This is all subjective, but that's why I think the decision was so fast.
How will Faldo fit in with your team?
Faldo will be more of a supportive role in our group because there's some serious verbal talent out there. When you start talking about [Peter] Oosterhuis, who knows all the stats, and Feherty on the ground and [Peter] Kostis with the golf swing, you've got all these pieces together and now you're gonna have to coordinate that guy around all the pieces. He's gonna have to learn, a lot like Steve Nash, how to give the ball away and make the team better.
Tiger Woods. Best ever?
No, not yet, Jack's 18 [majors] are the standard. But I will say this: I really understood what Jack was doing. I watched and I said, "Yeah, OK, I get that. I understand that shot. Every once in a while I can hit that shot." I don't have a clue with this kid. I knew it early. I'd go, "You've gotta be kidding me -- out of that lie he did that?! First time in broadcasting I didn't understand. That scared me.
He's in a different galaxy.
Different. I remember one time -- damnedest shot I've ever seen: 18th hole, Firestone. He hit this shot out of the left rough, which was up to your fetlocks, deep in the trees. He had 192 to the flag. Feherty, after the round, comes over, gets me, he's got a wedge and a ball, says, "Come on, get in the cart." We go over there. He bet me $100 I couldn't get the ball from the divot right next to where Tiger's was, couldn't get it to the fairway, which was 30 yards away. I didn't take the bet. I couldn't do it. He hit this ball out of this lie -- he hooked it 70 yards and he hit it 196 to the back fringe with a wedge. Dear God! I don't care -- you can go out there and you can trip on acid, you can do anything you want and come up with something but you couldn't come up with that. That's frightening. It's a bad time to be a pretty good player.
You've said you weren't much of a class clown growing up. When did you break out of your shell?
I went to high school with Steve Martin. He was the first guy I ever met who was nuts. And I just kind of watched him all the time and he was always in the front, always the leader -- with his magic, his banjo playing and his comedy. And I was always, in the back of my mind, thinking, "Wow, interesting."
So, you know, I started jerking around, being a little different. I started to develop a persona that could insulate me against what I was failing at and hopefully that stuff got me more to the forefront where I'd feel better about myself so I could play better. So I started creating this character along the way and that was kind of it. Everybody does it a different way. You might go get a fast car, might get three dogs, four marriages. Whatever you do, it's a defense against what you're doing [poorly].
Sounds pretty well orchestrated.
Everything has been, from the mustache to, well, everything. But it's been me. I haven't tried to be anything I'm not.
You're only playing a handful of events in 2007. You've still got all your responsibilities with CBS, but are you starting to unwind? You seem like the kind of guy who wouldn't be too happy sitting poolside in Scottsdale.
You hit it on the head. Can I do that? I don't know. That's my one question. Can I do that? For how long? I'm gonna get bored. I'm really gonna get bored. It's gonna be hard. But I've got a nice place in Arizona. I've got a nice club there, Whisper Rock, where all the boys are. I go, I hang, I aggravate. You know, it's my place and I'll get to spend more time there, and I'll get more time hiking by myself in the mountains.
Are you gonna be that old guy who hangs out at the pro shop cracking jokes?
Yeah, I'll probably end up doing that. But I watch my peers, I watch the old guys. I ask them questions: "What are you doing now?" And I get the same answers: "Boy, I'd like to be out there again. I'm bored to death." It's scary. I played with Arnold [Palmer] in his last competitive round and you could see that at 77 he wants to play but he can't hit the shots to make the people go ooh and aah. That kills him. But if he's done, he can never do it again and that void is really scary for a guy who's been there on stage the whole time and done what he's done.
Boy, that's a hell of a void.
What am I gonna do? I'm right there. And all of us, when you get to about my age, you're right there, and it's tough to go. But you know you've got to go. You can't compete. You can't. Too old. The ball doesn't go as far. But I don't look at it as something that's negative. Come on, let's get something else and we'll get better at it and we'll try this, we'll do this and we'll go on. That's what I've got to do. That's what everybody has to do.
A glossary of his pet terms, like the ones that got him booted from the Masters telecast
Spank those white boys: To hit range balls
A Roseanne: A shot that is hit fat
Yasser Arafat: Ugly and in the sand
Picture on the milk cartons: Playing so badly nobody has seen you lately
Sucking like a chest wound: Having a bad day on the course
He's got to change his underwear: A remarkable shot
Beat it like a rented mule: A big drive
From Gary McCord's Just a Range Ball in a Box of Titleists