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.
And you haven't been back since '94?
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.