Tour and News

With Phoenix Open set to begin, Gary McCord recounts tournament’s history, and his own

Photo: JACQUELINE DUVOISIN / SI

CBS broadcaster Gary McCord, shown here in 1992, is a Phoenix institution.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- It was 1982 or 1983, Gary McCord doesn't remember which. But he does remember  playing the Phoenix Open back then at Phoenix Country Club, a classic course located near downtown, when he got a phone call.

It was an important phone call, apparently, because this is his answer to my question about his two most memorable Phoenix Open moments as either a player (he first played the event in 1975) or as a broadcaster (with CBS). The phone call was from Deane Beman, the commissioner of the PGA Tour, who wanted him to check out a potential site for a new course to host the tournament.

"Deane goes, 'Gary, I need a board member to go out there and look at some land,' so Ed Sneed and I go out there," McCord remembered. "You can see Scottsdale Airport out there. There's a few hangars, nothing else. Nothing. I start turning around. I look toward Pinnacle Peak. Nothing. I look north, Desert Highland might have just been started, there's a few homes. I look west, there's nothing. I turn to Ed and say, 'What the hell is this?' Ed says, 'I don't know.'

"So we go back to the board and Deane says, 'So, what'd you think? We're going to build a golf course there, a TPC, we got the land for a dollar.'

"I said, 'Deane, we're playing in downtown Phoenix right now, there are offices nearby, it's going great, we get over 20,000 people for the week. What the hell are we going to do out there in Scottsdale? No one will ever show up.'"

Laughter drowns out McCord. He's telling the tale of the birth of TPC Scottsdale, home of the Phoenix Open since 1987, to a group at SunRidge Canyon Golf Club, of which McCord is now a part owner, believe it or not. (Being an owner really doesn't fit McCord's anti-establishment, impish image, but that's all it is -- an image.) Tuesday was the official grand opening of the Jim McLean Golf School, which will feature three full-time professionals and is now housed at SunRidge Canyon. McLean's group will offer a wide variety of golf instruction options, plus his popular three-day school, which costs more than $1,800 per player.

When the laughter starts to recede, McCord regains control. "Let me go over that line again: 'No one will ever show up,'" he says, cackling. "I said, 'Are you insane, we're going 20 miles away from Phoenix Country Club and there's nothing up there?'"

His prediction wasn't just off, it was way off. "I'll bet you there will be 600,000 people here this week," McCord says. "I'll bet you they beat the attendance record."

The Phoenix Open in its many forms is the most well-attended event on the PGA Tour. Crowds in excess of 150,000 are usually recorded for Saturday's third-round. It's not just a tournament, it's a happening. And it's the biggest party on the PGA Tour.

McCord has been a part of it as long as anyone, for years as a player and for years as a CBS commentator. He has also lived in the Scottsdale area for years. If the Phoenix Open has a figurehead or an iconic player, it's McCord.

He wasn't there in 1997 when Tiger Woods made the hole-in-one at the 16th, famous for being golf's loudest and rowdiest hole. Every third year when CBS telecasts the Super Bowl, it doesn't do the Phoenix Open, so McCord wasn't on the air for that memorable moment. But McCord has a friend who lives three miles from the course, "And he told me he heard the roar," McCord said.

There have been other memorable happenings during this tournament, like fans rolling a boulder out of the way for Tiger in 1999, when a gun-toting Tiger fan was also escorted off the grounds; local favorite Phil Mickelson winning in 1996 and 2005; and Chris DiMarco in 2002 getting a spectator removed who had shouted "Noonan!" while DiMarco rolled in a crucial putt. There have been many others.

McCord remembers when the 16th first turned into the riotous place it is now. It all began, he said, because there was a T.G.I. Friday's concession tent just behind the 16th tee, near some aluminum bleachers.

"The college kids would come from school, all they did was march back and forth getting beer, and then they start taunting you late on Friday afternoon," McCord said. "It got bigger and bigger, it started to really go good. As soon as you hit the ball there, they go Wheeeeahhhh! They go nuts.

"So this one time on a Saturday, I was out there -- I actually made the cut. I make a swing and right before I hit the ball, I stop." McCord went into gyrations as he re-created his action with an imaginary club.

"Everybody went, Wheeeaaahhhh! I go, I gotcha! I gotcha! I gotcha!"

Then McCord walked over to his golf bag and ceremoniously began looking around for something. Finally, he found what he was looking for.

"So I pull out a Playboy and hold up the centerfold and go, Ahhhh! Is this any good?" McCord said. "The guys went nuts, absolutely nuts. Well, I get to the green and here comes a Tour official. He says, 'Gary, you cannot be doing that.' 'Doing what,' I ask, 'what did I do?' He says, 'Where's the Playboy?' I said, 'I didn't have a Playboy.' It was like, I wasn't speeding, officer."

What was McCord doing with a Playboy in his bag? His little act was scripted. "It was premeditated," he said. "Remember, everything I do is premeditated. Or premedicated in some cases."

McCord had a captive audience on the patio, around a roaring fire, at the Sunridge Canyon clubhouse. So he continued his erratic sprint down Memory Lane.

Asked about his biggest gaffe, his biggest brain-dead moment on the PGA Tour, he told this story: "My first tournament on Tour was the Crosby at Pebble Beach. I'm just out of school, I've got my Tour card, I go to Pebble Beach. I'm leading the tournament after two rounds. Jack Nicklaus says in the newspaper, 'Gary who?'"

Conditions took a turn for the worse in the third round at Cypress Point. McCord's score ballooned in what he described as sideways rain and 50-mile-per-hour winds.

"I stood on the 16th tee, the most famous par 3 in golf, and it's blowing 50. I've got driver out, and at this point, I couldn't hit it three times and get over the water, but I didn't care because I'm 18 over par," he said.  "I'm ready to swing when a rules official drives up in a cart and yells, 'Hold it, hold it, we're done. Play is canceled.' I ask him, 'Can I hit this shot anyway?' He says, 'Yeah, go ahead.' So I killed it. I killed it and the ball went 100 yards in the wind."

The round  didn't count, and McCord and everyone else in the field got a do-over. When he came to the 16th tee at Cypress Point the next day, he was seven under par after a streak of seven straight birdies.

"That's a 25-shot swing," McCord said. "When I finally got to 16 on a perfect day at Cypress, you know what I did? I laid up. I hit a 5-iron across to the fairway."

McCord finished 24th and drove to the Phoenix Open the next week. "I'm registering and Jack Tuthill of the PGA Tour taps me on the shoulder and says, 'What are you doing here?'

'I'm playing, I say. He says, 'No, you're not, you never committed.' I go, 'What's a commit?' He says you've got to sign a sheet of paper to show you're going to play the next week. I'm like, they never told us that. There were four of us who didn't know that, and we had to leave the tournament. There was a sheet in the men's locker room, in the john, and when you walked out, you had to put your name on it. None of the rookies knew that. I didn't get in another tournament for a month."

The crowd laughed again, savoring McCord's misery. McLean then prompted McCord to recall the first time he met golfing legend Ben Hogan.

This escapade is a Frank Chirkinian special. Chirkinian was the CBS director who ran the golf telecasts with an iron fist and was subsequently nicknamed The Ayatollah. The CBS crew was in Fort Worth to televise the Colonial tournament. Chirkinian invited McCord to have lunch with Hogan at Shady Oaks, Hogan's club.

At the club, they sat down at Hogan's table. McCord was across from Hogan, who was next to his old pal, Ken Venturi.

"They're having a conversation, and about halfway through the meal, Hogan looks at me and asks, 'What do you do?'"

McCord had been a tour regular for more than 10 years.

"I start to answer and as soon as I do, Hogan looks back at Kenny and starts talking to him. By now, Hogan is on his third martini. All of a sudden, he looks at me and says, 'Well?' 'I play the Tour,' I say. And I start to say something else, but then he's back looking at Ken and talking to him. So now, I'm waiting for him the next time. Later, he goes, 'How many tournaments have you won?' Again, he turns away to Ken before I can answer. Now I'm getting pissed off. Eventually, he looks at me again and I say, 'None.' He stops and says, 'None? Why are you still playing?'

"I was going to give him an answer but he turns back to Venturi again and starts chatting. By now, he's into his fifth martini. They said he'd drink five martinis, go home, take a nap and then go back to the Hogan factory. Finally, he turns to me and says, 'So no wins? You probably couldn't do anything, could you?' Meaning I can't hit the ball. I say, 'Well, I'm a pretty good putter.' He says, 'Bull.' I said, 'What do you mean?' He said, 'Bull, you can't putt a lick.' I said, 'Well, I can beat your ass.' I actually said that to Ben Hogan: I can beat your ass! I'd just had enough of this. Hogan says, 'Really? Well, let's go find out!'

"I start to stand up. He starts to stand up. His glasses fall off. I'm ready to go to the putting green and he can't get up, OK?  At this point, I'm thinking I've just agitated arguably the worst putter who's ever played on earth, and he's hammered -- what if he beats me? How bad would that be?

"So he's picking his glasses up and he says, 'Are you ready?' I go, 'You know what, let's just not do this.' And Kenny jumps in, 'That's probably a good idea.' No one's heard that part of the story before."

McCord is almost as much of an institution here as the Phoenix Open and the Birds' Nest, where fans gather at night for concerts and drinking. They're hard to separate. The Open kicks off Thursday with a mix of new and old names, including Mark Calcavecchia, who is playing on a sponsors' exemption; Phil Mickelson; defending champion Mark Wilson; PGA champion Keegan Bradley; and J.B. Holmes, who has recovered from brain surgery, among others.

Maybe, if we're really lucky, they'll provide McCord with a few more stories to tell.
 

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- It was 1982 or 1983, Gary McCord doesn't remember which. But he does remember  playing the Phoenix Open back then at Phoenix Country Club, a classic course located near downtown, when he got a phone call.

It was an important phone call, apparently, because this is his answer to my question about his two most memorable Phoenix Open moments as either a player (he first played the event in 1975) or as a broadcaster (with CBS). The phone call was from Deane Beman, the commissioner of the PGA Tour, who wanted him to check out a potential site for a new course to host the tournament.

"Deane goes, 'Gary, I need a board member to go out there and look at some land,' so Ed Sneed and I go out there," McCord remembered. "You can see Scottsdale Airport out there. There's a few hangars, nothing else. Nothing. I start turning around. I look toward Pinnacle Peak. Nothing. I look north, Desert Highland might have just been started, there's a few homes. I look west, there's nothing. I turn to Ed and say, 'What the hell is this?' Ed says, 'I don't know.'

"So we go back to the board and Deane says, 'So, what'd you think? We're going to build a golf course there, a TPC, we got the land for a dollar.'

"I said, 'Deane, we're playing in downtown Phoenix right now, there are offices nearby, it's going great, we get over 20,000 people for the week. What the hell are we going to do out there in Scottsdale? No one will ever show up.'"

Laughter drowns out McCord. He's telling the tale of the birth of TPC Scottsdale, home of the Phoenix Open since 1987, to a group at SunRidge Canyon Golf Club, of which McCord is now a part owner, believe it or not. (Being an owner really doesn't fit McCord's anti-establishment, impish image, but that's all it is -- an image.) Tuesday was the official grand opening of the Jim McLean Golf School, which will feature three full-time professionals and is now housed at SunRidge Canyon. McLean's group will offer a wide variety of golf instruction options, plus his popular three-day school, which costs more than $1,800 per player.

When the laughter starts to recede, McCord regains control. "Let me go over that line again: 'No one will ever show up,'" he says, cackling. "I said, 'Are you insane, we're going 20 miles away from Phoenix Country Club and there's nothing up there?'"

His prediction wasn't just off, it was way off. "I'll bet you there will be 600,000 people here this week," McCord says. "I'll bet you they beat the attendance record."

The Phoenix Open in its many forms is the most well-attended event on the PGA Tour. Crowds in excess of 150,000 are usually recorded for Saturday's third-round. It's not just a tournament, it's a happening. And it's the biggest party on the PGA Tour.

McCord has been a part of it as long as anyone, for years as a player and for years as a CBS commentator. He has also lived in the Scottsdale area for years. If the Phoenix Open has a figurehead or an iconic player, it's McCord.

He wasn't there in 1997 when Tiger Woods made the hole-in-one at the 16th, famous for being golf's loudest and rowdiest hole. Every third year when CBS telecasts the Super Bowl, it doesn't do the Phoenix Open, so McCord wasn't on the air for that memorable moment. But McCord has a friend who lives three miles from the course, "And he told me he heard the roar," McCord said.

There have been other memorable happenings during this tournament, like fans rolling a boulder out of the way for Tiger in 1999, when a gun-toting Tiger fan was also escorted off the grounds; local favorite Phil Mickelson winning in 1996 and 2005; and Chris DiMarco in 2002 getting a spectator removed who had shouted "Noonan!" while DiMarco rolled in a crucial putt. There have been many others.

McCord remembers when the 16th first turned into the riotous place it is now. It all began, he said, because there was a T.G.I. Friday's concession tent just behind the 16th tee, near some aluminum bleachers.

"The college kids would come from school, all they did was march back and forth getting beer, and then they start taunting you late on Friday afternoon," McCord said. "It got bigger and bigger, it started to really go good. As soon as you hit the ball there, they go Wheeeeahhhh! They go nuts.

"So this one time on a Saturday, I was out there -- I actually made the cut. I make a swing and right before I hit the ball, I stop." McCord went into gyrations as he re-created his action with an imaginary club.

"Everybody went, Wheeeaaahhhh! I go, I gotcha! I gotcha! I gotcha!"

Then McCord walked over to his golf bag and ceremoniously began looking around for something. Finally, he found what he was looking for.

"So I pull out a Playboy and hold up the centerfold and go, Ahhhh! Is this any good?" McCord said. "The guys went nuts, absolutely nuts. Well, I get to the green and here comes a Tour official. He says, 'Gary, you cannot be doing that.' 'Doing what,' I ask, 'what did I do?' He says, 'Where's the Playboy?' I said, 'I didn't have a Playboy.' It was like, I wasn't speeding, officer."

What was McCord doing with a Playboy in his bag? His little act was scripted. "It was premeditated," he said. "Remember, everything I do is premeditated. Or premedicated in some cases."

McCord had a captive audience on the patio, around a roaring fire, at the Sunridge Canyon clubhouse. So he continued his erratic sprint down Memory Lane.

Asked about his biggest gaffe, his biggest brain-dead moment on the PGA Tour, he told this story: "My first tournament on Tour was the Crosby at Pebble Beach. I'm just out of school, I've got my Tour card, I go to Pebble Beach. I'm leading the tournament after two rounds. Jack Nicklaus says in the newspaper, 'Gary who?'"

Conditions took a turn for the worse in the third round at Cypress Point. McCord's score ballooned in what he described as sideways rain and 50-mile-per-hour winds.

"I stood on the 16th tee, the most famous par 3 in golf, and it's blowing 50. I've got driver out, and at this point, I couldn't hit it three times and get over the water, but I didn't care because I'm 18 over par," he said.  "I'm ready to swing when a rules official drives up in a cart and yells, 'Hold it, hold it, we're done. Play is canceled.' I ask him, 'Can I hit this shot anyway?' He says, 'Yeah, go ahead.' So I killed it. I killed it and the ball went 100 yards in the wind."

The round  didn't count, and McCord and everyone else in the field got a do-over. When he came to the 16th tee at Cypress Point the next day, he was seven under par after a streak of seven straight birdies.

"That's a 25-shot swing," McCord said. "When I finally got to 16 on a perfect day at Cypress, you know what I did? I laid up. I hit a 5-iron across to the fairway."

McCord finished 24th and drove to the Phoenix Open the next week. "I'm registering and Jack Tuthill of the PGA Tour taps me on the shoulder and says, 'What are you doing here?'

'I'm playing, I say. He says, 'No, you're not, you never committed.' I go, 'What's a commit?' He says you've got to sign a sheet of paper to show you're going to play the next week. I'm like, they never told us that. There were four of us who didn't know that, and we had to leave the tournament. There was a sheet in the men's locker room, in the john, and when you walked out, you had to put your name on it. None of the rookies knew that. I didn't get in another tournament for a month."

The crowd laughed again, savoring McCord's misery. McLean then prompted McCord to recall the first time he met golfing legend Ben Hogan.

This escapade is a Frank Chirkinian special. Chirkinian was the CBS director who ran the golf telecasts with an iron fist and was subsequently nicknamed The Ayatollah. The CBS crew was in Fort Worth to televise the Colonial tournament. Chirkinian invited McCord to have lunch with Hogan at Shady Oaks, Hogan's club.

At the club, they sat down at Hogan's table. McCord was across from Hogan, who was next to his old pal, Ken Venturi.

"They're having a conversation, and about halfway through the meal, Hogan looks at me and asks, 'What do you do?'"

McCord had been a tour regular for more than 10 years.

"I start to answer and as soon as I do, Hogan looks back at Kenny and starts talking to him. By now, Hogan is on his third martini. All of a sudden, he looks at me and says, 'Well?' 'I play the Tour,' I say. And I start to say something else, but then he's back looking at Ken and talking to him. So now, I'm waiting for him the next time. Later, he goes, 'How many tournaments have you won?' Again, he turns away to Ken before I can answer. Now I'm getting pissed off. Eventually, he looks at me again and I say, 'None.' He stops and says, 'None? Why are you still playing?'

"I was going to give him an answer but he turns back to Venturi again and starts chatting. By now, he's into his fifth martini. They said he'd drink five martinis, go home, take a nap and then go back to the Hogan factory. Finally, he turns to me and says, 'So no wins? You probably couldn't do anything, could you?' Meaning I can't hit the ball. I say, 'Well, I'm a pretty good putter.' He says, 'Bull.' I said, 'What do you mean?' He said, 'Bull, you can't putt a lick.' I said, 'Well, I can beat your ass.' I actually said that to Ben Hogan: I can beat your ass! I'd just had enough of this. Hogan says, 'Really? Well, let's go find out!'

"I start to stand up. He starts to stand up. His glasses fall off. I'm ready to go to the putting green and he can't get up, OK?  At this point, I'm thinking I've just agitated arguably the worst putter who's ever played on earth, and he's hammered -- what if he beats me? How bad would that be?

"So he's picking his glasses up and he says, 'Are you ready?' I go, 'You know what, let's just not do this.' And Kenny jumps in, 'That's probably a good idea.' No one's heard that part of the story before."

McCord is almost as much of an institution here as the Phoenix Open and the Birds' Nest, where fans gather at night for concerts and drinking. They're hard to separate. The Open kicks off Thursday with a mix of new and old names, including Mark Calcavecchia, who is playing on a sponsors' exemption; Phil Mickelson; defending champion Mark Wilson; PGA champion Keegan Bradley; and J.B. Holmes, who has recovered from brain surgery, among others.

Maybe, if we're really lucky, they'll provide McCord with a few more stories to tell.
 

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