NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. – Gary McCord has made a long career – nearly 30 years – by riffing on his mediocre PGA Tour career and colorfully describing tournament action from high above greenside in the CBS television booth.
It all began for McCord, who has parlayed his shtick into a movie role (Tin Cup) and authored two books (including Just a Range Ball in a Box of Titleists), less than 15 miles away from Newport Beach, in Garden Grove, Calif. McCord joined U.S. Senior Amateur Championship guests and Big Canyon Country Club members on Tuesday evening at the traditional Sweet 16 dinner for players who reached the Round of 16.
McCord has a number of friends at Big Canyon, and has been known to frequent a Friday golf game at the club, but on Tuesday, he was there to salute the players who had survived the first two rounds of match play in the 60th Senior Amateur. And to throw in a few stories from his life on Tour, of course.
To start out as one of the 2,250 entrants and end up as one of the final 16, all I can say is, well done, said McCord to the 55-and-older players. I remember when I was 55, a long time ago, and playing 36 holes like you have in 90-degree heat to get here – it’s really hard to do.
McCord, 68, told the crowd about his first visit to Big Canyon, shortly after the golf course opened in 1971, when he was just starting on the Tour and searching for a home for his young family.
I remember it like it was yesterday, he said. I went to Cal-Riverside, and I had to get out of there, for various reasons. I needed to live somewhere near an airport, and Ontario’s airport hadn’t come along yet.
McCord attended an open house in Big Canyon, and the agent sensed his interest.
It was fantastic, McCord recalled. But I hadn’t started on Tour yet, and I had zero in the bank. I see a brochure on the table and I look at the price, and it scared me. It was way out of my price range. I told the agent that I loved it, but the fact is, I had three cars and it only has a two-car garage. I ran like a little girl out of that place as fast as I could.
Instead, McCord and his family landed, as he jokingly described it, just north of Tijuana in a two-bedroom place above a martial arts studio. It was really nice, and convenient to the San Diego airport.
McCord began to wonder about his dreams of making it big on Tour in the late 1970s, at the Quad Cities Open.
It was the third round, and I was paired with Sam Snead, McCord said. He was 67 years old and he was hitting these spectacular shots. I said to myself, you’ve got to be kidding me. This old man – I think he was using wooden shafts! – was beating the hell out of me.
McCord has suffered a couple of major health scares in recent years, including pericarditis, when a virus attacked his heart, and a ruptured artery. He has a new perspective, and a new question about his golf game.
When you’re too old to play the Senior Tour, what’s next? McCord asked. I’m too old. I’ve looked in the mirror and said, where are you going next?
McCord lamented the demise of the Super Senior Tour for players age 60 and older. They got rid of it a year too soon for me, McCord said wistfully. I could have bought that Rolls Royce.
McCord talked about his recent depressing stint on a TrackMan machine, which gauges ball speed, clubhead speed and myriad other swing dynamics.
I hit one, and I asked, what was my clubhead speed, said McCord. They came back with 93.6. I said, no, no, I want my clubhead speed. It’s 93.6, they said. So I just killed the next drive, popped a button, and I got it to 94.2. When you get older – and it will happen to you – all of a sudden it happens and you’re not relevant anymore.
McCord rued his return to Whisper Rock Golf Club, in Scottsdale, Ariz., where he plays in the winter along with several Tour pros.
I’m going to get killed, starting November 1, he said. There’s 35 Tour pros there who still think I’m a plus-1 [handicap]. I try to post my recent scores, and I am told, it’s outside my realm or whatever. If I’m playing Phil (Mickelson), I’m going to need 17 shots.
In 1986, McCord sat in on a production meeting at the PGA Tour’s Memorial Tournament, and before he knew it he was on the air, providing his unique brand of analysis and golf levity. As the late legendary CBS producer Frank Chirkinian put it when he first handed a headset to McCord, You’re screwed up enough; you might be OK at this.
McCord has been more than OK at regaling viewers and audiences ever since.
Norton Continues to Play to His Strengths
Bryan Norton, 55, has followed a formula that works for him this week at Big Canyon Country Club, and it has gotten him into Thursday’s championship match.
Everybody here is playing to their strengths, and that’s my best shot, said Norton, of his preferred club selection, a 2-iron, off most par-4 and par-5 tees. You don’t see many 2-irons. People ask me, is it a driving iron, and I say, no, it has a 2 on it.
Big Canyon’s fairways narrow significantly in the fairway drive zone, and Norton’s typical play takes the bunkers out of the equation.
Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.