As even the penguins in Antarctica must know by now, Gary McCord won't be an announcer on next year's Masters telecast. McCord was removed by CBS from its Masters broadcast team after angering the tournament hierarchy at this year's event by joking, on the air, that Augusta National must use bikini wax on its slick greens and that a group of large mounds on one hole reminded him of body bags.
Urging the ouster was two-time Masters champ Tom Watson, who wrote a private letter to CBS golf producer Frank Chirkinian in which he referred to McCord as "the Howard Stern of TV golf."
Judged by such a severe panel of elders, it's no wonder the wisecracking ex-rabbit got banished from Magnolia Lane. But McCord's sacking hit a nerve, and in the court of public opinion, the tables were turned. The Masters was pronounced as insular and arbitrary as ever, CBS was declared cowardly, and Watson was perceived as both sneaky and uptight. Meanwhile, the personal appearance fees of the entrepreneurial McCord have shot up, and his services are in hot demand.
Everybody loves to see the bullies get theirs, but the real significance of the McCord case is as a signpost. Forces larger than the game's traditional institutions are making golf's image change faster than it has at any time since a caddie named Francis Ouimet defeated Harry Vardon and Ted Ray. This is why Bill Murray can be labeled a blight on the game by then PGA Tour commissioner Deane Be-man for his antics at this year's AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and then be invited back to next year's tournament by popular demand. It's why John Daly, amid repeated suspensions and mounting personal problems, remains golf's biggest draw.
Very simply, as more people have discovered the fun of watching a little ball fly very far through the air, the idea that golf must be carried out as some sort of solemn ritual seems more and more silly. In short, golf has become part of popular culture.
Whether you found McCord's analogies funny or not, the lines were not much different than what you might hear on Roseanne or any other prime-time sitcom. Even as the old guard who runs the Masters was warning McCord to tone down his act, something was telling him that he had popular license.
The fact is, he did, primarily because the baby-boom generation has hit the age where the links beckon more than the softball field or the basketball court. As a result, the Democrat in the White House declares golf his favorite activity, The Little Red Book camps out on the best-seller list, and mainstream sports idols like Michael Jordan, Lawrence Taylor and Mike Schmidt admit their obsession with the game. Even the fusty old USGA has smelled the coffee and is marketing itself away from its longtime image as a bastion for blue-blooded isolationists.
It's not surprising that the Masters hasn't caught on. From the limited field at its tournament to its limited membership, Augusta National Golf Club has always been slow to accede to the forces outside its gates.
But before its overlords turn the Masters into the Muzak of golf telecasts, they ought to remember that the tournament's founder, Bobby Jones, was a fan of both wit and irreverence.
And before Watson gets offended again, he should recognize an important element of his own appeal. Here's a guy who has won five British Opens playing with the kind of pure spirit that the Scottish proletariat, a group which excels at making fun of its own game, has always found compelling. Watson wouldn't censor an iconoclastic Scot, and he should understand that McCord—who has paid his dues and knows the sport inside out—is not belittling the game, but simply trying to bring it out of its ivory tower.