The bigger decision is: Give up show business, play full time and go for the glory that has always eluded him, or become a part-time player and probably never be a force? "I can't imagine that Gary would want to go on without broadcasting," Nantz says. "Then again, if he finds himself in the top five on the Senior tour, that's pretty irresistible."
That's the other unknown in the equation. Can McCord really compete on the Senior tour? Even half awake at seven in the morning, having flown from Pinehurst to Scottsdale the night before, McCord is pulsing with energy, his glee at being asked the question only thinly veiled. Despite his carefree image, he's always prepared. "Here's what I wrote down for that question," McCord says. "Those who have dined on my festering carcass in the past will have the distinct pleasure of pulling a chair up to the table again. My other line is, Those guys beat the living hell out of me in the past. There's no reason why they're not going to beat the living hell out of me again. That's basically it, but it would be fun to go play."
Asking McCord about his potential is like asking Bob Uecker about his chances of making the Hall of Fame, but the truth is that the put-downs, like Uecker's, are pure shtick. McCord actually is a stick. "Gary is a much more accomplished player now, by a long shot," said Jerry Pate, the 1976 U.S. Open champion who works with McCord at CBS. "I've been telling him, 'Gary, you're good enough to beat those guys, but you've got to believe it.' It's all confidence." McCord has made fun of his game for so long that the public probably doesn't realize that he's an excellent player. "I was in a pro-am when my amateur partners watched Gary hit a tee shot," says Chamblee. "A couple of them were amazed that he got it airborne. They were saying, 'No way!' They thought he was a chop."
There's not much evidence to make them think otherwise. McCord likes to say that his on-course career went downhill after he won the 1970 NCAA Division II championship while attending UC Riverside. (He graduated in 1971 with a degree in economics.) "I started slowly, then tapered off," McCord says jokingly. He first played on the Tour in 1973, and over the next 10 years, when only the top 60 players were exempt, he made their ranks just once, in 1975, when he finished a career-high 59th. When McCord quit playing the Tour full time, in 1986, he was better known for being one of the driving forces behind the expansion of the exempt list to 125 players than for anything lie had accomplished as a player, his best showing being a pair of seconds in the Greater Milwaukee Open in the '70s. The only pro tournament McCord has won came later, in 1991, when he took the Gateway Open in Fort Myers, Fla., on the Ben Hogan tour. The Gateway Open dropped off the schedule the next year, and McCord claimed the kill.
He still plays occasionally on the PGA Tour—this year he made one cut in four starts, his best finish a 74th in the Buick Invitational—and is much more relaxed on the course. Like Trevino, Jim Colbert and Bob Murphy, who watched and learned during their years in the TV tower and then hit the Senior tour running, McCord has spent the last decade closely observing some of the best players in the world. More important, he has changed his own game. After giving up Tour life, McCord asked Mac O'Grady to help him build a simpler, low-maintenance swing. The switch took a long time but was ultimately successful. "I was screwed up from 15 years of flailing on the Tour," McCord says. " Mac taught me so much. I'm not saying I'm a better player, but now I don't go to the practice tee and try to figure out how I'm going to hit the first tee shot. For 15 years there were 4,000 things going through my mind. Now I'm comfortable. I understand my swing and know what it's going to produce."
Pate isn't alone in thinking that McCord could make an impact on the Senior tour. Says David Feherty, another CBS colleague and occasional playing partner, "Gary is a lot better than he would have you think. When you see some of the Seniors who have won, I honestly believe he could win, although it would be a great shame to destroy his no-win record. But the USGA will have to look very carefully at his mustache. I think he plans to use the left curl as a sighting device."
McCord, though, is more comfortable talking about failure than success. His Uecker routine is a deep-rooted defense mechanism. "One thing you don't want to do at this stage of your life is let your ego get in the way," McCord says. "Mine has been bruised and battered after years on the Tour. I'd like to think my abilities are better than when I played the regular Tour, but what I have now is a pretty good gig."
The official McCord sound bite on the appeal of the Senior tour: "No cuts, golf carts and free Cadillacs." Sounds good. In fact, it sounds exactly like his television job.