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McCord shrugs off his detractors. "I've been called an idiot, terrible pond scum, lower than pond scum," he says. "I've been called bacteria that hasn't even been named yet." How long has this been going on? "Only since I was seven."
Born in San Gabriel, Calif., McCord refined his game on a nearby public course, San Luis Rey Downs. Among the regulars there were a 428-pounder he dubbed the Kitchen and such characters as Unemployed Lloyd, Fairway Louie, London Sam, Bag-Room Bob, the Rodent, the Savage and 20/20, a blind duffer who played only at night. McCord graduated from UC Riverside, where he was a two-time All-America and the 1970 NCAA Division II individual champion. "I got a degree in economics," he says, "which means I could add up a scorecard using a theory."
For his first three years on the Tour, McCord was sponsored by Lawrence Welk after being introduced to him through a mutual friend. During his first year he appeared on Welk's TV show. To McCord's chagrin, Welk asked him to hit a golf ball at an archery target 35 feet away. "I a-want you to hit the bull's-eye," Welk told him. "I a-want you to show everyone here how well you can hit that golf ball."
McCord began taking deep breaths through his mouth, like a guppy in pain. "I was sure I was going to shank it and kill the 73,000 old people in the audience," he says. "But I couldn't bug out. This was being taped in front of a live audience."
Perched precariously on his new platform shoes, McCord grabbed a four-iron and nodded toward the smiling Welk. He took a long, slow backswing and an equally slow downswing back at the ball, which jumped off the AstroTurf and just clipped the target.
As a golfer McCord peaked in 1975, the year he finished 59th in earnings and qualified for a one-year Tour exemption. One year was all he got—ever. "I'd go out, play, play bad and go home," he says ruefully. "I was a nothing, zip, a doughnut, a big glazed doughnut." By 1980, with Tour winnings of only $13,521 for that year, McCord was supporting his golf habit by putting on magic shows.
McCord's life changed forever in 1985 when he spied Chirkinian on a plane bound for the Memorial in Dublin, Ohio. "Pay my motel room and I'll be your gofer for the telecast this weekend," McCord said. Chirkinian had him sit with commentator Verne Lundquist in the tower above the 16th green. McCord was nonplussed when he was handed a headset. "Didn't they tell you you're the guest analyst?" Lundquist asked.
Apparently not. McCord's first major call came when Payne Stewart was lining up a treacherous downhill chip shot. "Imagine hitting a ball on a concrete driveway and asking it to bite," McCord said.
"I love it!" Chirkinian shouted into McCord's earphone. He was given another week's work and, eventually, a contract.
"Television rescued Gary," says Wright. "He'd been a habitual dweller on the dung heap of life. And deservedly so." The comically pompous Wright, a portly Englishman, is the perfect foil for McCord. Wright's questions, pauses and murmured comments frame McCord's one-liners.