This March in Florida, Gary McCord sidled up next to Jack Nicklaus, who knows that when McCord sidles up next to you, something strange is going to happen. "Uh-oh, whattaya have on your mind now, Gary?" the great man said.
"Jack, I got a deal that's gonna make you a star," McCord said.
We should introduce Gary McCord, a man overlooked by fame. He is 35, a husband, father and professional golfer who in his 10th season has yet to win a tournament. "A marginal player forever," to quote him, McCord has never been better than 59th on the money list (now 85th with a career-best fourth-place finish last month). He is, however, "the best golfing magician who ever lived. Houdini ain't even close. Want to see my card tricks?"
Anyone who lists his hobbies as "astrophysics, aerobiology and quantum mechanics" is liable to sidle up to Jack Nicklaus and say he has an idea to stow Jack away on the next space shuttle, so he can one-putt Saturn.
McCord puts boxing gloves on his woods, instead of knitted covers, "because the places I hit the ball, I may have to defend myself. Out there in them woods, there are things without shoulders." Such as yesterday at the Kemper Open, where McCord added a 79 to his first-round 77 and missed the cut for the ninth time in 15 tries this year.
Such exotica may lead the unsuspecting reader to say Gary McCord is wrapped loosely. Au contraire. He invented the all-exempt tour that Deane Beman, the pro golf commissioner, adopted as the answer to a load of problems. McCord loves golf. He wants us to know that golf and fun are not mutually exclusive terms.
So he sidled up next to Jack Nicklaus and asked the greatest player who ever lived if he would pose nude. McCord had convinced Golf Magazine to use five players in a photo layout.
"You could wear a towel," McCord remembers saying to Nicklaus, "but, er, you would pose without a lot of clothes on."
"Gary, I can't do that," Nicklaus said, as McCord quotes him. "I'm 43 years old. Look at this body. Who would want to see this?"
"You may have a point there, Jack," McCord said.
His idea, McCord was saying yesterday, is more than a parody of the annual fashion spread done by women pro golfers. "It's all in fun," he said, "with the idea that we are trying to build an individual we can sell in 1986. We need to establish our color right now."
The August issue of Golf will reveal Peter Jacobsen (the centerfold), Payne Stewart, Rex Caldwell, Keith Fergus and Greg Norman ("He wears soap suds.").
Is this done in good taste?
"Awful taste," McCord said.
His graying moustache twitched in glee.
"We're trying to put the sleaze back in golf. We have to get off our sacrosanct pedestal and get back in the gutter where we belong. These pictures would be first-rate stuff in Playgirl. First rate. Peter Jacobsen will be signing autographs on his tush. We're all looked at out here as calm, sedate, 6-foot-2 blonds, all clean, effervescent and germ free. We want to destroy that in one issue."
And what would Bobby Jones think?
"Bobby Jones would go play tennis."
This is stuff you'd expect if, say, Steve Martin had taken up golf. McCord says he went to high school with the man whose work defines lunacy. "Steve was head cheerleader for the Garden Grove Argonauts. You talk about a guy who was nuts."
Speaking of cashews that walk and talk, here is Gary McCord explaining his brilliant, if obscure, theory that a condition he calls "GOLF Brain" renders most pros incapable of putting on their shoes without help from mama.
GOLF is an acronym for "genetic overflow of living fluids." The first year and three months on tour, McCord says, the player sees only the target area on the fairway.
"The first couple weeks into the fourth month, he starts looking left of the fairway. Damn! There's a bunker over there!
"That lasts for 11 months, hitting everything into that bunker. Then he looks farther left. Out of bounds, trees, lakes. Oh, my God!
"So the next 13 months, he starts looking right for some safe place to go. He don't even look at the fairway anymore. He's scared as hell of the left. He starts blocking it to the right.
"During all this, the brain is working. There are electrical charges going on in the brain. Neurohumors transmit nerve impulses from the left side, the imaginative side, to the right side, where the motor nerves are. These nerve transmissions are going on with the speed of light. Ping, zing. Like pinball. Lights going off and on.
"As long as these thoughts are positive thoughts, they run cool and everything's fine. But negative thoughts are a lot hotter charge, and what you get then is what you get in one of those nuclear reactors--a meltdown. The brain melts.
"The brain melts into a living fluid and it starts sloshing around inside your skull. You lean over to putt and your brain starts to run out of your head. You get dizzy, you're like seasick. Think about it. Pro golfers don't go on boat trips."
One thing more. What does McCord want out of golf?
"I want to play one good tournament. One rotten, stinking tournament. I haven't beaten anybody yet."
So, would he like to go head to head with Tom Watson for the U.S. Open title?
"No, I'd helluva lot rather be head to head with my next-door neighbor, the 12 handicapper."