When Tom Watson Tried to Get Gary McCord Fired

On October 26, 2019, CBS Sports confirmed that longtime golf broadcaster (and former PGA Tour player) Gary McCord had been let go. His contract was not picked up; he was no longer part of the CBS Sports golf broadcast team. McCord had been part of the network's golf broadcasts since 1986.

It wasn't the first time CBS had dropped the comical, irreverent McCord. But the first time they did it, CBS fired him only from one tournament, The Masters.

And McCord was fired from broadcasts of The Masters at the urging of golf legend (and legendary scold) Tom Watson.

The Comments that Got McCord in Trouble at The Masters

You probably have heard the story, or at least allusions to it, of McCord's banning from Masters broadcasts. During the 1994 Masters telecast, McCord made a couple comments the Augusta poobahs didn't like, such as saying that "they don't cut the greens here at Augusta, they use bikini wax." That was the comment that raised the ire of those Augusta poobahs; another was saying that some of the mounds around the greens were "where the bodies are buried."

Basically, McCord refused to genuflect when he entered the Augusta National gates.

In September of 1994, Augusta National — which has always renewed its television contract with CBS Sports on a year-to-year basis — informed its broadcast partner that it did not care for McCord's comments or his style and ordered him removed from the broadcast.

CBS Sports, unwilling to risk losing its prize event, meekly assented. And that was that. McCord, while continuing to work every other CBS golf broadcast during the year, never worked The Masters again.

Tom Watson's Letters Calling for McCord's Firing

What you may not remember — what you might never have known — is that Tom Watson played a huge role in McCord's banishment from The Masters. In fact, Watson, after being offended by McCord's commentary during the 1994 Masters, wrote two letters of complaint. One was to Augusta National president Jackson Stephens; the other was to CBS' golf producer, and McCord's boss, Frank Chirkinian.

And at least in the letter to Chirkinian, Watson demanded that McCord not just be removed from Masters broadcasts, but that he be fired from CBS Sports.

Watson's letter to Chirkinian is dated April 11, 1994, one day after the tournament's conclusion. This is the text of the letter:

Dear Frank,

"They don't cut the greens here at Augusta, they use bikini wax." Quote by G. McCord, April 10, final round of the 1994 Masters. Directed by Frank Chirkinian.

He tried four of his computer-generated similes before he laid this terrible egg.

It is sad that he so degraded the last telecast of Pat Summerall.

He is the Howard Stern of TV golf and you should be ashamed, rather than champion his "irreverent" behavior. Get rid of him, now.

Tom

Watson's letter to Stephens was never made public; Watson claimed he did not urge Stephens to ban McCord. But once his letter to Chirkinian was made public — according to a late-1994 Golf Digest article the letter was widely circulated among PGA Tour golfers — Watson stated publicly what he already had said privately in the letter.

Watson, Golf Digest wrote, treated getting McCord fired as a "personal crusade."

"It was largely Watson's outrage," the magazine reported, "that prodded Augusta into taking the action it did."

So Watson ultimately didn't succeed in getting McCord fired from CBS Sports, but very much succeeded in getting McCord dropped from The Masters telecasts.

McCord's and Watson's Comments On Each Other

Washington Post columnist Leonard Shapiro reported at the time that all of McCord's broadcasting peers at CBS Sports were privately furious, including Frank Chirkinian and Jim Nantz. But none dared push back against Augusta National or publicly defended McCord. The risk of alienating Augusta National and, possibly, losing The Masters broadcast made the decision to acquiesce and sacrifice McCord a very easy one for the network.

This is what McCord told Shapiro about the decision:

"Augusta has the contractual right to evaluate the announcers, and if they think the announcer has degraded their tournament, they also have the right to get rid of him. I have no problem with that. I honestly believe that I'm a pair of brown shoes and they're blue suits. I'm not naive."

It was Watson and his actions, not his employer's actions, that angered McCord.

Shapiro wrote:

McCord said ... that Watson has not said a word to him since the Masters and has had plenty of opportunities to do so.

"If Tom would have come up to me and said, 'Gary, what the hell are you doing?' I'd have been happy to talk to him about it. Everyone else out here has no problems talking to me, and when I'm wrong, I'll tell them I'm wrong. Then if he wanted to write a letter, no problem.

"But I don't like the backstabbing. Do it face to face. I know I'm out there on a limb. I know what I said was questionable at best. But don't try to take my job and my livelihood away from me like that."

Watson also spoke to Shapiro, telling the Post columnist, "McCord said something that was very offensive to me, something I thought was out of line. I wrote a letter to his boss and the chairman of Augusta National and said it was in poor taste.

"I did say to his boss, you ought to fire him. I didn't say that to Jack Stephens. I wanted to know if Augusta had addressed the issue. Six months later, they came to the conclusion that what he said was not worthy of him being on the telecast, and that's all I want to say about it."

And that's how Tom Watson tried to get Gary McCord fired — and succeeded in getting him dismissed from The Masters.

It should be pointed out that McCord wasn't the first broadcaster banned from the tournament by Augusta National. Broadcasting Hall of Famer Jack Whitaker, one year in the 1960s, referred to the crowds at the tournament as a "mob," and he was dropped, at the club's demand, from the broadcast. The club is also believed to have told ESPN, when ESPN began in the 2000s broadcasting the first two rounds, that Chris Berman was not welcome.

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