A man often reveals himself in his complaints about others, so
listen to what Scott McCarron has to say about Sergio Garcia, for
whom McCarron has been nursing a grudge since Garcia beat him at
table tennis a year ago. (Garcia also tore the winner's check out
of McCarron's hands at the season-opening Mercedes Championships
in January.) "Sergio rips your throat out and smiles while he's
doing it," he says.
Consider the noogie. The moment after McCarron had drained a
40-foot putt on the final green to dispatch Paul Azinger in the
semifinals of February's Accenture Match Play Championship, the
players exchanged the usual manly handshakes. Then Azinger
solemnly pulled McCarron to him for a final word. As McCarron
uttered an apologetic, "Sorry, man," Azinger grabbed him around
the neck and ground his knuckles into McCarron's scalp. "It
wasn't one of those let-off noogies," Azinger says. "It was real
hard. He deserved it."
McCarron went on to lose the Match Play final to Kevin Sutherland
one up, an outcome that also says a lot about McCarron, or at
least a lot about the kind of season he has been having.
Seemingly not a week goes by that he doesn't contend, and
seemingly not a Sunday passes that he doesn't screw up.
Three weeks after the Match Play, at the Bay Hill Invitational,
McCarron was eight under par through three rounds and had worked
himself into contention, only two shots behind the leader, Tiger
Woods. On the eve of the final round McCarron agreed to be
interviewed on the Golf Channel. While being fitted for his
microphone off-camera, he looked on as announcer Rich Lerner
wondered on the air if anyone could catch Tiger. Did Scott
McCarron, for example, have a chance? Analyst Mark Lye swiftly
shot down that possibility, saying that McCarron had neither "the
fuel nor the fire" to beat Woods.
McCarron, who was standing only 10 feet away, was thunderstruck.
Lye was from McCarron's hometown, Napa, Calif., and someone
McCarron looked up to. Lots of pros would have ripped off the
mike and stormed back to the hotel, but McCarron stuck around,
grimly answered questions and then, as he was saying goodbye,
reached over, grabbed Lye around the neck and gave him one heck
of a noogie.
The next day McCarron had a train wreck on the first four holes,
going five over en route to an embarrassing 81. Numbers like that
have raised his Sunday scoring average to 71.43, 1.68 strokes
higher than his Thursday-Friday number.
Last weekend McCarron had a better Sunday, shooting a four-under
68 to finish fourth, six strokes behind winner Retief Goosen at
the BellSouth Classic in Duluth, Ga., where McCarron has won two
of his three Tour titles, in 1997 and in 2001. Last year the
36-hole wrap-up on Sunday was played in 40-mph winds and a
windchill near freezing. When McCarron teed off that morning,
swaddled in every piece of clothing he'd packed, he knew that
"half the field was going to cash it in," he says. Because he's a
skier, a mountain biker, a river rafter and an every-day jogger,
McCarron knew that he could simply walk most of the guys to
death, which is what he did, winning by three shots.
McCarron, 36, grew up around sports. His father, Barry, was a
shortstop in the St. Louis Cardinals organization, making it is
as far as Triple A. Scott's paternal grandfather, Al (a.k.a.
Red), pitched for the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast
League. Barry introduced Scott to all the sports, and he excelled
at golf almost immediately. "He won his first tournament at age
four," Barry says. "We played in the Buchanan Fields father and
son tournament in Concord, Calif. It was alternate shot, and we
still had an 83. He was talking all the way around, blaming me
for putting him in bad positions."
Scott went to UCLA on a golf scholarship and briefly enjoyed the
surreal experience of teeing it up anytime he wished at places
like Riviera, Los Angeles Country Club and Bel Air, where
celebrities such as Bob Newhart and Don Rickles followed the
Bruins in golf carts and bet on the players. Nevertheless, as
McCarron embraced college life, golf became an afterthought. "We
would pray for rain so we could play mud football instead of
having to practice," says Brandt Jobe, a fellow Tour player and
UCLA teammate. "We spent most of our time doing things that
golfers shouldn't have been doing."
Before the start of his junior year, McCarron was playing so
poorly that his scholarship was revoked by coach Eddie Merrins,
so McCarron went out for the tennis team and made the junior
varsity. He also became a rush chairman for his fraternity, Theta
Theta Pi, and a bona fide hell-raiser. "A lot of guys talk," says
Brad Bell, a teammate at UCLA, "but Scott does it. We walk out of
the theater after seeing Top Gun and say, 'Wouldn't it be great
to fly?' He goes out and learns to fly. We're singing along to
oldies on the radio and say, 'Wouldn't it be great to play
guitar?' He goes out and learns to play the guitar."
Flying became an addiction, and McCarron once buzzed the UCLA
team on the course. "I practiced some emergency landing
procedures over Woods Ranch, and over the golf team," he says.
"No one got my tail number."
You can't trust a man who hasn't lost everything. McCarron
graduated in 1988 with a degree in history and thought about law
school but instead dealt with a family calamity. The bulk of the
inventory of his father's apparel business was stored in a
warehouse located on a flood plain in Napa. The building and its
contents were heavily damaged during a rainstorm in February
1986. Because of the building's location, the insurance companies
were not liable. "I lost $1 million in a single day," Barry says.
Scott dutifully threw himself into helping save the family
business, which was relocated to Oregon. A year later the family
returned to California, to the Sacramento suburb of Rancho
Murieta, and McCarron persuaded Jennifer Megquier, his college
sweetheart (they met at a party in Jobe's dorm room), to give up
her job as an editorial assistant at Woman's Day in New York City
and join him there.
The little golf McCarron played was with customers, but in 1991,
when the Senior tour stopped at his home course of Rancho Murieta
Country Club, he noticed how well many of the players could roll
the ball with their long putters. He subsequently built his own
long putter in the garage and immediately shored up the one area
of his game that had been lacking. Encouraged, he asked for and
received a few pointers from area legends Rod Funseth and Johnny
Miller, and then entered some mini-tour events. The real spur in
his flanks, though, was making it to the quarterfinals of the '91
U.S. Mid-Amateur, and it was the crowds that did it. McCarron
loves a crowd. "Afterward he drove up to me in a cart at Rancho,"
says Barry, "and told me he wasn't going to sell shirts anymore."
Four years of customer golf were enough.
Scott patiently worked his way up to the PGA Tour, getting
through Q school in the fall of 1994. In '96, his second season
in the big leagues, he won the Freeport-McDermott Classic in New
Orleans. Greg Norman happened to be watching on TV and was
impressed with the way that McCarron worked the crowd. The
sweater salesman knew how to charm an audience. Norman
immediately invited McCarron to play in his Shark Shootout--the
kind of break that's typical for a guy one could call Mr.
Sunshine. "I don't know if he's blessed or lucky," says Bell. "He
doesn't have a negative thought, and good things seem to happen
McCarron does have the occasional step-on-your-neck thought, as
Frank Lickliter learned in November in the final round of the
Franklin Templeton (ne Shark) Shootout. Lickliter was teamed with
John Daly, and they were battling McCarron and Brad Faxon for the
lead. On the 16th hole McCarron suggested that Faxon walk over
and observe while Lickliter took a drop from a bush. When
Lickliter saw Faxon, he let loose with a burst of profanity that
was broadcast live on national television. "Huge mistake," says
McCarron, who consoled a shaken Faxon by telling him, "Hey, don't
worry. They just lost the tournament." Says McCarron, "I wanted
to beat them real bad. I thought, We're taking you down. I play
pretty well when I'm hot under the collar."
On 17, a 540-yard par-5, Daly and Lickliter snap-hooked their
drives into the rough. McCarron almost hit the pin with a
three-wood approach and then rolled in the putt for an eagle.
They followed with a birdie on the 18th to ice the match. "Daly
was a gentleman," McCarron says. "He asked the rules official at
the end, 'Hey, that's not a team fine, is it?'"
McCarron's power--he's ranked 30th on Tour in driving distance
(285.6 yards) despite being only 5'10" and 165 pounds--may be the
result of being ambidextrous. Says Bell, "You don't want to play
tennis against him. He serves right-handed and then switches to
his left." McCarron throws left-handed, writes right-handed,
plays guitar southpaw and holds a table tennis paddle with his
right hand but prefers to play racquetball with his left.
At McCarron's first Masters, in 1996, his 314-yard driving
average led the field, and the annual power displays that
followed didn't go unnoticed by the authorities. Says McCarron,
"I was having dinner with [course architect] Tom Fazio, and he
said, 'We know, Scott, that you never had more than 100 yards
into 18.' I said, 'You're right, I hit a sand wedge in every
day.' I won't be doing that this year." Augusta National would
seem to be a happy hunting ground for a long, high-ball hitter
like McCarron, who leads the Tour in the All-Around statistical
category. His only weakness is that he doesn't chip as well as
the Mickelsons, Olazabals and the Woodses of the Tour, though
he's working on it.
Then, too, McCarron is adjusting to life in the Tour's upper
echelon. With his newfound riches (23rd on the money list last
year with almost $1.8 million; ninth so far in 2002, with $1.27
million), he's thinking Porsche--but only thinking. A year ago he
and Jennifer, who got married in September 1990, bought a
sprawling house in Reno, near her parents' home, but they haven't
bothered to furnish most of it. About the only finished space is
an oversized game room, complete with a jukebox, a red-felt pool
table, a full kitchen and bar, and this neon sign: scott's bar
and grill. Still a kid at heart, McCarron spends much of his
downtime in this romper room goofing off with his daughters,
Courtney, 6, who is the only girl on her baseball team, and
McCarron hasn't piloted his own plane for a while, but he talks
of someday flying around the country to visit the girls, wherever
they may be. He still remembers the soul-cleansing glee of flying
rental planes over Oregon's Sun River and the bright Pacific in
1987. "Up there you can go anywhere you want," he says. He's an
easy guy to believe. Yes, he'll go anywhere he wants.
COLOR PHOTO: JAMIE SQUIRE
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY GERRY GROPP Ham strum An incorrigible performer, McCarron is a hit at home with Jennifer and their daughters Courtney (left) and Cassidy.
COLOR PHOTO: JAMIE SQUIRE Heads up McCarron, whose fourth in Atlanta (right) was his fourth top five finish of 2002, paid for beating Azinger at the Match Play.
COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK [See caption above]
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY GERRY GROPP Making tracks McCarron took a snow day off in Reno recently to recharge before getting back to the best season of his career.
"We would pray for rain so we could play mud football instead of
having to practice," says teammate Brandt Jobe.
McCarron consoled a shaken Faxon by telling him, "Hey, don't
worry. They just lost the tournament."