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Q&A: Local rock star Lizard McGee faces the golf big leagues on 'Holey Moley'

Athens rock star Lizard McGee is taking up a different kind of stage — the golf course.

McGee regularly plays in two bands: Earwig, a rock band that’s his main band, and The Muligans, a golf-rock band with Nashville singer-songwriter Trapper Haskins.

McGee recently appeared on ABC’s Holey Moley, a new-and-improved version of Wipeout with a mini-golf twist. Players competing in Holey Moley are golfing professionals, amateur golfers and celebrities playing mini-golf and overcoming obstacles, where getting knocked out of the park — quite literally — is a possibility.

An avid golfer himself, McGee applied for a position on the show and made the cut. Now, not only is he a rock star in the studio, but also on the golf course.  

The Post sat down with McGee to talk about Holey Moley, golfing, his music and the impact of the coronavirus on the music industry. 

The Post: How did you hear about Holey Moley, and what made you want to compete in it?

McGee: My good friend who is a musician and a director. I used to play in a band with him. His name is Rich Cephalo. He lives in New York City. He was a fan of the show. We saw it; last year was the first season. 

Holey Moley is the new show to replace a very popular show on ABC called Wipeout. People just go through a lot of physical challenges, and it's really hard, and they get demolished in a variety of different amusing ways, and so Holey Moley mixes that extreme kind of competition with mini-golf. The first season was last year. He thought it was great. He encouraged me to go online and sign up, so I did. I didn't think anything about it because I'd never seen the show, wasn't aware of it and then the producers got back in touch with me. I went through the process last fall for several months of being considered for the show, and I didn't actually find out until two weeks before I left that I was going to be on the show.

P: What was the application process like? Did you have a bunch of interviews to go through?

McGee: Basically. Well, no, it was interviews (where) you send in the videos, and then they do Skype interviews. Pretty early on, I pitched myself to them as a rock star in golf, and they liked that idea. 

In one of the interviews, I wore the famous David Bowie face paint, the lightning bolt. They loved that, and they said, ‘Would I be interested in wearing that on TV?’ So I said, ‘Sure, I would.’ I got a suit like a David Bowie-inspired suit that I wore. But then two days before I left, so I got confirmed I'd be on the show two days before I left. I figured out how to apply that makeup. 

Then they let me know two days before that I couldn't wear that makeup on TV because it was copyrighted, and we would just have to throw that idea away. So I came up real quick with another sort of look at a persona that I called the ‘Golden Arrow.’ And that's what I wore on the show. It was something that I created, came up with, so I used it. It was a lot of fun, and I thought it worked out really well. It was still definitely Bowie-inspired. Early on in the process, they encourage you to sort of boast, and they're like 'If you had to describe yourself, you would be the what, the Michael Jordan of mini-golf or the David Lee Roth of mini-golf?’ And I was like, ‘I'm the David Bowie of mini-golf.’ I'm a big Bowie fan. So that's how that took off.

P: Did everybody have costumes like that on the show?

McGee: No, there, I mean, there are a few I noticed, one or two others, and I was pretty impressed by them. So they have a few weirdos, but the majority of the players are actually pretty well-seasoned golf professionals or semi-pro people. I met a lot of people who played golf professionally and had retired from that and moved on, or they played in college, or they were like the putt-putt champion, or they own a putt-putt course. Some way, I think I was one of the less, sort of golf-centric participants that I found because my focus is more on music, but I also am really good at golf. They have a wide variety of people. There are a lot of Instagram influencers and pseudo-celebrities and professional golfers — it's a pretty good mix.

P: What was your experience with golf prior to this competition? Did you compete in contests, or was it more of a hobby?

McGee: Yes, it's like a hobby. I've never competed. I've never played golf on a regularly made golf course for like a game. My mom played golf, and I always sort of shied away from it because I saw it as more of something that was an establishment sport, so I sort of rejected it. 

Then I live out near Zaleski Forest, and I have a lot of property. My mom gave me her golf clubs when she stopped. So I was like, 'What am I gonna do with these,' and I put in some rough golf course holes in my yard, and my best friend and I started playing, and we pretty soon got very competitive and we really loved it. 

So we started playing yard golf, and started in a tournament that happens every year. It's called the Silver Baby Cup, and that's now in its 13th year, so it's basically just weirdos playing. We call it the underground renegade golf tournament. It's true scab style, really rough course golf. 

And that's where my background in golf comes from. I'm a two-time champion of that tournament. And I have a golf course at my house that I've hosted that on. The Silver Baby Cup has been hosted at my house probably four times. It's wild. 

It's very interesting. Are you familiar with Burning Man? The festival is sort of like a very small Burning Man for golf and music because there are a lot of weirdos. So it makes it pretty fun.

P: As of filming the competition, did you get to meet any cool celebrities?

McGee: They had a lot of celebrities there actually. And I'd seen a person walking around dressed as a pirate, and I didn't know who it was. And then I just saw the first episode on TV last week — and it's Jon Lovitz. 

So I know there were a lot of celebrities, but they try to keep everything fair. All of the contestants are sequestered on the far side of the property in a large tent. So you're not allowed to watch the other golfers when they perform the challenges because then you would have advance notice of how to play it. So they really keep it fair. 

Most of the time, I hung out with just the other players in a tent, so the only times that I would interact with anyone that was on set were the times where I was there playing. The show is filmed out of sequence. The very first time that I played golf, I’d been there all day doing interviews and preparing, but the hole that I was gonna play on malfunctioned. So I actually didn't get to play the first time until 5:30 in the morning. So when you see me on the show, yes, I've been there since 3 p.m. the previous day. I’d been there for over 13 hours. 

The next time you see me play, it's actually a full week later. They filmed the show out of sequence. So I got to meet a lot of other players I'm not participating in the same show with. The only time you're out on the course, which is amazing. It's like a huge amusement park lit up at night and everything is going. They were also working on constructing it the whole time. It was never completely finished. They were always, you know, hammers and nails going the whole time to work on getting the next challenge ready. It was super fun. Trying to keep your mind focused on golf and doing a good job in the midst of that environment. I saw a lot of people, you know, you get one shot, so if you are breathing correctly or you stumble or you miss (a) hit, yeah, that's just how it goes — there's no do-overs.

P: How did you keep your mind focused during the competition?

McGee: It is very intense. I'm a songwriter, and I had written a song with a line that says like a ‘Golden arrow in the sky, let me fly.’ And I used that sort of as my mantra, and I had a little routine that I would go through to focus on the ball going directly to the cup. 

The makeup I'm wearing, it's an arrow, and it points towards the cup the way I'm putting. So I just tried to stay in my own zone and focus, but it is definitely intimidating because you have your own mental state just to hang out by yourself and prepare, and then when they take you out there to do it — it all happens very quickly. You're brought out onto this hugely lit set — there are lots of spectators cheering you on, and the producers and the cameraman are straddling you in the position, and they put you there, and you're on the spot within a matter of minutes. And then it's over just a couple minutes, too, so you really have to be in the zone if you want to get results. I saw a lot of good golfers go under due to just the chance of circumstances, like the ball just drifts the wrong way or, you know, they get knocked in the water, and they lose their focus. 

P: You are in two bands, Earwig and The Muligans, and The Muligans combines both golf and music. How do you combine both of your passions together like that?

McGee: Earwig is my main band, my main focus, and we played in Athens, we play in Columbus, and we've toured. We've put out records for a long time. When I started the Silver Baby Cup tournament and people came to that, I met a good friend of mine — Trapper Haskins. He's an American songwriter from Tennessee, and he's one of the golfers in the Silver Baby Cup, and we became friends at this tournament. 

We decided that we should start a band to entertain people at our golf tournament, so we started a duo. I sing and play guitar in Earwig, but in this band, The Muligans, I play drums and I sing, and Trapper plays guitar and sings, so it's just a duo. We started just taking popular songs — sort of Weird Al-style — and just changing all the lyrics for golf. So like, “Born in the USA” by Bruce Springsteen turns into “Golf in the State of Maine.” And “This One Goes Out to the One I Love” by REM turns into “This Goes Out to the Shot I Missed.” We would just rewrite all the lyrics to be about balls. 

... We wrote a song called “Heart Shaped Bruise,” and it very much relates to my experience on Holey Moley as well because you take a beating, but it's very something that I hold dear to my heart. I would go back and participate in that in a heartbeat. It was a great experience. 

So we started a rock band to play at the golf tournaments, and we sing golf-centered songs. We call it golf-rock, and it's just our side (project). Trapper has his own. He has a great new album that he just put out. And I, of course, I'm still recording music with Earwig. We're working on a record to come out in the fall. So this is our fun side project just so we can have a good time and entertain our friends at the golf tournament and play golf-rock.

P: So you also mentioned that you practiced on the Athens golf course. What kind of dedication did you have to go there all the time and start practicing, and what did you like about the golf course there?

McGee: So when I knew that I was going to be on the show, I knew I really had to dial in my golf abilities. So I started going, I went there and Cathleen Wong — I think that is her name, I just called her Cat — I met her there. I just went to the Ping Center or the OU golf course, and they said, 'Sure, come and practice on the green because nobody's ever out there.' 

So I would go twice a day, early in the morning and then in the afternoon, and I would just be out there for an hour or two, just putting, and I would try to do crazy things. Like I would do a somersault and then throw the ball up, and then try to putt or like turn around until I'm dizzy and then run over and try to putt — just do any anything I could to try to mix it up and make it harder. 

And even one time, I came in there with David Bowie face paint on because I had just done a FaceTime interview with the producers and then I went to practice. The people that worked there were so cool because I came in and I would just, they don't know me and I'm not student, and I would just be there acting bizarre and running around and throwing my ball and my club in the air and coming with weird face paint just practicing on the putting green twice a day. But they were all super cool to me, and it helped a lot. That's where I developed the whole process of focus and really, really trying to dial it in, and it served me well on the show, too. I was really happy with how I ended up performing, but I owe a lot to the OU golf course and Cat in particular. 

P: As we now have all this time during quarantine, have you been working on any new music?

McGee: So when I came back, right before I left, my band Earwig is working on a new album, and we did a recording session in person at the studio and tracked about half of it before we left with the intention when I came back from California, we'd meet up again and track the rest of it. 

Well, that hasn't been able to happen, and so we're currently figuring out the details of how to remotely, everybody at home, record their parts and finish the records. We will probably have a record that's half in-person and half-finished remote. That'll make for an interesting artistic album. I'm pretty sure and I'm excited about that. 

... I know, in addition to all the other industries that have suffered, I specifically have a lot of friends who relied on touring and live shows for their main source of income, and that just all went out the window. It's really hard for them to claim unemployment or find other solutions for income. So it's been really tough on the music business and who knows when live shows will actually come back. 

We just played at The Union in November. I was just wondering who knows what will happen to The Union or how we'll be able to stay around and when we'll be able to ever replay there again. It rearranges the whole paradigm of what you were expecting, how everything operates, how you would promote music, how you get together and make music, how you listen to it and share it with everyone. It's exciting that there'll be a lot of new ideas, but it's a time for reflection to try to just soak it in. It's a pretty heavy thing to think about.

Holey Moley airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. on ABC.


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