The Open: Former champion Mark Calcavecchia going for green on the fairway
AT 52, former Open champion Mark Calcavecchia not only still enjoys the championship, he’s in with a chance of a making some decent money too
IT’S STRANGE to suggest Mark Calcavecchia could do with tucking a fat cheque in his back pocket tomorrow night. We are talking here, after all, about a man who won more than $24 million on the PGA Tour and, by sheer coincidence, still sits 24th on the career money-list for that circuit. A man who has his name on the Claret Jug after beating Australian duo Greg Norman and Wayne Grady at Royal Troon in 1989.
Since then, he’s made a habit of enjoying decent pay-days in the world’s oldest major. Back at Troon in 2004, he earned close to £70,000 for finishing tied 11th. As recently as three years ago, he was in a share of 27th and picked up close to £30,000. At the age of 52, he’s chasing some decent dough again after a 69 for a two-under-par total of 208 catapulted him up the leaderboard on day three at Royal Lytham. Money was once no object to Calcavecchia. Reflecting on his first professional win (the 1986 Southwest Classic) in an interview in Golf Digest, he said of a $72,000 top prize: “I was like, I’m completely loaded. Now I can buy whatever I want. Same thing in 1989, when I won at Phoenix [FBR Open] and LA [Northern Trust Open] and bought a BMW and a Porsche two days apart.”
These days, Calcavecchia doesn’t do flashy cars. Instead, he drives a motorhome he uses to travel to events on the over-50s Champions Tour in America. It’s also a sign of the times. All that money he earned has long gone. A divorce proved costly. His lifestyle continues to prove costly. “A classic case of wine, women and song,” opined one seasoned scribe in the media centre here. “It comes and goes,” he philosophically admitted once. “You’re going to have stretches, especially in golf, where you’re making a lot of money, and you don’t worry about it. Then all of a sudden, you’ve gone five or six weeks without making a dime. Then it’s like, ‘Wait a minute here, I’ve got some bills to pay, all these private planes I’ve been chartering. I’ve got to get my butt out there and make some money’.”
These days, “The Calc” makes most of his money on the Champions Tour. In just two seasons, he’s already banked $3.6m. Later this week he’ll be one of the leading contenders in the Senior Open Championship, the over-50s major taking place at Turnberry.
His rivals there will include Sandy Lyle, the man who pipped him in the Masters in 1988. Calcavecchia’s account of Lyle making a birdie from out of a fairway bunker at the 72nd hole to claim the Green Jacket is fascinating.
“On the way to the Butler Cabin, I heard Sandy hit it in the fairway bunker on 18, close to the lip,” he recalls. “I said to myself, He’ll make par somehow, so don’t think you’re going to win this thing. On TV, I saw the lie he had, and I said to myself: ‘If anybody’s got this shot, he does’. Because he could hit it high as hell. And he picked it, and as the ball was in the air, I’m thinking he stiffed it. Then it hits the ridge and rolls back.
“And I told Sheryl [Calcavecchia’s wife at the time], ‘He’s going to make this’. And she said, ‘No, he’s not’. And I said, ‘Yeah, he is’.
“He was the best in the world at that time. And bam, right in the middle.”
Three years after that, Calcavecchia had reason to remember another encounter with a Scot in the Ryder Cup at Kiawah Island. Four up with four to play in the last-day singles against Colin Montgomerie, he lost them all. It left him devastated, believing he’d lost the Ryder Cup for the Americans. Lucky for him, Bernhard Langer’s missed putt on the last in the deciding game got him off the hook.
“You know, I got two-and-a-half points, which wasn’t a bad performance, but, of course, everyone remembers my singles match with Colin Montgomerie,” he admits. “It was too much for me to handle. I cracked up. I just couldn’t take it. I went down to the beach and hyperventilated, shaking like a leaf, just bawling.
“Then I tried to regroup and went back out and watched, my eyes and face all red. Payne Stewart was standing there with his arm around me. I couldn’t watch Bernhard Langer’s putt, but when he straightened up and I heard the roar, Payne jumped up and grabbed me and yelled, ‘We won! We won! Your half a point won it for us!’ — that was something only Payne could have said. I don’t remember anything else that happened the rest of the day.
“I went home, and over the next few weeks I got a couple thousand letters telling me I played great and that I was one of the reasons we won the thing. That really helped.”
What helped yesterday were a brace of early birdies – at the first and third. He was out in 31. The journey home was similar to what you experience on Blackpool’s pride and joy in rollercoasters, The Big One. Three shots went at the 11th and 12th, back-to-back birdies followed at the next two. “It was adventurous,” he admitted afterwards before giving an insight into just how challenging the Lancashire links has been this week. “I’m sleeping great at night as this is a tiring golf course – you have to think a lot out there,” he added. “I’m glad the wind we had on Wednesday died down as I think I would have completely lost my mind if that hadn’t been the case.”
As it is, his mind is still focused on this job rather than having one eye on Turnberry. “I still look forward to this one first,” he declared. “Even if I hadn’t won in ’89, this would still be my favourite tournament and I’m glad I still have eight more years [his exemption lasts until he’s 60].”
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Thursday 23 May 2013
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