Calcavecchia overcomes shaky start with strong finish

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Stan Badz/PGA TOUR
Mark Calcavecchia fired a 4-under 68 in the first round.
May 05, 2011
Cary Estes, Special to PGATOUR.COM

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- There was a time not long ago when beginning a tournament with a double bogey would have sent Mark Calcavecchia into a mental meltdown from which he couldn't recover.

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Even now, Calcavecchia admits that such a start -- like he had in Thursday's opening round of the Regions Tradition at Shoal Creek -- can irritate him so much that he said, "I still have a hard time getting over it."

"I made only one bogey all day during (Wednesday's) pro-am when I'm just hacking it around, and then I come out when the bell rings and double the first hole of the tournament," Calcavecchia said. "It's frustrating."

But years of experience have enabled Calcavecchia to temper that frustration. So he refocused on the task at hand and proceeded to make six birdies and no bogeys the rest of the way to shoot a 4-under 68 in the first Champions Tour major of the year. That placed him in a four-way tie for second place, one shot behind leader Tom Lehman.

Shoal Creek's opening hole is a straightforward 400-yard par-4 that is considered to be one of the easiest on the course. The problem for Calcavecchia began when his tee shot landed in a divot in the right rough. He sailed his second shot well past the green, wound up in a bunker with his third shot and then two-putted from 5 feet.

"After that I told myself, 'There are 71 holes left and nearly every player in this tournament is going to make a double bogey this week.' So I forgot about it and moved on," Calcavecchia said. "I hit a good drive on the second hole and I was fine after that."

It helped that Calcavecchia had received a major dose of perspective the day before when he and his wife, Brenda, made a trip to Children's Hospital in downtown Birmingham along with Russ and Jackie Cochran to visit some of the youngest victims of the devastating tornadoes that swept through Alabama last week.

"We saw about 10 kids, and the last one was a 5-year-old boy who really moved us," Calcavecchia said, his voice wavering as the recalled the moment. "Brenda kind of lost it. It was an emotional thing.

"I thought about that today. It gave me a little bit of an attitude boost. It's not so tough out here playing golf when you see what they're going through."

Calcavecchia scrambled back to even-par with birdies on holes 3 and 6, and then finally broke into the red with a birdie on 10. He was still at 1-under when he stepped off the 15th green. That was when he looked at his wife and declared, "I want to get to 3-under, so I need to birdie two of the last three."

Calcavecchia reached that goal in only two holes, sinking an 18-foot birdie putt on No. 16 and an 8-footer on 17. That prompted Brenda to tell her husband, "Well, you might as well just birdie the last hole while you're at it."

And so he did, blasting what he called "my best drive of the day" and then hitting his iron shot to within a foot of the cup for a tap-in birdie to close out the back nine with a 32. Suddenly, a round that could not have started off much worse ended in a way that could not have been much better.

Calcavecchia said he planned to celebrate later that evening, though the reason for the celebration extended beyond his performance on the golf course. Thursday was Calcavecchia's six-year wedding anniversary, and Brenda pointed out that his flurry at the end of the round left him with exactly six birdies.

"When you finish great like that, it certainly makes the rest of the day so much nicer," Calcavecchia said. "It will make the anniversary dinner a little bit nicer. We have a big night planned at Hooters. No, I'm taking her to a nice place."

The nicest place Calcavecchia could end up this week would be standing on the 18th green on Sunday holding the championship trophy. Calcavecchia has not won a tournament since joining the Champions Tour last year, and it has been four years since he posted his last victory on the PGA TOUR.

"I've forgotten about not winning out here. I'm just in a mode where if I play well, winning will take care of itself," Calcavecchia said. "I'm not putting pressure on myself to do it because it's not an easy thing to do. If I win and when I win, that will be great. But for now I'm just doing the best I can out here and seeing how it all adds up.

"I really enjoy this tour. I went through a little bit of a stretch where I missed the PGA TOUR. But this is where I belong. I know that now."

Spoken like a man who has learned from experience that a slow start can still lead to a successful conclusion.

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