PGA TOUR CHAMPIONS INSIDER
Twenty years on Mark Calcavecchia will never forget
September 08, 2021
By Bob McClellan, PGATOUR.COM
- September 08, 2021
- Mark Calcavecchia look to play the next five events and see where those lead after recovering from COVID-19. (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
No American will forget where he or she was when the largest terrorist attacks on U.S. soil occurred on Sept. 11, 2001.
Many of the players who will gather for a new event on the PGA TOUR Champions schedule, the Ascension Charity Classic at Norwood Hills Country Club, were together in this same city, St. Louis, on that fateful day 20 years ago. They were preparing for the start of the WGC American Express Championship at Bellerive Country Club. Norwood is a little less than 20 miles northeast of Bellerive.
Mark Calcavecchia, who will make his 2021 debut at the Ascension following January back surgery, was playing a practice round that Tuesday morning for the WGC AmEx with Tiger Woods. To his recollection they went off the back nine shortly after 8 Central time. The first hijacked plane already had hit the first of the Twin Towers about a half an hour before that, but no one immediately knew America was under attack. And it took a few minutes for the news to reach a national scope.
Calcavecchia said he and Woods were on the 11th green when one of Woods’ security people informed the group that some sort of aircraft had hit one of the Twin Towers.
“He didn’t know much,” Calcavecchi said. “It might have been a small plane, somebody committing suicide, whatnot. We found out on the next green it was a commercial airliner and we’re like, ‘Holy!’
“I don’t remember if it was the next green or the green after but that’s when they told us the second plane had hit the other tower and that a couple more planes were hijacked. We were just in a state of shock. We didn’t say a whole lot. We just started playing really fast. Clearly our country was under attack.”
Calcavecchia admits to having an extra thought. After all, he was playing golf with one of the most recognizable figures in the world. If America was a target, it wasn’t unthinkable Woods could be a target, too. Calcavecchia decided not to walk as closely with his playing partner.
“We had a laugh about that years later when I told him,” Calcavecchia said. “But at the time … yeah, the thought crossed my mind.”
The TOUR made the decision to cancel the event, and players scrambled to find rental cars in order to leave St. Louis and go home. For Woods that meant a drive to Orlando. Calcavecchia said he couldn’t find a rental car until the next night.
He lucked into a Pontiac Grand Prix that had what he described as comfortable seats and a really good stereo. He said he left at 9:30 Wednesday night, drove till about midnight and pulled into a rest area. He got in the backseat and slept for about 4 hours, then drove the rest of the way to Phoenix, where he was making his home at the time.
“I covered 1,600 miles in 19 hours (plus the nap),” said Calcavecchia, who mentions this only because the statute of limitations has expired. “There weren’t that many people on the road. Cops knew people were just trying to get somewhere. I went by a couple going 110-115 mph, and they didn’t come get me. They knew I was just trying to haul it and get home. Which is basically what I did.”
As with most of the American sports world, the PGA TOUR resumed play the following week as scheduled, on Thursday, Sept. 20 at the Marconi Pennsylvania Classic. As opposed to the pandemic, which ate long into the 2020 PGA TOUR Champions season.
Calcavecchia contracted COVID-19 toward the end of the 2020 season and it slowed him for the Schwab Cup playoff events. That’s also where back spasms caught up to him and made him go ahead with the back surgery.
He says he’ll play the next five events and see where those lead. Calcavecchia said his back feels good. His hope is to find at least one top 20 along the way.
“I just wanted to get back out and see the guys and play and get off my back,” Calvacecchia said.