PGA TOUR CHAMPIONS INSIDER
Mark Calcavecchia set for 1,000th TOUR-sanctioned start at ClubCorp Classic
Nebraska native, 13-time TOUR winner 'Calc' shares stories, memories from eclectic career
April 18, 2022
By Bob McClellan , PGATOUR.COM
- April 18, 2022
- Mark Calcavecchia's many career highlights include a 1989 Open Championship title and 32 birdies at the 2001 WM Phoenix Open. (Getty Images)
Mark John Calcavecchia was born on June 12, 1960, in Laurel, Nebraska. He spent his early years there until his family moved to South Florida to be closer to his father’s siblings and because his father, who had multiple sclerosis, was tired of Midwest winters.
“Calc,” as he has become known to generations of golf fans, already had been hooked on golf by the time the family settled in West Palm Beach, not far from the Palm Beach Country Club. Yes, of course he crossed the street and snuck on the course to hone his game.
Calcavecchia turned pro in 1981 and joined the PGA TOUR in 1982. The rest is history. He’ll become just the 23rd player to make 1,000 starts across the PGA TOUR and PGA TOUR Champions when he tees it up at this week’s inaugural ClubCorp Classic in Dallas. He won 13 times on TOUR, including the 1989 Open Championship, and had 27 runner-up finishes. He has four wins on PGA TOUR Champions and was also a member of four U.S. Ryder Cup teams.
Calcavecchia always has been less Bobby Jones and more Ricky Bobby, which is to say he’s best known for his aggressive approach to the game. He wouldn’t agree that “if you’re not first, you’re last.” He made a lot of money posting top-10 finishes. But he also never met a pin he wouldn’t fire at, even when it might not have been the best idea.
Calcavecchia spent an hour with PGA TOUR Champions Digital to discuss his 40 years in professional golf. Here are some highlights from that conversation.Mark Calcavecchia's official TOUR headshots in 1982 and 2022, respectively. (Getty Images)
On reaching 1,000 starts
It's pretty cool. It shows my longevity and how I was able to keep my card for 25 straight years basically without ever losing it. I had a good PGA TOUR career, which also enabled me to be on this Tour (PGA TOUR Champions) for as long as I want to play. That's a big thing because there are a lot of good players in their early 50s that can't get on this Tour because they didn't have a great PGA TOUR career. Or you’ve got to finish in the top five at Q-School. That’s not too easy. This Tour was a hard Tour to get on. And it’s a hard Tour to stay on, especially if you didn't have a stellar PGA TOUR career.
First recollections of learning the game
I grew up in a small town in northeast Nebraska – Laurel, population 940. Back when I was really little, my dad and his buddies … the nearest golf course was like 15 miles away. And back then, that was crazy to drive 15 miles to play golf, so they actually bought a 43-acre cornfield just outside of town and did their best to make it into a golf course.
They planted trees, but they were just sticks when I was growing up. There was no water, no irrigation. No bunkers. No trees. The description of a field was pretty accurate. But when you’re a little boy, there isn’t much you’d rather do than be hanging around your dad and your older brother (by 11 years) and playing golf.
I think I first picked up a club maybe around 5 years old. I just started putting my dad's putter under my right arm. The rest of his clubs were obviously way too long for me. So I just kind of grabbed the shaft. Probably a foot off the ground. And he let me putt on every green. So that was a start. Evidently, I got pretty good at putting when I was really little. He bought me my first junior set, I think, when I was 6.
The course is still there. Cedar View Country Club. The trees have grown in. It’s beautiful now. And you drive up Calcavecchia Drive to get there.
On moving from Nebraska to South Florida at age 13
My father slipped on a patch of ice in the winter of ’72. He broke his elbow or his arm or something or other, and he said, ‘That's it. That's the last winter we're spending here.’ He was part of five brothers and sisters, and they all lived between Miami and West Palm Beach. We had taken vacations in South Florida pretty much every summer from the time I think I was like 8 years old. In January of ’73 he hit the road, drove down, found a house and found a job. He joined the North Palm Beach Country Club, and we moved down in July of ’73.
When we got to Florida, I didn't really know how to flight the ball, and I didn't know how to hit out of bunkers at all (Cedar View had no bunkers and no forced-carry shots). Luckily we lived right across Highway 1 from the 14th green at North Palm Beach Country Club. I’d take my shag bag after dinner, go to the 14th green and just hit bunker shots.
When I got down here and first started playing junior golf, I was already as good if not better than pretty much everybody else in the area. And then once I learned how to play out of bunkers and curve the ball a little bit better, I was pretty tough to beat.Mark Calcavecchia made 27 career starts at the WM Phoenix Open, winning three titles. (Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
After two-and-a-half years at the University of Florida, Calcavecchia began playing on mini-tours around the state. He made it through Q-School in 1981 and 1983 and had conditional status up until his breakthrough victory at the Southwest Golf Classic in September 1986.
On the 1986 season
I started working with Peter Kostis in about the middle of 1985 and really started playing well. I won a couple of mini-tour events and gained a lot of confidence. But I realized I wasn’t going to keep my card for 1986. I was in Pensacola, Florida, for the Pensacola Open, and I was playing catch with a football with Ken Green and Bill Sanders on the beach. I blew up my left knee, tore my meniscus to crap. Had to WD from Pensacola and went home to have surgery. I wasn’t sure I’d even be able to play at Q-School. I tried to play, but it (qualifying) just wasn’t going to happen.
I got a couple of exemptions in 1986 and Monday-qualified a couple of times. I qualified for the U.S. Open at Shinnecock and shot 65 in the last round to finish 14th. And at that time, the top 16 at the U.S. Open got into the Masters. So I was going to be in the ’87 Masters with no TOUR status at all, and that doesn’t happen very often.
Anyway, Hartford (Travelers Championship) gave me an exemption and I played real well (T12). Bank of Boston, I had another top-10 (tied for seventh). Which got me in Milwaukee, and I had another top-10 (T9). That got me in the Southwest Classic, and I ended up winning. Totally exempt from then till I was 51 years old.
Did you see the Masters in ’86? That’s the year Jack won when he was 46 years old, and he was using that big old giant-headed putter. Anyway, we play a practice round in Abilene, Texas; it’s blowing about 30, and I had four three-putts on the front nine. I had only brought one putter, my normal old Anser, and I said, ‘I'm going in the pro shop to buy the ugliest putter I can find.’ I went through the locker room to go to the bathroom and the Titleist guy had put about 20 putters out in the locker room. Then I saw it, the big old black-headed putter called the Dead Center Titleist putter. I said, ‘This is the ugliest thing I can find. Can I try this for the back nine?’ And I went out and made everything, shot like 31 and took everybody's money and then ended up winning the tournament with it. I still have that putter to this day.
The winner’s check was $72,000. That’s when they gave us the big cardboard checks. I’m flying to West Palm from Dallas through Atlanta, and I’m dragging around this giant check. Everybody looked at me like I was a complete idiot. But I didn’t care. I was pretty happy. Pretty sure I still have the check in a storage shed somewhere.
On the 1988 Masters, in which Calcavecchia was runner-up to Sandy Lyle by one shot
Tough conditions. The greens were a weird shade of brown and yellow and purple. They were that fast and that hard.
I made like 5-footers for par on 15, 16 and 17. I spun it back down the front off the green on 18. I’ve always said my second shot on 18 … if there’s one shot in my career I could have over, that’s it. I bombed my drive around the corner and was pumped up and felt like I could get a wedge there. And I completely forgot about the backstop in the middle of the green. What I should have done was played it past the hole. But I hit the false front and it spun all the way back off the front of the green. Then I hit an amazing chip up there to 6 inches, tapped in and signed my card for 6 under.
They took me right to Butler Cabin. On the way over there, they said Sandy Lyle just hit it in the fairway bunker on the left at 18 and he was pretty close to the lip. I knew we were tied (Lyle also was 6 under). I saw his lie on the upslope and nobody in the world hit it higher than him at that time. It wasn’t a hard shot for him other than the situation, obviously. He hit it and his eyeballs were about as big as golf balls. I knew he hit a perfect shot. The ball got up the ridge and ran back down. I'm sitting there and I told everybody in Butler Cabin, ‘He’s going to make this.’ Of course he poured it right in the middle (the birdie gave Lyle the Masters title at 7 under).
I remember doing all the press. I don't think I was bummed out because I was I was just 28 years old. You think, ‘I’ll play in another 20 of these. I'll have plenty more chances during this time. I'll get a Green Jacket someday.’ So that was just kind of my thinking. I remember we had a pretty good party at the house that night with some friends who came up from North Palm.
On his comfort zone at the WM Phoenix Open (three wins; nine top-10s)
For whatever reason, I just liked the atmosphere there. I love playing at home. We bought a place just south of Phoenix in 1990. It was just like a 30-minute drive from the house to the course. So whenever I played there, I was relaxed and sleeping in my own bed. And I liked every hole on the course. Really, visually, every hole fit my eye, and my short game was crazy good there. I was not afraid to short-side myself. A lot of guys, because the bunkers are pretty deep and it can be a really tough up and down, aren’t very aggressive. I just literally aimed right at every flag and pulled it off most of the time.
In 2001, Calcavecchia won at Phoenix by eight strokes and set records for relation to par in a 72-hole event (28 under) and birdies in a 72-hole event (32). The birdie record has been tied but still stands.
It obviously was one of those performances that was very Tiger-like. I just by a mile was the best player in the field and he was there that year (Woods tied for fifth at 13 under). I had third place covered by 12 strokes. It got to the point where a crappy shot was 15 feet. I was executing everything just the way I wanted to.
Calcavecchia's scoring record at 2001 Phoenix Open
On the 1989 Open Championship at Royal Troon
My first wife was pregnant with our first child, and the baby was due on the Sunday of the Open. So I wasn’t planning to go, but my wife said, ‘You’re playing great,’ she had good vibes for me. She was probably just trying to get rid of me. It turned out we had a girl, and she was two-and-a-half weeks late, so I was there for it. And we named her Brittany, naturally, after I won the British.
Me and my buddy roomed at this place called the British Caledonian, which I think now is a Ramada Inn. It was pretty noisy. It didn't have air conditioning. I said the weather was nice. So we had to sleep with the windows open. One night, we woke up at 2 a.m. and there's a big brawl. We're on the third floor, and right below us on the sidewalk like five guys were fighting. It was kind of an interesting week.
On the fourth floor directly above us was a restaurant/bar. So of course the first day we get there, me and my buddy who caddied for me stopped in for a couple beers. They said, ‘Are you going to the Open?’ I said, ‘I'm playing in it.’ They’re like, ‘Who are you?’ I said, ‘Mark Calcavecchia.’ Oh yeah, I've heard of you.
I told them, ‘When I come back up here next Sunday after I win, I’m gonna have the Claret Jug and we’re all gonna have a heck of a party.’ Pretty much every night we went in there … and sure enough I marched straight up the stairs the next Sunday and there were 100 people in there and they all went crazy when I walked in. I don’t remember a thing after that.
Calcavecchia won in a three-way, four-hole aggregate playoff against Greg Norman and Wayne Grady.
It was my career golf highlight without a doubt. Where's my Jug? I’m staring straight at it. It’s by my TV on the fourth shelf of this wall unit we built. I look at it every day. I need to take it down and get it shined. We had it shined up a couple years ago, so it looked like it was brand new. I can always put a little elbow grease into it with some silver polish, but it’s easier letting the jeweler do it. It sure looks pretty when it’s shiny.Mark Calcavecchia won the 1989 Open Championship in a four-hole aggregate playoff over Greg Norman and Wayne Grady. (Simon Bruty/Getty Images)
On being a player who can “go low”
I like to play aggressively. I hit my worst shots when I try to play safe or away from the pin. I'm better off even if the pin is close to the water to go at it. I can’t aim 30 feet away. Most of the time I'll get to the top of my swing and my sensors will just tell me to drop it down inside a little bit. Push it over there by the hole or pull it over there by the hole. I've definitely learned over the years that I'm better off playing aggressively because it just fits the nature of my game and personality.
On Tiger Woods’ professional debut in 1996
His debut in Milwaukee, I was off in the afternoon. Brown Deer Park is a beautiful public course and it gets a good crowd out there. They’re eating brats and drinking beer. and I walked around the clubhouse to watch Tiger tee off. There are at least 10 deep from the tee to the green lined up just to see this kid play. He stripes one about 330 right down the pipe. Yeah, he’s gonna be fine.
On the 1991 Ryder Cup at Kiawah Island
Calcavecchia’s Sunday Singles match with Colin Montgomerie lives in Ryder Cup lore. Standing 4 up with four holes to play, Calcavecchia’s game abandoned him. He drove it in the water on 15 and again on the par-3 17th, even after Montgomerie had gone in the water first. He missed a 12-footer for par on 18 to halve the match, and he was inconsolable afterward.
It's something you want to be on, but it’s a pressure you never feel playing golf anywhere else. It’s a different animal.
I was first off against Monty. I was 5 up after nine holes. Our captain, Dave Stockton, said I was one of the reasons we were able to come back and win that day (Europe took a five-point lead into the final day). He said guys saw me and how well I was playing and it got everybody fired up.
Remember that famous picture where all of us on the U.S. team are standing on the beach with our blue blazers on? I remember showering and getting ready for the dinner that night. And that’s pretty much it. I’m thankful it’s erased from my memory.
The next event TOUR event was in San Antonio, and when I got there, there were like 500 letters in my locker from fans. Most of them had to have been dropped off in person. And I read every single one of them. There wasn’t one, not one, negative letter. They were all like, ‘Keep your head up; you’re a big reason we won.’ It really helped me. I think I had a top-five that week.The United States team won the 1991 Ryder Cup by a narrow 14.5-13.5 margin over Europe. (Stephen Munday/Allsport)
On what will be his final major, the 2022 Open Championship at St Andrews
My last Open was supposed to be two years ago at Royal St. George’s, and it was canceled because of COVID. Last year, I couldn’t play because I’d had back surgery. So I wrote a long letter in April when I knew I wouldn't be able to play and I asked the Open committee to consider letting me play at St Andrews, make it my last Open. They got right back to me and said, ‘Let me bring it up to the championship committee.’ And not even a few weeks later, I got an email back. The decision by the 25 committee members was unanimous. ‘We'd love to have you play your last Open at St Andrews. We love to take care of our past champions.’
My daughter and my son will be coming, and my wife, Brenda, of course. And my goal is to make the cut … I really think I can make the cut. Either way, it’s going to be a blast.
Mark Calcavecchia gets to 16-under to win Boca Raton Championship