DUBLIN, Ohio – Where to start with the differences between Mark Calcavecchia and his younger, fitter colleagues on the PGA Tour? After all, the possibilities are endless, but let’s begin with the wheels.
Specifically, the Camaro Rally Sport.
Not only would the younger set not know what you’re talking about – not when Porsches, BMWs and Mercedes jam their driveways – but they wouldn’t have any idea that one could possibly pile all of their worldly possessions into a Camaro Rally Sport and treat it like your own private Marriott on wheels.
“Lived in it. Drove it everywhere,” Calcavecchia said. And by “everywhere,” he means tidy little trips like Palm Springs (California) to Palm Beach (Florida).
“Made it in two days,” Calcavecchia said.
Oh, and the trek from Hartford, Conn., to Chicago?
“I left in the middle of the night, made it by early afternoon, hopped out and played 18 holes.”
Mind you, they weren’t 18 holes at Mike’s Muni, either. No, sir, it was a full round at Butler National, a big boy’s golf course, which was only fitting, because Calcavecchia back then was trying to make it on the big boy’s golf circuit.
The PGA Tour.
Judging by what he compiled in those years going back to when Reagan was in the White House and persimmon was in the bags (1981-85) – 92 tournaments, $87,398 earned – one would never have thought we’d be where we are today: Celebrating one of the most remarkable personalities and one of the most accomplished players the PGA Tour has ever seen.
Safe to say, the PGA Tour will lose a big slice of its flavor when Calcavecchia sets his attention toward the Champions Tour.
He turns 50 June 12 and will make his Champions Tour debut June 25-27 at the Dick’s Sporting Goods Open. The farewell as a dues-paying, full-time member of the PGA Tour will take place over the next few days, Calcavecchia taking part in his 24th consecutive Memorial Tournament.
Digest that, for a moment: 24 consecutive Memorial Tournaments.
Better still, digest these numbers: $23,959,485 and 736 – as in money earned and tournaments played.
Pretty impressive stuff, but which one resonates more?
“Well, the money I’ve made, that’s all gone. I mean, it’s all gone. I don’t know what happened to that.”
But 736 tournaments? Now that gives Calcavecchia reason to pause, to smile, and yes, to even embrace a bit of pride. Think of the mileage that has entailed, the practice rounds, the range balls, the different caddies, and all the sweat and heartache that comes with golf at this level.
Yet in typical, self-deprecating fashion, you know what sticks out to Calcavecchia? The number 516, as in the times he has made a check.
“It seems like I’ve missed more cuts than that.”
But the true measure of Calcavecchia’s glory is not the longevity, the week-in-and-week-out-suck-it-up-and-play mentality, the reliance on a swing that is his own and a commitment to go with what works for him, to heck with cookie-cutter methods and style points. No, it’s that he’s never lost that down-to-earth demeanor and his Hall of Fame ability to speak his mind and say the coolest things.
Like that time he stood on the tee at St. Andrews and asked his caddie, John “Cubby” Burke: “How far to that jacuzzi out there?”
Burke blinked, shook his head, and needed a few seconds to realize that Calcavecchia was referring to one of those pot bunkers. Burke laughed so hard he’s not sure he ever did provide the yardage.
Calcavecchia never did get caught up in the physical-fitness rage, which he tosses onto a list of regrets. He probably should have won more than 13 times, should have practiced harder and more frequently, should have not stayed out quite as late in so many of those nights years and years ago.
“A lot of ‘should haves,’ ” Calcavecchia said.
Then again, had he cashed in on many of those “should haves,” he wouldn’t have been Calcavecchia and thus on a very short of list of true, unfiltered, authentic personalities.
Calcavecchia seems to realize that, so on second thought, forget that list of regrets.
“I’ve had a great time,” he said. “I’m incredibly lucky.”
No question, the 1989 British Open triumph reigns supreme in Calcavecchia’s eyes, though the Bell Canadian Open in 2005 (”I was 45. I hadn’t won in four years.”) is right up there, as is that maiden win, the 1986 Southwest Golf Classic.
He had started that ’86 season without status, but a lesson from Peter Kostis had set him off in the right direction and a sponsor exemption from Ted May (Canon Sammy Davis Jr. Greater Hartford Open) had helped financially. He was top 10 in Sutton, Mass., and Milwaukee – outposts that no longer host PGA Tournaments – and then came the $72,000 check at the Southwest Classic.
The rest, as they say, is history.
A rich, colorful, and very successful history belonging to a one-of-a-kind personality who came onto the PGA Tour a Camaro Rally Sport kind of guy and exits a Rolls-Royce character.