As Bubba Watson walked off the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Golf Resort on Saturday, pleased with himself after getting up and down for par on 18, he turned to his playing partner and quipped: "I can't believe that. Bogey-free, and I got waxed."
Watson's portly playing partner, Mark Calcavecchia, had just strung together 10 birdies and a bogey for a course record tying 62. It was the round of the year, but not for the fact that nobody else bettered 66 on the day, or for the sweep-hook 7-iron Calc hit out of a fairway bunker on 18, or the 20-foot birdie putt that broke six feet, left to right, and dove in the hole.
The 62, which won him the PODS Championship in spite of a shaky 70 on Sunday, was the round of the year not because Calc was so awful while missing the cut at the previous week's Honda Classic, in his hometown of Palm Beach, that he started copying the game's weirdest putting strokes, up to and including Briny Baird's. "I almost fell over," Calc said. "My balance isn't that good to begin with."
He forked over $256.18 for a Ping Redwood putter (he also bought an extra-large Florida Gators cap for his extra large melon, plus a skirt for wife, Brenda) at Edwin Watts. After making nothing with a Ping prototype during a first-round 75 at the PODS, Calc tried the Redwood and lo and behold shot a second-round 67. The club earned "bag time for a while, even if it goes south," he said, with the 62. But he's won with a store-bought stick before, at the 1988 Bank of Boston Classic, where he bought a Ping B61 that he dubbed "Ug-mo." He left the price tag on.
Calcavecchia's putters have died a million gruesome deaths, sometimes in violent collisions with gallery stakes and once, on the way back to the Ritz at Kapalua, by being raked across the pavement from a moving car. "Every time I'd hit one of those [raised road] reflectors it'd hurt my wrist like hell," he said.
But none of that made his feat Saturday the round of the year. The 62 will endure because you can pretty much name a malady and Calc, 46, has had it. He's battled back pain; a bum knee that required surgery; vertigo; a sore ankle; and sleep apnea that became so bad Calcavecchia was forced to wear a mask in bed.
"I have constant back pain, my knees creak, my feet hurt and my brain is shot," he quipped with his usual candor in 2005. His most critical pre-round pellets are not range balls but a Celebrex and three Aleves.
Calcavecchia, the 1989 British Open champion, gets by in part thanks to a morbid sense of humor. He knows he's a wreck, and makes light of it. He knows he can be a terrible putter, and makes light of it. At the Honda he was so bad that when he finally made one that wasn't a tap-in he paced it off.
"Yes, that was the four-feet, two-incher on three," he said proudly on Saturday. "It was the longest of the week. We started on 10, that was the 12th hole of the day. I was already 8-over. I thought, I better walk that one off."
Calcavecchia also gets by with something called Golf Flex with glucosamine, an herbal remedy for arthritic, aching joints. He started taking it last November, and it made him nauseous. Turned out he was supposed to be taking it with food. Now he pops a couple pills at night and reports, "It has definitely helped my joints. My knees don't hurt. My back still aches on occasion. But I'm feeling about as spry as I can feel, I think. You know, every morning I get on the foam, I carry the foam roller with me, get some good pops going in my back, stretch my calves …"
Watching Calcavecchia play a press conference is a treat, like watching Tiger play golf. On Saturday, though, Calcavecchia was a master of dais and driver, word and wedge. He was at his best when asked about the current controversy over U grooves, which the USGA is threatening, again, to disallow. It's an old issue, one that Calcavecchia is said to have sparked with a shot he hit out of the rough many years ago.
"That was a shot I hit at the Honda Classic that Jack and Tom Watson and a few other guys went berserk over when I gashed it out of the right hay and sucked it back on the 16th green," Calcavecchia said. "It's a non-issue to me now … It's not the grooves, it's the ball. It self-corrects, for Chrissakes. You hit a slice and it starts dropping to the left; I'm like, all right!"
Finally, Mark Calcavecchia gets by with a dose of perspective. Because for as much as he has been through, his caddie at the PODS, Eric Larson, has been through more. Larson was on the bag when Calcavecchia won the 1995 BellSouth Classic, but what no one knew at the time was that in addition to his on-course income, Larson was making good money sending cocaine to buddies in the Midwest.
He never used the drug, he said in an Associated Press story during the PGA Championship at Medinah last summer, and his supplier turned him in. Larson pleaded guilty to federal drug charges and began serving his sentence on August 9, 1995.
Through it all, almost 11 years in prison, he never lost the support of his boss and friend, Calc, who visited him and promised a job when Larson became a free man. That day arrived last June, and he began caddying again for Calc, the guy with the fickle putter who never met a pin he wouldn't fire at.
On Sunday, Calcavecchia won $954,000. Caddies typically get 10% of a win, which means Larson would have earned about $100,000. And you thought Calcavecchia was a good comeback story.