LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England — If you want to play this game for a long time at a high level, play a big, hard, high cut shot with a long, flowing swing. Witness Vijay Singh, Bruce Lietzke, Mark McCumber and one of my golfing heroes, Mark Calcavecchia, the 1989 Open Champion, now 52 years old and playing beautifully.
He won the senior tour stop in Montreal a few weeks ago; contended, along with Fred Couples, at the Senior Players at Fox Chapel, outside Pittsburgh; and has played rounds of 71 and 68 here at Royal Lytham. Phil Mickelson, Davis Love, Rory McIlory and lots of other sparkly names would love to switch places with him.
He has been playing tournament golf for 30 years, and he has never changed his swing. His putting grip, yes. He went to the claw early, out of desperation. But the swing you saw in '81 when he first played the Tour is the swing you'll see on TV this weekend, if they show him. TV doesn't love him, but barkeeps do. He's not a compulsive drinker. He just believes, as Ben Franklin (allegedly) said, "Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy." I brought a variety six-pack, some foreigns and domestics, to his house once and felt like I had made a friend for life. He showed me his bowling alley.
If the man could putt just a little better, he'd be Fred Couples. In actual fact, he is Fred Couples, or close to him. They both have one major. Fred has 15 wins on the regular tour and seven on the Champions. Calc has 13 and two. People talk about Fred being a Hall of Famer. My own view is he needs to do a lot on the senior tour to get there. Nobody talks about Calc being a Hall of Famer. Don't get me wrong: he's not. But he's a major golf talent, like Al Geiberger and Dave Marr and Dave Stockton, who has never received his due.
He's known Couples forever and has played a hundred rounds or more with him. He likes him like everybody likes him. But when the TV announcers start talking about Fred's bad back, Calc starts throwing things at the screen. "Everybody who's played for as long as we've played has a bad back," he once told me.
Calc lives in North Palm Beach, Fla., in the vicinity of Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson and Keegan Bradley and Rickie Fowler. When he plays with those guys — at Medalist or The Bear's Club or Dye Preserve — the kids don't hit it any longer or better than Calcavecchia. But they do putt better. When Calc putts well, he contends.
Explaining his Friday round of 68, he said, "Well, I putted great." Of course that explains it, because he almost always hits it great. His issue has been putting, and keeping it going for 72 holes.
Like a lot of lifers in the game, he's a shrewd student of golf and golfers, way better than half the people on TV. Regarding Brandt Snedeker, in the house at 10 under par, he said, "He plays quick, and he's got the quick tempo and putts quick and they go in quick." Genius!
Of course, there's envy in there, too. All pros wish they could putt like Brandt Snedeker or Brad Faxon or Loren Roberts. But just as many Tour players wish they could hit it like Mark Calc.
At the '09 Open at Turnberry, when Stewart Cink won and Tom Watson did not, Calc was hanging around through 36 holes. He was talking about young guys and what they learn by playing with him and hanging around him. He said then, "I would never think I'm the type of guy anybody could learn anything from, to tell you the truth. And I think experience is way overrated. All that means is I've hit more bad shots than all the guys that are 20 years old, and they're lingering in my brain."
There have surely been less secure superb players than him, but none comes to mind. This guy has spent his whole career talking down his game and lowering expectations. At Turnberry in '09, he finished in a tie for 27th. He'll likely improve on that finish this week. He's putting better.
Next week, the Senior British Open is at Turnberry. That'll be a whole different story. Tom Watson and Gary Player and Bob Charles have won both the British Open and the Senior British. They're the only three to have done it, and they're all in the Hall of Fame. It would be great to see Calc make it a foursome.