I must be the oldest 50-year-old in the game. I started playing on Tour in 1981, and I’ve been playing 25 weeks or more per year pretty much since. I’ve played with all the guys I grew up watching: Jack Nicklaus, Tom Weiskopf, Lee Trevino. J.C. Snead. You learned how to play Tour golf playing with J.C. We got paired together early in my career. On one green he starts screaming at me, “What are you doing?”
“You’re in my line,” he said.
I didn’t think I was anywhere near his line.
“If I miss this putt, you’re in my line for the next one, stomping around with your big-assed feet,” Snead said. Nobody called it the through line then, but that’s what Snead was talking about.
You can’t play the Tour perfectly. You’re going to make mistakes. If you learn from them you have a chance at sticking around. There are no J.C. Sneads today. Davis Love III will teach a kid the correct way to handle an unplayable, but he’ll be nice about it.
Golf is hard if you have a temper, and I do. One year at Disney, I get up on this elevated tee. I’m already peeved at something. A double bogey, more than likely. I go to get a paper cup from the dispenser. You know, you can never get just one. I get like 10 of them. Now I’ve really got the red-ass. The watercooler is sitting on a bench. I give it a solid karate kick right in its belly. Next thing I know the cooler is barreling down the tee, going down the cart path, and it looks as if it’s going to steamroll my … mother. I yell, “Fore!” She jumps out of the way, and when I pass her later, she says, “Watch it, buster.” Actually, I’m sure it was stronger than that. Like mother, like son.
Tour players, like everybody else I know, do some crazy things, financially and otherwise. My wife, Brenda, and I just built our dream house in South Florida, not too far from Tiger’s new place. It has a two-lane bowling alley and one fridge just for my beer. We love it. It cost — I don’t want to say exactly — millions. I’m going to have to play my butt off on the senior tour to pay for it, and play well in some regular Tour events, too, while I still can. But you know what? It’s good for a Tour player to feel hungry, maybe even a little desperate. I stopped practicing for a while when I was 40. I wasn’t hungry. Now I’m starving. I know it doesn’t show. But I am.
I’m a bundle of nerves when I play. I think a lot of guys are. At some of these senior events there’s nobody out there. No spectators, no TV cameras, no anything. And I’m more nervous than I am on the regular Tour. On the Champions tour, I know if I play well, I’m going to be in contention, and getting in contention makes me really nervous. I haven’t won on the old men’s tour yet. If I don’t win this year, you’ll see a for sale sign in the front yard. (Just kidding, Brenda.)
I won my first Tour event in 1986, the Southwest Golf Classic in Abilene, Texas. That night I was walking around the airport with this giant cardboard check for $72,000. Next week I’m playing in the Southern Open in Columbus, Georgia. The caddie I had won with in Abilene didn’t want to work it. I get to the tournament, and this tall, skinny kid named Jim comes up to me in the parking lot and says, “Mr. Calcavecchia, if you don’t have anybody working for you, I’d love to caddie for you. I know the course like the back of my hand.” I liked his manner and I needed a guy, so I said sure. Years later Fred Couples gave Jim a nickname: Bones.
Jim Mackay did a good job, but my head wasn’t really in it that week. I shot 73-74 and missed the cut. First day I shot 30 on the front nine with a lost ball, then 43 on the back. Second day I shot 31-43. I got on a plane that Friday night and flew to Molokai in Hawaii for a one-week vacation with Ken Green and his sister, Shelley. Back then we were like the three amigos. Later Shelley married Slugger White, a rules official. Now they’re grandparents. Time flies.
Look where those 25 years have taken Bones. Kenny, too, for that matter. One thing for sure is that life will throw you surprises. I’m hopeful that Kenny, on his prosthetic leg, and I will play in the Legends of Golf event in Savannah in April.
The Tour caddie has become a way bigger deal over the course of my career, way more involved with the player. Brenda caddies for me most weeks. It’s great to have her out there even if she’s still learning the whole through-line thing.
I was paired with Tiger the first week Steve Williams was on his bag, at Bay Hill in 1999. Stevie was way overcaddying. Every shot it was, “Good swing, mate!” Or, “Right club, that, mate!” You know the accent. I thought it wouldn’t last a week, but it’s turned out to be a great thing for both of them. Of course Tiger could have won with the transportation lady carrying his bag. But he won more because he had Steve Williams.
I’ve played a lot with Tiger, in tournaments, in practice rounds, in the Ryder Cup. We go to these dinners for British Open winners when the Open is at St. Andrews. We’re friendly. He’ll talk about sports, tell you a dirty joke, but he’s careful about what he says, even with guys he has known for years.
At those Open dinners, it looks as if he always has one eye on his watch. Maybe I was the same way. If I have one regret from my playing career, it is that I really didn’t stop to smell the roses. I’d grumble about U.S. Open rough or the pin placements at Augusta instead of being grateful that I was even in a U.S. Open or a Masters. Tiger doesn’t have the luxury of stopping to smell anything because people will just bombard him.
In 2000, when the Open was at St. Andrews, he and I stayed at the Old Course Hotel, by the 17th tee. We played two practice rounds together, starting at 6 a.m. in the middle of the second fairway, 200 yards from the hotel’s back door. Giving him pars on 1, he played those two rounds in 17 under. I never saw better golf or a better swing. Not too many people saw that golf, but I’m glad I did. The tournament was over before it started.
I still don’t know why I didn’t go to the local bookmaker and put down a few quid.
The Calcavecchia File
Hometown: Tequesta, Fla.
Career highlights: 13-time PGA Tour winner, including the 1989 British Open, which he won in a playoff over Wayne Grady and Greg Norman.
Did you know? Mark and his wife, Brenda, used a picture of a British Open streaker on their Christmas card one year.
The latest: Calc finished fifth at the ACE Group Classic on Feb. 20.