THEY SAY a rolling stone gathers no moss, and the same is probably true for a rolling golf ball or, for that matter, a rolling human. At last week's weather-disrupted Phoenix Open, Mark Calcavecchia, who is 40, won the tournament for the third time at the TPC of Scottsdale, and he did it convincingly, shooting the lowest 72-hole score in Tour history and winning by eight strokes. This time, though, Calcavecchia's victory was less a triumph of bold shotmaking and more a triumph of quiet persistence in the wake of heartache.
It was another golfer, however, who got the metaphorical stone rolling. In the first round, veteran touring pro Andrew Magee launched a drive on the 332-yard, par-417th hole while the threesome ahead was still on the green. Magee had never reached that green from the tee. He was surprised, therefore, when his ball bounded onto the putting surface. Then he was stunned, because the ball rolled toward an unsuspecting Tom Byrum, who was lining up a short putt, glanced off the head of Byrum's putter, and deflected eight feet into the hole. It was the first hole in one on a par-4 in Tour history and a reminder that vicissitudes and vagaries line every fairway. "I know all of you are going to say it was a lucky shot," Magee said, accurately reading the smirks. "All I can say is that I hit a good solid shot right at the pin. That's as far as I can control it."
Magee could have been speaking for Calcavecchia, whose 20-year pro career has sometimes looked directionless, even though he has now accumulated 11 Tour wins, including a British Open title, and made three Ryder Cup appearances. "I could've should've won more," he conceded a few years back. "I could've should've practiced more. It's too late to change that." Then Calc's family life, which seemed to be the strongest part of his game, bounded out of control last year when he separated from Sheryl, his wife of 13 years, and moved into accommodations near their Phoenix-area house. "It's hard to play when your head's in the crapper," he said last July at the British Open.
To his credit, Calcavecchia has muddled on through spells of melancholy. The Friday before the Phoenix Open he played a practice round with friends at the Arizona Country Club. "I whipped out a smooth 75," he said. His swing plane had gotten too steep, causing him to hit toe hooks and "high poof-balls." Calcavecchia phoned Butch Harmon, his swing coach, and Harmon told him he was probably straightening his right leg and overswinging. "That's all it took," Calcavecchia said.
In the Wednesday pro-am he shot a six-under 65. Then he got serious, stringing together tournament rounds of 65-60-64-67 on the 7,089-yard, par-71 TPC course. Calcavecchia's 256 broke the 46-year-old record of Mike Souchak, who shot 257 in the 1955 Texas Open. Calc's second-round 60 tied Grant Waite's course record, set in '96. Calcavecchia also established a Tour mark for birdies (32) in a 72-hole tournament and equaled the Tour standard for best 72-hole finish in relation to par—John Huston's 28-under at the '98 Hawaiian Open. "Red 28. It almost seems crazy," Calcavecchia said after Sunday's round, dazzled by the under-par number next to his name on the leader boards. "I don't know what happened."
This is what happened: A star-laden Phoenix Open field, led by Tiger Woods and the other top 16 money winners of 2000, threw everything it had at Calcavecchia on a week that featured sun, wind, cold, rain, hail and lightning—and no one finished within eight strokes. "Got waxed," said runner-up Rocco Mediate, whose 20-under 264 would have won all but eight Phoenix Opens, going back to 1932. "Couldn't do anything. Too far behind."
The week's other event, a social experiment pitting the priests of sobriety against the champions of inebriation, went closer to form. On a good day at the Phoenix Open more than 100,000 spectators mob the TPC, and some of them behave more like rowdy SIM Citizens than mild-mannered Phoenicians. In recent years boisterous fans at the par-3 16th hole, 20,000 strong, indulged themselves by roaring like West Point cadets from the start of a player's downswing until the ball landed. They then peppered the players with boozy witticisms—such gems as, "Walk it off, Casey!" (to Casey Martin) or "Run, Forrest, run!" (to Scott Gump). Two years ago a man heckling Woods was found to have a gun in his fanny pack, a signal to the organizers that if the good times were to keep rolling, they needed to roll at the speed limit and in the assigned lanes.
The solution: behavior modification. This year the Thunderbirds, the civic club that sponsors the Phoenix Open, moved the infamous Bird's Nest party tent off the TPC to a site two miles away and charged revelers $25 to get in. (The old tent was free and proximate, making it easy for windbags to stagger out to the finishing holes between brews.) In a more subtle ploy the Thunderbirds added grandstands at 16 and expanded the corporate castle overlooking the hole. With hospitality boxes leaving a bigger footprint than they had in the past, the college kids who used to stand on the hillsides with beers found themselves effectively evicted.
Predictably the roars of old were replaced by a steady background buzz, and instead of "You da man!" the players overheard snippets of cocktail conversation. "It seems to be working," said Scott Dunlap, who played the 16th hole all four rounds without incident. "One guy booed me for missing the green, but I can handle that." Matt Gogel, a second-year Tour player, agreed that the galleries were "taking a little longer to get marinated."
There were still some security scares. Woods was addressing a birdie putt at the end of his Thursday round when a large orange flew past him, hurled on a dare by a 15-year-old boy. ( Scottsdale police handcuffed the youngster and held him in a golf cart behind the 9th green, where he was heckled by spectators shouting "Stupid idiot!" and "Get a rope!") With the Bird's Nest having flown the coop, fun seekers at the TPC drifted to the food pavilion, set up in a hollow between the practice range and the 9th green, to chant, sing, whoop and whistle for no apparent reason. On Saturday afternoon, tournament officials suspended liquor sales twice, worried that the food-court party might get out of hand.