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Golf, like life, is often a waiting game, which doesn't mean that Mark Calcavecchia, a teenager trapped in the body of a 46-year-old, has to be happy with that. On Sunday, Calcavecchia only had to wait a minute or so, but he clearly hated every agonizing second as he watched Heath Slocum prepare to hit the par putt that would determine whether Calc had won the PODS Championship or if he and Slocum would head back to the 18th tee of the demanding Copperhead course at Innisbrook to begin a playoff. Slocum's four-footer hit the cup but spun out (Big Play, page G12), drawing a collective groan from the gallery and giving Calcavecchia, standing with his head down like a man facing the gallows, the 13th victory of his distinguished if erratic career. "I guess I knew I had won, but it didn't feel like it," he said later.
Earlier in the week Calcavecchia had spent 10 minutes--eternity in the Calc time zone--behind another customer at a Tampa-area dry cleaner. "Some lady had $200 worth of dry cleaning," he said. "She must've waited six months. It took her four trips to get it out. I was so mad I was ready to break something." And the last time Calcavecchia took his two children, 17-year-old Britney and Eric, 13, to Disney World, he sprung for special treatment. "We got the in-the-out-door pass," he says. "It's expensive but worth it. We meet a lady, we skate in the exit and get on the ride. Nice." Calc doesn't wait in lines, he says matter-of-factly. What he means is, he won't wait in them.
This is relevant because Eric Larson--Calcavecchia's friend and caddie and the man who helped him win lucky number 13 in Palm Harbor, Fla.--is a master of time. In fact Larson waited nearly a quarter of his life to share Sunday's big moment with Calcavecchia. It had been 12 years since Larson had been on Calcavecchia's bag during a Tour win, at the 1995 BellSouth Classic. Larson spent almost 11 of those years in prison for dealing drugs.
A man learns patience in prison. It's a necessity. Larson's father died while Eric was serving time. So did his grandmother, a great-aunt and a nephew. "Life has ups and downs," Larson says. "You move on. You don't have a choice."
During Larson's incarceration friends died too. Fellow caddies such as Bruce Edwards, Tom Watson's bagman, and Jeff (Squeeky) Medlen, who won a British Open with Nick Price and a PGA Championship with John Daly. "They were big guys when I caddied in the '90s," Larson says. "You look at other people and you realize how fortunate you are and how short life is. I'm 46 and have my health."
Larson makes the perfect counterweight to Calcavecchia. He's calm, Calc is jumpy. He's patient, Calc is impulsive. He plans for the future, Calc lives for the moment. After Slocum missed the putt at 18, Larson and Calcavecchia shared a hug, a look and a bond. It was a quiet, understated moment.
"I always knew this day would come," Larson said. "This has been my dream for a long time--for 11 years. I simply kept focused on the date when I'd get out. We said, 'We'll have a big year in 2007.' [Calcavecchia] helped me keep my focus to do all the right things to put myself in the position where I am now. If I went into prison and screwed up and did the wrong things, who'd care about me? I tried to prove to everybody that I could put it behind me. Fortunately, Mark gave me the opportunity."
Calcavecchia and Larson have been friends for more than 20 years, having become acquainted from the West Palm Beach golf scene. Larson, who played on the Palm Beach Junior College team in 1979, first met Calcavecchia through former Tour player Ken Green, Calc's best friend at the time. Larson caddied for Green and Wayne Grady, among others. Larson also knew a man who sold cocaine and had friends who used it. To Larson, buying an ounce of cocaine for $1,000 and selling it for $1,500 seemed like an easy way to make a few bucks. Then his supplier ratted him out to the feds, who said that over a four- to five-year period Larson sold five to 15 kilos of the drug.
He was eventually convicted of conspiracy to distribute cocaine and given 13 years, a seemingly harsh sentence. "If the federal government feels you sold a certain amount of cocaine, which I did, they can sentence you to whatever they want," Larson says. "They made me out to be the leader of a big conspiracy, which I didn't feel I ever was. I was never a big-time player, but you don't have to be to get a big-time sentence."
Larson served time in four prisons, and Calcavecchia was the only person who visited him in every one. He promised Larson that he would give him another chance when he got out, and he was as good as his word. When Calc teed it up a year ago in the Honda Classic, Larson was his caddie. In mid-June, when Larson was allowed to travel outside Palm Beach County, he and Calcavecchia were regulars again.