Meanwhile, Calcavecchia's life off the course has become positively PGA centrist. Sheryl is an aerobics instructor and hairdresser, and at the beginning of their courtship early last year, she started Mark on a fitness program that has trimmed the 6-footer down from a portly 230 pounds to 200. His hair is more stylish, too, though he may never make anybody's best-dressed list.
Similarly, he has made an effort to keep his anger from showing on the course. "When you are out there at 7:30 in the morning, nobody's going to get too upset if you bury your putter in the side of the green," he says. "I had my share of doing that, but a major reason my golf has improved is that I'm learning to control it."
Temper or no, the numbers say Calcavecchia is the most explosive player on the Tour. In 1986 he picked up his first win, at the Southwest Classic in Abilene, Texas, by making birdies on five of the last 10 holes. The following year he won the Honda Classic in March. Two months later, at the Byron Nelson Classic, he shot the two lowest back-to-back rounds of the year, 63-64, to tie Fred Couples before losing in a playoff. By the end of the season, he led the Tour in percentage of subpar holes, with .221.
So far, Calcavecchia has shown only flashes of brilliance in 1988. At the recent A T & T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, where he eventually finished eighth, he described how he played the 600-yard first hole at Spyglass Hill, during a second round 69 that tied him for the lead. "I hit my drive about 330 down the middle—it was a kill," he said. "Then I whipped out one of the greatest three-woods I have ever hit, a perfect draw that goes about 270 and rolls over the green. From there I hit a little flop shot with a sand wedge, and it goes in the hole. An easy eagle."
Such relaxed candor often leads Calcavecchia into irreverent hyperbole. In the same interview, he called a decision to allow players to lift and clean their balls at Spyglass, "the worst ruling in the history of the PGA Tour." In a question about the pace of play, he referred to Bernhard Langer as "the slowest human alive." Not exactly the kind of remarks the Tour establishment expects from a young player.
Calcavecchia's sudden success made him Exhibit A in the case against square-grooved irons, in particular the Ping Eye 2 model. Calcavecchia has used those irons since 1985, and when his eight-iron from deep rough on the 70th hole of the Honda Classic last year hit the green and stopped, several veterans rose up in unison to protest that the irons could make the ball spin from otherwise impossible lies. "It was as if all the other holes I had played had nothing to do with [my win]," says Calcavecchia.
"I think it's a lot of baloney to say the irons make that big a difference," says Paul Azinger, who used a square-grooved wedge as he was winning 1987 PGA Player of the Year honors. "Mark could play, and win, with any kind of club."
A growing number of other pros agree. "Mark's a fighter," says Lanny Wadkins, who was impressed with Calcavecchia at the Ryder Cup. "He's not afraid of anybody or of shooting low scores. And when you are not afraid, then you just go ahead and win."
Calcavecchia, without an identity for so long, loves the one he has now. "It's great being known as an aggressive player," he says. "I used to always be afraid. Now if I think I might be on TV, and I have an iffy shot, I'll go for it. It's like, Hey, I'm an aggressive player. My decision is already made for me."
Calcavecchia's introduction to golf was made in the unlikely town of Laurel (pop. 900), in the northeast corner of Nebraska, where he was born the third and last child of John and Marjorie Calcavecchia. John was an insurance agent who also managed the town's bowling alley. His first love was golf, and when he and his friends tired of driving 15 miles to Wayne to play, they built their own nine-hole course in a cornfield and called it Cedar View Country Club.