- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Mark was eight when he started riding his bike to the course with a set of clubs slung over his shoulder. By the time he was 12, he was playing 36 to 45 holes a day in near-par numbers. "The golf course was Mark's best friend," says Marjorie. It remained so after the family moved to North Palm Beach, Fla., when Mark was 13, so that John could better cope with the effects of multiple sclerosis. Unable to play himself, he enjoyed following his son in a cart. Says Mark, "I was his golf."
With his father's backing, Calcavecchia began playing national tournaments and in 1976 won the Florida State and Orange Bowl junior championships. He knew he had talent, but his devotion to golf was somewhat less than Hoganesque. His next stop was the University of Florida, where, he admits, he "never" went to class, but remained eligible. Then at 20 he turned pro.
He played the Florida minitours for six months before trying his first PGA Tour qualifying school in 1981. "I didn't even care if I made it, because I was having so much fun on the minitours," he says. "Plus, I knew I didn't have the game for the Tour." He was right, although he qualified with a 68. By the end of the first year, Calcavecchia had won $404 and lost his card.
He earned it back, but the next three years were marked by a heavy dose of reality. He called home every night to report on his round, a ritual he continues to this day. Sometimes the news was good, as when he shot a final-round 66 to tie for fourth at Milwaukee in 1984. But mostly it was bad. At the 1984 Tucson Match Play, he was seven up on T.C. Chen with nine holes left, but then lost on the third extra hole.
All the failures started Calcavecchia on a cycle of overeating and guzzling beer. It wasn't that long before he had gone from 190 pounds to 233. "It was typical for me to play bad, get a six-pack and a couple of Big Macs and sit around and watch TV," he says. "Then I'd go to a few bars and drink some more."
He hit bottom in 1985. In January his father died. After losing his card for the fifth time, Mark tore cartilage in his left knee fooling around on the beach. He was barely able to hit the ball 240 yards and again failed to qualify for the Tour.
"I was lost, and had to regroup," says Calcavecchia, who underwent arthroscopic surgery. "I realized that a bunch of guys I used to beat had passed me." One of them was his friend Green, who had won his first tournament, the Buick Open, that year. Says Green, "I remember telling Mark, 'Believe it or not, this is going to be the best thing for you. You are either going to decide you want to play golf and work at it harder or you're going to end up in the middle of nowhere, just a basic golf bum.' "
Rededicating himself, Calcavecchia went to Peter Kostis, a teaching pro who helped him develop his new swing. Then he entered the B.J. Thomas Classic, a minitour event in Myrtle Beach, S.C., in March 1986. He defeated Keith Clearwater by a stroke to win $19,000, his biggest check ever. Next he shot 65 in the first round at Doral to take the lead and then followed with three 72s for an eighth-place tie. "That's when I knew I would be coming back on the Tour, and when I did, it would be to stay."
Calcavecchia continued to play well that summer. His fourth-round 65 at Shinnecock Hills, his first U.S. Open, earned him 14th place. Then came his victory at the Southwest Classic. Going into the final round, he led by five strokes, but he slipped to one behind leader Tom Byrum by the time he reached the 8th tee. "I was thinking, Everybody must be saying, 'What a choke,' " says Calcavecchia. "All kinds of crazy things. But somehow I held it together. Once I did that, I knew I could do it again."
In 1987 he proved it. That was also the year he met Sheryl at a Phoenix disco. On their first date she cut his hair, but, unlike Samson, losing his locks seemed to make Mark stronger. Calcavecchia says his two proudest moments are when he played in the Ryder Cup and when Sheryl accepted his proposal.