Neb. – When Mark Calcavecchia tees it up Thursday at Omaha Country Club in the
U.S. Senior Open, he’ll be a hometown favorite of sorts, even though he has
never played the golf course and his introduction to the game growing up in
Laurel, about 120 miles to the northwest, wasn’t what you would call a country-club
only course in Laurel, situated on bluffs above the Missouri River, was Cedar
View Country Club, but its name is misleading. Cedar View is a public access
nine-hole facility, and it was relatively new when Calcavecchia started playing
golf as a preteen.
hey, everyone puts down golf roots somewhere. Before Calcavecchia moved to
Florida at age 12 in 1973 and refined his game on the way to a successful PGA
Tour career, he was playing 54 or 63 holes a day, sometimes in swim trunks and
bare feet, at this simple community golf course.
were no trees, except for the ones about waist high that had just been planted.
There was no water, no irrigation, it never rained, and it has these simple
round greens. It wasn’t exactly a place where you had to learn to hit shots,”
Calcavecchia recalls. “I suppose the one thing I did learn, because the ground
was so hard, was to get the knack for bouncing the ball up onto the greens and playing
run-up shots, which might explain why I had a pretty good record in the British
Calcavecchia’s 13 PGA Tour titles is the 1989 British Open Championship, when
he outlasted Australians Greg Norman and Wayne Grady in a playoff at Royal Troon,
53, will make his fourth start in the U.S. Senior Open, and don’t be surprised
if he knocks on the door and contends. He has finished in the top 25 in each of
his previous starts, including a third-place finish behind Olin Browne in 2011
at Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio.
never been a particularly good U.S. Open player, but I seem to have figured out
the setups a bit in the Senior Open,” Calcavecchia notes. “I think playing
these traditional courses probably helps. I loved Inverness. I haven’t played
Omaha, but I know it’s hilly and has some dogleg-right holes, which should suit
my eye [because he plays a fade]. I am looking forward to it, because I’ll have
some family and some friends there – a nice little support group. It should be
a self-taught golfer, had fun at the game from the time he picked up a club.
His summers consisted mostly of golf and swimming, and the twain sometimes did
know, it was 100 degrees in the summer, so we’d go around that golf course four
or five times, then go swimming for an hour, then head back to the course for
another 27 holes or whatever we could get in before dark,” he recalls. “A lot
of times we just went back to the course in our swim trunks, play in our bare
feet. And we did not feel out of place. There was no dress code. Could have
probably just played in a beach towel if we wanted – as long as we were covered
up. This wasn’t a place for khakis and collared shirts.
doesn’t sound like the greatest experience, but I taught myself how to play and
to hit some different kinds of shots, and that was a pretty good education.”
injured has been the latest learning exercise for the Tequesta, Fla., resident.
of two Champions Tour titles, Calcavecchia has been hampered this season by a
back ailment that forced him to withdraw early in the season at the ACE Group
Classic and has since required three cortisone injections. He said they have
seemed to help, but they haven’t cured the season-long struggles with his putting
who has four top-5 finishes in 2013, ranks 35th in scoring with a 71.39 average
after finishing sixth last year and first in 2011 at 69.04. He can trace his
missed opportunities to the flat stick.
tie for ninth at the Constellation Senior Players Championship two weeks ago was
a microcosm of his season.
probably led the field in greens in regulation. I couldn’t putt to save my life,”
lamented Calcavecchia, who hit 63 of 72 greens at Fox Chapel Golf Club, near
Pittsburgh. “I think the longest putt I made all week was 6 feet. You have to
putt on our tour – or the regular tour for that matter. Usually I get a hot
streak here and there on the greens. I haven’t done that this year.”
injury, he added, hasn’t held him back the last few weeks. “I do the best I
can. It seems to be getting better.”
timing couldn’t come at a better time. This week’s championship, and the return
to some native soil, has Calcavecchia eager to try to add the most significant
senior major to his résumé.
is the biggest event in senior golf by a mile, in my mind,” he said. “It always
has a major atmosphere and we play good courses. I definitely hope to have my
game when I tee it up.”
trunks have to stay at home, however.
Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared
on USGA websites.