'I span the average blue-collar-guy spectrum.... I can relate to the average guy, and he can probably relate to me.'
It stands as golf's most vivid nightmare: Mark Calcavecchia, in the midst of losing a 4-up lead with four to play against Colin Montgomerie at the ultra-tense 1991 Ryder Cup, hitting a surreally awful 2-iron on the par-3 17th hole at Kiawah Island, an aerial camera tracing its sickeningly crooked and shockingly brief line before it splashed and sank in the lake a full 100 yards short of the green.
The shot and its aftermath devastated Calcavecchia and seemed sure to cripple a successful career. But as he has ever since his earliest days in Laurel, Neb. (pop. 986), Calcavecchia rebounded. Now 42, he is one of the PGA Tour's stalwarts. In 22 seasons, he has compiled 10 victories on tour, won the 1989 British Open, made four U.S. Ryder Cup teams, set the PGA Tour's 72-hole scoring record, and earned more than $14 million to rank eighth on the career money list.
But Calcavecchia's most enduring identity is as an unpretentious straight shooter. In interviews at his home outside Phoenix, where an American flag is draped on the garage and portraits of his two children reign as the main decorations, Calcavecchia discussed a variety of subjects: his experience at Kiawah, his friendship with Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, playing high school golf in front of Jack Nicklaus, blasting Arnold Palmer at the Masters, getting a divorce, winning a tournament on the day his dad died, and the pluses of growing up in a small town.
Throughout he was inimitably Calc — loose, self-effacing, funny, irreverent, sensitive and deceptively insightful. Like an old shoe — the meaning of his name in Italian — Calcavecchia wears well.
Golf Digest: Nicklaus watched you play a few times when you were a kid. How did you deal with that?
Mark Calcavecchia: I met Jack when I was 14, and it was like meeting God. Jackie and I played against each other in junior tournaments and high school, and Jack would show up. He was so nice to me, always saying, "Great shot, Mark," or "You're a heck of a player," or something encouraging. He made me a little nervous, but for some reason, I was the only guy in those tournaments Jack Nicklaus couldn't freak out. I almost always played better when he watched me. I liked that the best golfer of all time was watching me. And it still happens today: I get more excited playing with Tiger Woods or Davis Love; I always played great with Greg Norman or Nick Faldo.
The one day I played tennis with Monica Seles, one year during Bay Hill, it was the best tennis I ever played. I was on fire. Granted, it helps when somebody is grooving it right to you, but I was ripping it right back.
After winning a high school state golf championship, you went on to the University of Florida. What was that like?
I loved the whole college experience, but never did it cross my mind that I would ever graduate. I was there to play golf and have fun, and I did both. I stayed eligible for 2½ years. When I got a 68 on a sociology test instead of the 70 I needed to keep a 2.0 GPA, and the professor wouldn't give, I turned pro at the beginning of 1981 and hit the J.C. Goosie Tour.
I remember keeping track of every cent I spent, from gas to food to everything, and then if I made a $400 check, I would minus the expenses and go, "Hey, I made $213. All right!"
After about two months, the [PGA] tour school came up. I somehow qualified, which surprised me as much as anybody. I had zero pressure. I was 21. I read that before Ty Tryon, I was the youngest guy ever to make it all the way through qualifying school.
When you got out there, did you feel out of place?
I was in awe. The biggest moment of the entire week was, if I did make the cut, finding out who I was going to play with on Saturday and Sunday. I remember the Canadian Open my third season, Saturday I got paired with Tom Weiskopf and Sunday I got paired with Jack. I didn't care what I shot, I really didn't. I just wanted to see how good they were. I realized I had to get over the hurdle of standing around and watching, that I had to get out there and do it.
How did you feel as a youngster struggling on tour in the early '80s?
I was a little uncomfortable, yeah. I knew I wasn't as rich as almost all the guys out there, that I was staying in crummier hotels and eating worse food and had wrinkled clothes. Especially if someone like Lanny Wadkins — you know, he'd always have the tight pants on with no back pocket — would smirk at me. I'd look back like, Hey, this is it for me.
I wasn't brought up in a ritzy, well-dressed-type environment. And I think guys see that in me. I span the average, blue-collar-guy spectrum.
I do feel out of place when I've got to put on a coat and tie and hobnob with politicians or people who are far mentally superior to me. I'm not the sharpest tool in the shed. I mean, I'm kind of shrewd and I know how to survive and I've got a lot of common sense, but I can't remember the last time I read the front page of a newspaper. I go straight to the sports page and the weather page and the movie page.
But I can relate to the average guy, and he can probably relate to me.
Once you started making money, you didn't have any trouble spending it.
My philosophy was, if I wanted it, buy it, and worry about paying for it later. Once I did start making some money, it was an unreal amount to me. When I won my first tour event, in '86, I got 72,000 bucks. I was like, I'm completely loaded! Now I can buy whatever I want. Same thing in 1989, when I won at Phoenix and L.A. and bought a BMW and a Porsche two days apart. The Porsche was 108 grand; the Beamer was 81 grand.
When I notice I'm eighth on the career money list with 14 and some-odd million, I also realize I don't have much of that anymore. It comes and goes. You're going to have stretches, especially in golf, where you're making a lot of money, and you don't worry about it. Then all of a sudden, you've gone five or six weeks without making a dime. Then it's like, *Wait a minute here, I've got some bills to pay, all these private planes I've been chartering. I've got to get my butt out there and make some money. *I'm still very aware of it. I think everybody out here is, except for maybe Tiger and Phil.
Tiger and Phil aren't close, but you're close to both of them.
Not everyone can get along with everybody else. They put up with each other, but they aren't the best of friends. That's fine.
Has being friends with both ever put you in an awkward spot?
Only one time. Phil and I were supposed to be first off for a practice round at Augusta, and Phil was getting on Tiger for cutting in front of us. Tiger looked at Phil like he thought he was kidding, but he wasn't. Phil was like, "You better get your ass out of the way, or I'm hitting." And I was like, Wow! Tiger was looking at me like, Is he serious? It was a bit of smack. Then Phil comes back with that grin he has, like he was partially messing with him. So they've got a little of that going on.
How are Tiger and Phil different?
Well, they have to be different. Phil can be a little more Phil. Tiger, being the celebrity he is, has to be guarded. Tiger doesn't really say much. Even with me. ... He might with me, under his breath.
Phil has his opinions. Some of what he says is right on the money, 'cause he's a smart guy. He reads a lot, he knows a lot about investments and money — maybe that's why he's got so much of it. On the other hand, half of what Phil says is complete b.s. Overall though, the guy is a great player, he's flying around in a G-IV, and he's got a great family, so he must be doing something right.
__'I loved the whole college experience, but never did it cross my mind that I would ever graduate. I was there to play golf and have fun.'__
I think some of the things Phil says might rub Tiger a little the wrong way — Tiger might think he's a know-it-all and cocky. It doesn't bother me at all. I watch Phil, I laugh at him. He's kind of a big goof.
I'm sure a lot of it has to do with the rivalry. Phil wants to be No. 1, and Phil is probably the last guy in the world who Tiger wants to slip by him to be No. 1. I doubt it will ever happen, because as good as Phil is, he's not as good as Tiger. That's no secret. No one is.
Why do they both like you?
I think Tiger gets a kick out of me, that I can still act as young as he does. I'm a youthful 42. I'm not intimidated by him. He knows I can give him grief.
Like at the Masters last year, we had a thing all week, whoever saw the other one first would tell the other one to go do something unnatural to himself. So before the last round I picked up a range ball and wrote something on it and threw it to him from 50 yards away. He picked it up, read it and started laughing. Who else can do that 20 minutes before he's going to go out and try to win the Masters for a fourth straight major? But being me, Tiger picked it up and cracked up. And Butch [Harmon] still has the ball.
What do you think when Phil is accused of being a phony?
I wouldn't call him a phony, by any stretch. Maybe a lot of guys think he has a little too much of the pretty-boy glam stuff going on. With Phil, he's so ... he's so sure of himself. He's so sure that he knows exactly what he's talking about, no matter what he's talking about. And maybe that rubs some guys the wrong way. They look at him like, Has this guy ever been wrong in his life? I wouldn't doubt if a lot of it is jealousy.
I respect how he handles things when they don't go so well. I remember the Ryder Cup at Brookline, he missed some short putts, and Johnny Miller was getting all over him. And NBC talked to Phil afterward, and you could tell he was on the verge of losing it, eyes completely red, like he wanted to start bawling. But he got ahold of himself and answered everything. Other guys couldn't have handled it that well, I guarantee you. And he came back and switched putters the next day and won his match.
What are your matches with him like?
The most Phil and I have ever gone for is a thousand bucks per nine. Or we have bonuses; it can get expensive. We played every day before the British Open last year, and we had a $1,000 bonus for 66 or better. Phil made three 10-footers in a row on 16, 17 and 18 to shoot 66. He was looking at those putts like they were the 18th hole of the Masters.
Are guys getting closer to Tiger?
Some are, but I don't think they'll ever catch him. Unless Tiger loses interest or maybe changes his priorities a little. Sergio, I think he's narrowed the gap a little. He's phenomenal. Guys like Ernie [Els] and Vijay [Singh], I could be wrong, but I think they're probably about as good as they're going to get, honestly.
How much is Tiger in everyone's heads?
It's not like we're afraid of him, or intimidated. But he's proved that when he's around the lead, he's not going to screw up. It's a given. He will not go the other way. And you can't say that about anybody else. That changes our mind-set; that throws panic into everyone's mind. What do you do now? Anybody else in these big tournaments, certainly Vijay or Ernie or Phil, any of those guys, is susceptible to a bad drive or a bad decision, and all of a sudden the game's on. Never seems like Tiger ever does that.
He's human. He gets ticked off. At the Players Championship this year, he comes in after having had a chance to catch Craig Perks on the back nine. I heard him upstairs just beating the hell out of the locker. He goes berserk, he gets it out of the way, and then he's smiling and handing the trophy over.
You two will play together at the Ryder Cup in September?
I'm pretty sure I'll play with Tiger in the alternate shot. We talked about that last year. Tiger hasn't been invincible in Ryder Cup play [3-6-1 overall]. I'm 4-0 in Ryder Cup alternate shot, and I think my style suits him.
Tiger likes to practice with me, especially little competitions of chips and flops. He really likes to watch my short game, watch me hit flop shots. It's fun to hear Tiger Woods, as amazing as he is, be amazed at something I do. It's like, "Calc, that's awesome — show me how you did that." I'm like, "Hey, thanks, bud."
You really wanted to be on this Ryder Cup team.
I've wanted to ever since 1995. It had been four years since Kiawah, and it was something I wanted to re-do. To clean the slate and not let that happen again.
In '95 you had a place on the team until the final round of the PGA.
What happened at Riviera that day with Brad Faxon shooting 63 to edge me out was almost more disappointing and crushing than what happened to me at Kiawah. I was holding the ninth spot. I finish my round and turn on the TV and Fax has shot 28 on the front nine. I couldn't believe this was happening to me. I thought that I was supposed to be on the team, to be given another chance.
I knew Lanny [U.S. captain Lanny Wadkins] wasn't going to pick me. I asked him one time, "Did you ever consider me for a pick?" He said, "No, I always assumed you were going to be on the team. You didn't seem like a pick to me." [Wadkins picked Curtis Strange and Fred Couples.] I get along with Lanny fine; obviously that's water under the bridge. He might have thought I could have been too fragile for the thing after Kiawah. That's highly possible.
Is it possible you're still too fragile?
Obviously I've learned a lot since then. I'm not going to freak out this year. Sure, I might get a little emotional for a short period afterward, good or bad, but then I'll leave it.
What about 1991 at Kiawah?
You know, I got 2½ points, which wasn't a bad performance, but of course everyone remembers my singles match with Colin Montgomerie.
You were 4 up with four holes to play, then lost the next two. Take us through the last two holes, starting with your tee shot on the 197-yard 17th.
Monty had already hit it in the water. All I was thinking was, Get it on land, catch a lie and gouge it out and make bogey or even a double, and it's over. It was blowing into us so hard, and I had a 2-iron, and I wasn't sure if it was enough. And I was aimed so far left [away from the water]. Obviously I was nervous standing over the ball. When I took it back, I don't think I really made a turn. I was hanging on my left side the whole time, trying to hit it low, coupled with trying to hit it hard. I got so far ahead of it. It wasn't a top. I had the club so de-lofted, I smothered it, a diving topspin slice. It deserved everything that was said about it. Johnny Miller said it was the worst pressure shot he's ever seen, which was OK.
Still, all you need is to tie the hole to win the match.
We go over to the drop area on the right. Neither one of us had a yardage. It was only about 120 yards, but it was blowing about 30 mph. Monty guesses first and hits a 7-iron. I thought, That looks about right. So we hit it on the green about 40 feet from the hole, which wasn't bad. He putts up for a tap-in. I putt up maybe 2½ feet by. I make it and it's over. Yipping that one was probably a worse shot than the 2-iron.
I've got to give myself credit on 18. Raymond [Floyd] was pumping me up, saying, "Come on, Calc, you can do it — rip one." So I did. Then I hit a beautiful 3-iron right over the flag. It hit by the hole and rolled over the green down the hill. It wasn't a hard up and down, but I was pretty freaked out already. I didn't hit a very good chip, about 10 feet by. Then I hit a terrible putt.
So Monty halves the match.
I just knew that half a point was going to cost us the Ryder Cup. It was too much for me to handle. I cracked up. I just couldn't take it. I went down to the beach and hyperventilated, shaking like a leaf, just bawling. Then I tried to regroup and went back out and watched, my eyes and face all red. Payne Stewart was standing there with his arm around me. I couldn't watch Bernhard Langer's putt, but when he straightened up and I heard the roar, Payne jumped up and grabbed me and yelled, "We won! We won! Your half a point won it for us!" — that was something only Payne could have said. I don't remember anything else that happened the rest of the day.
I went home, and over the next few weeks I got a couple thousand letters telling me I played great and that I was one of the reasons we won the thing. That really helped.
Is it painful to recount?
No, I dealt with a lot of that at the Warburg Cup at Kiawah last November, because a lot of people were asking me about it. And in my singles match [against Ian Woosnam], I birdied 17 and parred 18 to win, 1 up. It was painful at the time, but I've always been able to get over things really quick.
You nearly won the Masters in '88, but Sandy Lyle hit that great shot on the 18th. What are your memories?
On the way to the Butler Cabin, I heard Sandy hit it in the fairway bunker on 18, close to the lip. I said to myself, He'll make par somehow, so don't think you're going to win this thing. Get ready to go down No. 10. On TV, I saw the lie he had, and I said to myself, If anybody's got this shot, he does. Because he could hit it high as hell. And he picked it, and as the ball was in the air, I'm thinking he stiffed it. Then it hits the ridge and rolls back. And I told Sheryl [Calcavecchia's wife at the time], "He's going to make this." And she said, "No, he's not." And I said, "Yeah, he is." He was the best in the world at that time. And bam, right in the middle.
It really had no effect on me. We went back to the house and had a huge party. I was young, figured I had more chances. I still had a great '88 and '89.
Memories of winning the British Open at Troon in '89?
On Sunday, Norman had birdied the first six holes and shot 64. I birdied 18 to tie him and Wayne Grady and get into the first four-hole playoff. Norman birdied the first two holes, and I was one under. On 17, he smoked a 3-iron, about two feet off the back of the green. All he had was some wispy dead grass, and I couldn't believe he wouldn't putt it. But he took this 7-iron, and it took off about 12 feet by, he missed, and we were even going to 18. At that point Grady was pretty much toast.
On the 72nd hole, I'd hit a really good drive, not as hard as I can hit it, and I was only two yards from this fairway bunker that was death. So I knew the bunker was reachable, and that was why I hit a flare in the playoff. Then Greg absolutely ripped it down the middle with a slight fade, and his caddie, Bruce Edwards, said, "Beauty, Greg," and he bends down to pick up his tee. I'm on the other side of the tee, and I saw it just catch the left edge of this bunker and roll up and pop back down. And I'm like, "Whoa, he is going to be pissed."
I'm 50 yards behind him, and I hit that 5-iron, I just pured it. From the fairway it looked like it was two feet. Then Greg felt he had to hit a miraculous shot. And he swung as hard as he could and put it in the cross bunker, then he put that one over the clubhouse and didn't even putt out.
When you were the defending champion the next year at St. Andrews, you were criticized by the British press for showing up late to a function and acting like a boor. What happened?
I didn't know you were supposed to be there at 7:30 to stand around and b.s. for an 8 o'clock dinner, so I showed up about 5 minutes to 8. I had brought a bunch of friends. They gave us champagne in the claret jug, and we were all just pounding it before we had to give it back. And now, not only was I supposedly late, I was drunk on top of that.
During the late '80s, there was a legitimate case that week in and week out, you were the best player in the world. When you look back, what do you see?
That stretch, '88-'89, if I was not the best, I was close to it. Then after the British, I don't know if I got a little soft. I had a lot of offers, a lot of things going on. Britney was born — I didn't play in the PGA at Kemper Lakes that year, because she was born the Tuesday of the PGA. She was actually due the Sunday at Troon. And I was like Phil at Pinehurst [the 1999 U.S. Open]: If I got the call and Sheryl was going into labor, I was out of there. I would have left. But Sheryl never would have called me.
Any regrets that you weren't No. 1?
No, never. I never wanted to be No. 1. I never wanted to work that hard. Sheryl used to get on me and say, "You could be the best. If you got yourself in shape, if you lost some weight, if you worked out harder and practiced harder, you could be the best." And I'd say, "I don't want to be the best. I want to come back to the hotel here and hang out with Britney and you." I never wanted to work that hard to be the best. Whether I could have anyway, I seriously doubt it.
Sitting here today, I'm not disappointed with what I've done. Sure, it could have been better, but it hasn't exactly sucked.
You've finished second more times — 24 — than anyone who is a regular member of the tour.
I'm the first to admit I haven't won as much as I should have.
You were a short-game wizard, yet you lost your putting in the 1990s. What happened?
I remember the day my putting left me. It was my birthday: June 12, 1995. Practice round for the Open at Shinnecock Hills. I played Phil in a practice round and missed about six four-footers. Ended up losing a lot to him. And I putted just awful in the tournament, missed the cut. Something changed.
So you struggled a bit before finding the claw putting grip? [Calcavecchia leaves his left hand in its usual high position on the shaft, and the right hand holds the putter almost as if it were a paintbrush.]
It may pass as a fad, but not for me. I can still putt conventionally, whacking it around here on a practice green, and it's all fine and dandy. But even if I play in a pro-am with a conventional grip, I'll feel a little tug — it's not the free-flowing, confident stroke that I have with the claw. If the claw isn't going to work for me, I'm pretty much screwed. Maybe then I can go with the long putter.
That's the problem with a lot of guys: They're afraid to change. Like Arnold Palmer, when he putted with the claw in the pro-am at the Warburg Cup, his caddie said he made two 20-footers, three 12-footers and about four eight-footers in a 12-hole stretch. Made them all. Next day, he's got the same old conventional jab. Because he's afraid of what people are going to say. And I think Tom Watson is the same way.
You've always done things your own way. What was it like growing up in Laurel, Neb.?
It's in the river bluffs, all farm country and dirt roads. If you were driving past it, you'd see a Dairy Queen, a gas station and a diner, and then it would be gone.
I have great memories of my childhood, probably more than a lot of kids have. I remember so much about the 13 years I spent there. Everything from school to the little golf course we had. I loved the winters. We had a big hill for sledding. Bowled a lot in the winters. Everything about it was great.
Then my dad started slowly going down with multiple sclerosis around 1969. Because the winters got so hard on him, we moved to south Florida in the summer of 1973.
I remember when we moved to Florida, leaving at 4 a.m. to hit the road, with the U-Haul truck all packed up, and three of my buddies were standing there in the middle of the street to say good-bye. It was tough to leave.
Your dad got you started in golf?
Before he got sick, he played on the course the community built, and I started tagging along when I was 5 or 6. It was just outside of town, an old cornfield, nine holes on 43 acres. All the time that I played there, there were no trees, no water hazards, no bunkers, no irrigation, just these tiny tees and greens. And I would go around and around and around that thing, mostly alone.
In the summer, I played barefoot most of the time, in my swim trunks and no shirt. On a hot day in Nebraska, there wouldn't be three people out there playing. A lot of playing golf is knowing how to be by yourself.
By the time I was 10 or 11, I was beating the club champion.
Is junior golf when you developed your temper?
I think it developed when I got down to Florida, when things started getting really competitive, and I wanted to play so well for my dad. It's amazing, because I don't get mad in anything else I do. I'm happy as a lark 19 hours a day. It's just the five hours on the golf course.
In 1985, after your father died, you went on to lose your tour card for the fifth time. How did your father's death affect you?
He passed away Jan. 7, 1985. I won a tournament the day he died. I was playing a mini-tour event in Orlando. He'd been diagnosed with cancer of the liver about four months before. I shot 65 the first round of this two-day tournament. I called him and he said, "That's great, son. You're on your way. You're on your way."
I called the hospital the next morning, and he had died that night. I tracked my mom down at the hospital, and we're both crying. I asked her, "What do I do?" It was $3,000 for first, still a lot of money. She said, "If you can, try to play. I think your dad would want you to play. He was so proud of you last night." So I said, "I'll try."
I hung up, cried on the bed and then looked at the clock. My tee time was in 12 minutes. I drove about 100 miles an hour to the course, my group is on the tee, my eyes are red. They say, "What's wrong?" I say, "My dad died last night. He would have wanted me to play."
I was numb, but I made 16 pars and two birdies, shot 70 and birdied the first playoff hole. I don't remember feeling his presence or anything, but it does mean a lot to me that I won that day. I think about that a lot.
Your running mate those days was Ken Green. What was your relationship like?
Ken and I had been teammates at Florida, we liked the same things, and we were really competitive. We would have our own Olympics — paddle tennis, tennis, Ping-Pong, bowling, basketball, pool — tons of sports, and no matter what, we wanted to beat each other.
Ken's public criticisms of other players and the tour were really on the edge.
I didn't agree with a lot of the stuff he said. Frankly, a lot of it was pretty embarrassing. But I finally decided, that's him — if he wants to say those things and dig that kind of hole, it's only going to hurt him. I mean, he can't even get exemptions into the tournaments he's won.
You look at guys like Dan Forsman or Joey Sindelar, hell, they'll be getting exemptions if they need them until they're 60. Because of the way they are — totally opposite of Ken. We talked today. He hasn't given up on the dream of getting back out here.
How did you two become the masters of the lob wedge?
I think the L-wedge first came out in '87 or '88, and Ken had one. I said, "What the hell is that thing? It's ugly." He said, "No, man, you've got to hit some chips with this out of the heavy rough." And it plopped out nice and high and soft. And I thought, This is pretty cool.
In the hotels, we'd have these little tournaments, flopping shots over cars or onto a median divider or some grass strip in a parking lot. Or in the rooms, from the foot of the bed, flop it and keep it in the sink, which wasn't easy. We hit a lot of mirrors but never broke one — those things are amazingly thick.
When you won the 1987 Honda, you became the poster child for square grooves.
On the 16th at Eagle Trace, I was in the right rough, and I hit an 8-iron over the edge of the water. It flew into an old ball mark, took one hop and actually spun back a little.
Watson and Nicklaus saw it on TV and said, "That's cheating." Supposedly that was one of the reasons that I was as good as I was, because I had "illegal" clubs. But a lot of other guys did, too. Still got to put a good swing on it. I felt the whole issue was totally overblown.
__Born:__June 12, 1960; Laurel, Neb.
__Height, weight:__6-feet, 200 pounds.
__Family:__Britney Jo (13), Eric Jordan (8).
Turned professional: 1981.__
PGA TOUR VICTORIES (10)
1986: __Southwest G. Cl.
__1988:__Bank of Boston Cl.
__1989:__Phoenix Open, Nissan L.A. Open.
__1997:__Greater Vancouver Open.
__INTERNATIONAL VICTORIES (5)
1988: __Australian Open.
1995: __Argentine Open.
__1997:Subaru Sarazen World Open.
Ryder Cup: 1987: 1-1-0;1989: 2-3-0;
1991: 2-1-1; Totals: 5-5-1.
Presidents Cup: 1998: __1-1-2.
__Dunhill Cup: 1989:4-1-0; 1990: 0-1-0;
Did it ever get nasty?
No, never. Other than a few comments from the crowd. I'd hit a shot and hear somebody in the background say, "Oh, he couldn't have done that without square grooves." But my comeback line was always, "That's raw talent, pal." Actually, I never get into it with people, and I've never been in a fight in my life. The only problem I've ever had with a player on tour was when Hal Sutton and I had a little to-do last year at Colonial. I shot 81 the first day, and the next day I was just trying to stay out of everybody's way. So I was putting out, not standing in anybody's through line or anything, and I didn't make a sound.
Of course after Hal makes three bogeys in a row, he's already angry, and he snapped at me: "You know, Calc, you're not the only one out here trying to play." He thought I was being rude by not waiting to finish out. So I said I was sorry, and we met in the locker room and we were OK.
Other than that, I've never had a run-in with anybody in my career.
You caused a stir at the Masters in 1999 when you said that Arnold ought to surrender.
I played right behind him the first day, and I couldn't see how he could possibly be having any fun. Some guy asked me if it was a distraction playing behind Arnold. I said no, but I said I didn't know how he could keep acknowledging the crowd after making bogeys and double bogeys on every hole.
Looking back on it now, that was definitely the wrong thing to say. We're talking about Arnold Palmer here, not Bob Goalby or Doug Ford or somebody where nobody cares. I got lambasted for it, which I should have. I wrote an apology to Arnold, and he accepted it. But now, this year, Augusta National does the same thing, and in a worse way [writing letters requesting that former champions Ford, Gay Brewer and Billy Casper not play]. I mean, have the guts to call them personally.
Let's hit some other topics: What about playing in pro-ams?
They're OK. Maybe once a year I have a terrible time. Where you get some guys who are on your shoulder the whole day, asking questions. And getting guys out there with 6-handicaps who think they ought to be on tour. But 99 percent of them are really good guys.
I haven't been fined in about three years. Before then, I probably got fined an average of once a year. Until Fulton Allem came along and got into full swing, Ken Green and I were the leading fine-getters.
I've felt bad when I've let some words slip and I look around and see some little kid is looking at me. That's not good. And then sometimes I might snap a driver over my knee. That's probably why I have a permanent bump on my knee, from snapping them.
But you've changed through age?
I'm still spotty. There have definitely been a few times where there have been some premeditated drownings -- T*his putter will never be seen again; it's going so far out into the ocean. *
But I don't have enough energy to get that ticked off anymore. Plus, my body can't take it. Like at the 1987 PGA, I kicked a pipe holding up a TV tower. Went to kick it like it was a football sitting on a tee. Took about four running steps. There was not a lot of give, and I broke my little toe. Brad Faxon still loves telling that story.
Some of your best friends on the tour are caddies. Why?
Because they know I'm a regular guy, one of them. I'll go out and shoot some pool with them or have a few beers. It's like Cubby [caddie John Burke] says: "Calc's got a lot of caddie in him."
One reason guys like to work for me is because I've never blamed a caddie for anything. If they're wrong, they're wrong. But I'm making the final decision. I also put a lot of guys into the rotation. My theory is, I wouldn't want to work for me every week, so I can't imagine anybody else would.
All the guys I like show confidence in their decisions. Because a caddie can start choking, big time. You start getting the "I don't know," and you can tell he's panicking. It's not a good vibe at all.
Don't you visit one of your ex-caddies in prison?
Yeah, a good friend. He invested all his money, and he just got into a deeper and deeper hole. He got 13 years, of which he has to do at least 11. He's got four left.
What's it like when you visit him?
You look around, and they're normal-looking people like you and me. It's depressing when you leave. He's standing there, and you're walking out back to freedom, and as long as he's been there, he's got to turn around and go back to a cell. Other players have visited him. A friendly face, his buddies — that's what he lives for now.
What can you say about your recent divorce from Sheryl?
It was basically over in 1998. Relationships fail over time. You lose touch a little, and you stop communicating.
__'On a hot day in Nebraska, there wouldn't be three people out there playing. A lot of playing golf is knowing how to be by yourself.'__
Sheryl had a great influence on me. Other than the fact that I obviously loved her, she was so into fitness, and that was good for me. But it also gets to the point where you get incredibly tired of somebody nagging at you to go work out, don't eat that, getting hollered at for eating a potato chip. And I'm not saying she wasn't right, but I'm never going to look like Tiger or Duval.
So 1999 was a tough year. She filed for divorce. The hardest part is thinking about what you're doing to your kids. It's still not easy, but they're adjusting fairly well.
Mentally, I was pretty shot. I wasn't getting fired up to play, and the minute something went wrong in the round, I'd start thinking about the problems at home. Then when 2000 finally came and 1999 was finally over, I said, "OK, that's the end of the '90s; wasn't a great decade for me." So things have been going pretty good since then. Sheryl and I are still very good friends. We brought two amazing kids into this world, and we still fully want to be the best parents we can be, and if that means doing things together, going to dinner together, we'll do that once in a while. So it's still a family.
What are you proudest of?
Golf-wise, I guess I did win a major. Of course, I'd still like to win another one, and I'm not saying I can't. Odds are, probably won't happen, but you never know, as streaky as I am.
I think that I'm a great father. It's by far the most important thing to me. Got to put in a lot of extra work and give them affection and really listen to what they have to say. And try to pick their brains a little.
Aside from that, I guess I haven't really burned any bridges. I think most people think I'm an OK guy, that I'm not a jerk. That I don't put myself on a pedestal above anybody else. That I can hang with the regular people.
Got a question for Mark Calcavecchia that we didn't ask? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we'll follow up in a future issue. For highlights of more than 40 Golf Digest Interviews, visit www.golfdigest.com/features.