Mark Calcavecchia seeks win on 20-year anniversary

By Doug FergusonJuly 17, 2009, 4:00 pm
135th Open Championship TURNBERRY, Scotland ' Past champions gather at St. Andrews every time the British Open returns to the home of golf. Just his luck, the first time Mark Calcavecchia was invited to the party, he was holding the Claret Jug.
And it wasnt quite empty.
He had been celebrating one last time his 1989 playoff victory at Royal Troon when it was time for the dinner, and Calcavecchia was still not up to speed on British colloquialisms.
We were drinking champagne out of the jug, he said Friday. There was something on the invite that said 7:30 for 8:00, and I had no idea what that meant. Time kind of went by and I dont think I rinsed the jug real well. I think there was still some champagne swishing around in there when I brought it back.
Mark Calcavecchia
Mark Calcavecchia won the Open Championship 20 years ago. (Getty Images)
Calcavecchia looks forward to the dinner next year at St. Andrews.
And based on the way he has played the opening two rounds at Turnberry, he might just have the Claret Jug with him again.
Around the toughest stretch, with shots into a chilly wind and over cliffs along the Firth of Clyde, Calcavecchia came up with just enough birdies to carry him to a 1-under 69 that left him one shot out of the lead.
At 49 and with a body that is breaking down, he isnt sure he can win anywhere until he gets to the Champions Tour next year. Links golf is different, though, and Calcavecchia didnt need to see 59-year-old Tom Watson atop the leaderboard to know that.
Im swinging well enough, and Im driving it great, Calcavecchia said. I seem to be hitting a lot of fairways. So if I can keep doing that, obviously if you can keep it out of the tall stuff, youre going to have a better chance.
There is one element that Calcavecchia has had on his side.
Im getting some good bounces, getting lucky on occasion, he said, which always helps.
Turnberry turns nasty starting at the par-3 fourth, a stretch of holes that run into a wind rarely felt in these parts, coming off the land and slightly from the north. Thats where everyone was dropping shots.
Calcavecchia played them in 1 under.
The key was somehow reaching the 10th green and holing a 40-foot birdie putt, a good sign that he could post a good score. With the wind in his favor, he poured it on. Calcavecchia hit a 7-iron to 2 feet on the 12th, then a 6-iron on the 14th that hopped onto the green and caught part of the lip before settling a few feet away.
I just wanted to stay away from big numbers, which a lot of guys were making out there ' doubles and triples and quads and whatever, he said. A few bogeys here and there werent going to kill you.
The surprise is the timing of Calcavecchia seeing his name on the leaderboard. After good weeks at Pebble Beach and Riviera, he has gone into a funk. He hasnt finished in the top 20 since February, and in five tournaments he has either missed the cut or withdrew as his back gets cranky.
He had to play 36 holes last Sunday to compete the rain-delayed John Deere Classic, and it about killed him.
This is about the second time this year I didnt struggle to make the cut, so Im just happy with that, he said. Im usually choking so bad coming down the last few holes on Friday because I want to play the weekend. I felt great today. Even when I was 2 over through five, I knew I was going to make some birdies somewhere.
Perhaps its a coincidence that Calcavecchia won his British Open at Royal Troon, about 15 miles up the Ayrshire coast, when he shot 68 in the final round and got into a three-way playoff with Wayne Grady and Greg Norman, who shot 64 that day. Calcavecchia birdied the last two holes to win.
He is among the few U.S. players who were at Turnberry when it last hosted the Open in 1994, and they were grilling him on the charter flight from Illinois. Asked if he was a mentor to younger players, such as co-leader Steve Marino, Calcavecchia chuckled.
I would never think Im the type of guy anybody could learn anything from, to tell you the truth, he said. And I think experience is way overrated. All that means is Ive hit more bad shots than all the guys that are 20 years old, and theyre lingering in my brain.
There havent been too many bad shots over 36 holes at Turnberry. The question is whether he can hold up for two more rounds.
And if that happens, what will be in the bottom of the Claret Jug.
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