Jailed Caddie Getting Second Chance

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2006 PGA ChampionshipMEDINAH, Ill ' The sun was shining, the morning sky was clear and Mark Calcavecchia and his caddie had the back nine at Medinah Country Club all to themselves the day before the PGA Championship.
 
Imprisoned for almost 11 years, dreams of days like this were what kept Eric Larson going. Now free, hes savoring every moment of his fresh start.
 
Its been everything I imagined and then some, Larson said Wednesday. Theres a lot of other people in life that dont get second chances. ... Or have diseases or have a freak accident or what have you. Im healthy. I have the support of all of my friends and family.
 
And Im very fortunate to be in this position.
 
Larson was living what seemed like an ideal life back in 1995.
 
After caddying for Ken Green, hed hooked up with Calcavecchia, winner of the 1989 British Open and one of the top players on the PGA TOUR. When Calcavecchia shot a 66 to win the BellSouth Classic in 1995, Larson was on the bag.
 
But life is never quite what it seems, and Larsons was no different. A few years earlier, he had started sending cocaine to friends back in the Midwest. He was never a user and wasnt what youd call a big-time dealer.
 
Not even a small-time dealer, really.
 
I knew some people that wanted it. I knew someone that sold it. I was the middleman, Larson said. I did it for monetary reasons only.
 
Still, it was wrong. When his supplier turned him in, Larson found himself facing federal drug charges. He eventually pleaded guilty, and began serving his sentence on Aug. 9, 1995.
 
Because of strict federal mandatory minimums, Larson spent 10 years in prison before being released to a halfway house on Dec. 21, 2005. He left there two months ago, on June 16.
 
It was kind of a bad deal the way it unfolded, Calcavecchia said. He made a mistake. Give him three or four years and let him get on with his life. They wanted to give him 20. They gave him 131/2 and he got out in 11. Twelve years of his life have been taken away.
 
Larson refuses to make excuses, though. He got himself into trouble, no one else.
 
I made a mistake. I did wrong, he says, his voice leaving no room for question. Ive always had to accept what I got because theres nothing else you can do. It is what it is.
 
Just as he takes responsibility for everything that happened, Larson made sure certain things would be different when his second chance arrived. He earned a bachelors degree in business management while he was in prison, and took vocational and horticulture courses. He even grew vegetables that fellow inmates ate.
 
Tomatoes, onions, peppers'you name it. Squash, he said. They all came out pretty good.
 
And always, he focused on his dream of caddying again.
 
Not many people could have made the best out of that situation, said Mike Hicks, who caddied for Payne Stewart when he won the 1999 U.S. Open. He got a raw deal. He knows he got a raw deal. And he wasnt bitter about it.
 
Its amazing that he spent that much time in jail, and he never lost sight of the fact that one day hed get out, and hed be back out here caddying again, added Hicks, who now caddies for Jonathan Byrd. And here he is.
 
Larson is quick to give credit to his friends. Calcavecchia, Green and Hicks were among the golfers and caddies who visited him in prison. Others kept in touch through cards and letters.
 
Calcavecchia also made him a promise: When Larson got out, thered be a job waiting for him.
 
He needed something to look forward to and I always told him, when the time came Id hire him up, hopefully play good and make him some money and get him back on his feet, Calcavecchia said.
 
True to his word, Calcavecchia had Larson as his caddie at The Honda Classic, the Western Open, the U.S. Bank Championship and now, the PGA Championship. Calcavecchia plans to play seven more events this year, and Larson will be at his side for all of them.
 
Larson also caddied for Green at the B.C. Open.
 
Though it had been 11 years, Larson and Calcavecchia quickly settled into their old rhythm. They looked like a couple of old friends out for a round Wednesday, and their laughter on the 18th green broke the early morning silence.
 
Its been great, Calcavecchia said. When he got out, he was so refreshed and ready to go and anxious. You look forward to something for 11 years, hes very excited.
 
Other parts of life have taken a bit more adjustment. The few people who had cell phones back in 1995 were carrying cumbersome models that looked more like a suitcase. The balls Larson fished out of his golf bag were Bridgestone Rextars'which arent even made anymore. The Internet was still a vague, space-age concept.
 
He had no idea how to work a computer, Calcavecchia said. I instant messaged him one day ... and he didnt know what happened. He called me up. Howd you know I was on the computer? He freaked out.
 
In a lot of ways, Calcavecchia added, he had to start over.
 
But starting over isnt always a bad thing. With every course he walks, Larsons dark days fade a little more.
 
Ill never forget them, no. But its time to look forward. Fortunately, I have a great life ahead of me, he said. And it could always be worse. Im just very fortunate to have done as much time as Ive done and still have the support I have.
 
Theres no such thing as bad days, he added. Every day is a good day.
 
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