Calcs Putter an On-Again Off-Again Saga


Hes forever looking for a magic putting elixir, this 1989 British Open champion. Frequently, Mark Calcavecchia finds it. Just as frequently, he loses it. But dont despair, he will find it again ' just as he will, invariably, lose it again.
Take, for instance, the year 1997. I missed two 12-inch putts at the British Open, he said, and I thought, How can I expect to win a golf tournament if I cant make a 12-inch putt?
He was talking just moments after he had won his eighth PGA Tour victory, the 1997 Greater Vancouver Open. Now called the Air Canada Championships, it is a relatively new tournament that has been in existence since 1996. Calcavecchia won the second event, closing with a 65-66 when his putter was very hot.
In the late 1980s, when I was making everything, if I missed a two- or three-foot putt, the next hole, Id make a 30-foot putt, said Calc, just moments after he missed a three-footer on the 71st hole but still won at Vancouver. That was about the only blemish, as Calcavecchia surged up the leaderboard on Saturday and Sunday with a putter he had borrowed from Jeff Maggert.
You see, Calc had broken his own roller in a fit of anger Friday. He looked inside Maggerts locker and saw the Ping Anser Saturday morning. By Saturday afternoon, Maggerts putter (fortunately it was a spare) was out of Maggerts locker in Calcavecchias bag.
There was considerable conjecture of whether Maggert would ever see the putter again. The question was posed to Calcavecchia, who paused for only a second.
It depends on how bad he wants it, said Calc. I had a tremendous time this week. Any tournament anyone wins, a lot of good things happen to them.
Usually, though, its not courtesy of a pilfered putter. Oh ' Calc did tell Maggert of his thievery. Mags, said a note hastily left in Maggerts locker, Im the one who has it, so dont panic ' Calc.
That, though, is the story of Calcavecchia in the 90s. He has changed putters ' and putting styles ' as frequently as he has changed shirts.
Calcavecchia was brilliant in winning the British Open in 89, making birdie on the 72nd hole, then defeating Greg Norman and Wayne Grady in a playoff. But in 1991 there were already cracks in his putting armor. He borrowed a 52-inch putter from Bruce Lietzke and put it in his bag for one round at The Memorial.
It came up to my neck, he said of the broomstick putter. Calcavecchia had it shortened and carried it as a second putter, discarding his 3-iron. But Calcavecchia didnt use the long putter, and the next day his regulation model was again the only one he carried.
When I went back to my short one, it felt good, Calc explained at the time. Hopefully, I wont have to go back to it for another 15 or 20 years.
It was a few years later that Calcavecchia feared he had really lost the stroke. It was when he felt he could no longer putt like most everyone else, that the old magic was truly gone.
I remember the day my putting left me, he said. It was my birthday, June 12, 1995; practice round for the Open at Shinnecock Hills. I played Phil (Mickelson) 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.
From there, his putting really soured. He was 108th in the PGA Tour rankings in 1996, 105th in 98, going as high as 136th in 99. The guy who was a pretty fair putter in the 80s had sunk just about as low as you can go.
I tried everything ' cross-handed, split-handed, eyes open, eyes shut, one eye open, one eye shut, said Calc. Tried putting with ' tried my left eye shut. So I figured if I looked at the ball with one eye, I couldnt see anything out there. I wouldnt peek. So I would hit it and wait for the ball to disappear and looked. It didnt work. That was no good. No good at all.
In pure desperation, Calcavecchia tried something new at the Players Championship in 2000, a move of absolute surrender. It was the claw, a putting grip made popular by Chris DiMarco. It was Friday, just before he began his second round.
Five minutes before I teed off, I just tried it, he said. I rolled in a 25-footer on 1 for birdie, 15-footer for birdie on 2, and an eight-footer for par on 3. I was like, Im back.
He jumped to 56th in putting in 2000, but he still wasnt where he wanted to be ' not totally. He still was much too spotty, going through stretches when nothing was falling. Thats when he came up with the belly-claw.
He talked about it at the Players this year, about the new styles derivation. I wasnt yipping it or anything with my regular Claw grip, but all of a sudden I wasnt making anything, he began.
Doral was awful putting. Honda was painful. Putted really bad. Id win that tournament if I putted anywhere near decent. Last week wasnt much better. I used three putters at Bay Hill ' went through my whole rotation.
Then he saw Lee Westwood, who had missed the cut at the Players, but was hanging around practicing. Westwood asked how it was going and Calcavecchia told him, Awful. Westwood mentioned that he had a bellybutton putter in his locker. No, but thanks, said Calc.
Then I started thinking about it the next morning and putted with it on the putting green, and just tried an open stance with a Claw, said Calcavecchia.
It felt pretty good, but I didnt have the nerve to use it. But sure enough, I took it up to Augusta with me on Monday and made putts from everywhere.
Its unusual, the first day you try something like that, youre usually a little shaky with it. But I think its another revelation in my putting saga.
Its Calcavecchias putting style du jour, but he says this one is going to stick around for awhile.
It may pass as a fad, but not for me, he said. I can still putt conventionally, whacking it around on the practice green, and its all fine and dandy. But even if I play in a pro-am with a conventional grip, Ill feel a little tug ' its not the free-flowing, confident stroke that I have with the claw.
Calc is conscious of how he looks with the odd putting style, but desperate situations call for desperate measures. More often than not over his long career, he will carry two putters when things look really bleak.
Its usually just two different kinds of 35-inch (regular) putters, he said. The only time I carried the real long one, I didnt put another one in. But Ive carried two putters before and just took out a 6-iron or something. It was probably a case where it was Sunday and I was about the second group off the tee and it really didnt matter.
It was at the forerunner to the Air Canada, though, when he really has hot with the roller. In 1997, he was a short-putter wizard for a week. He hopes the longer putter is good for years to come.