Planet Golf — 23 August 2012 by Bob Sherwin
Calcavecchia has found his groove

SNOQUALMIE, Wa. – This will be the last time Mark Calcavecchia can do something for the first time on the Champions Tour.

Calcavecchia will make his first defense of his first title on the senior tour at the Boeing Classic, beginning Friday on the TPC Snoqualmie Ridge course near Seattle.

“It’s my first defense on the Champions Tour. It was my first win so that will always be special to me out here on this Tour,” he said. “You’ll hear this from guys all the time, it’s always great to get back to a place where you’ve had success and done well.”

It’s not surprising that the 13-time PGA Tour winner – including the 1989 Open Championship – won on the Tour. But what took him so long? Calcavecchia was, and still is, competitive on the regular PGA Tour. There was anticipation that when he turned 50 in mid-summer 2010 he would sweep up plenty of cash and trophies. But it took him 33 tournaments before he won the Boeing last August – defeating Russ Cochran in a one-hole playoff.

Why?

“That’s a good question. I think there are a few things that are a little bit different (from the PGA Tour),” he said. “Most of our events are 54 holes and I think that kind of throws a few guys off a little bit at first. It takes a little getting used to that. Round one is super important.

“My last couple tournaments I shot 1-under both times (in the first round). If you do that, you’re really putting yourself behind the 8-ball because you just don’t have enough holes to catch up. I think that’s a mental thing that you’ve got to really be focused on right off the bat.”

Another reason, he said, is that these players aren’t pushovers. They don’t suddenly turn into 10-handicappers when they become 50-somethings. These old guys are good.

“I think you’ve got to play great. You can’t just skate out here when you turn 50 with a little swagger and think you’re going to win five in a row or something,” Calcavecchia said. “It’s just not going to happen, especially with three-round tournaments. Guys get hot and a lot of times shoot a lot under par and it’s hard to catch somebody when they do that.”

Even in his victory last year here, it was an ordeal to the end. He couldn’t shake Cochran.

“We both finished good. I birdied the last three and he finished birdie-eagle,” he said. “I made that putt on the last hole to get to a playoff, and I was kind of coming up the hill here to the scorer’s tent going, man, it can’t be that hard. I’ve been in 33 tournaments and I hadn’t won yet, so I was wondering if I wasn’t going to win this one, either. But sure enough, he didn’t play the playoff hole very well and I did.”

In Calcavecchia’s first abbreviated season in 2010 he played in 14 Champions events and finished in the top 10 just six times. He was more consistent his second full season last year, with top 10 finishes in 15 of the 22 events he entered, including his Boeing victory.

This year he has maintained a solid senior rhythm. He has nine top 10 finishes in 18 events, including another victory at the Montreal Championship in June, and has cleared $1 million in earnings.

“I played well last week tee to green (Dick’s Sporting Goods Open), so I know I’m hitting pretty good, and I didn’t putt good last week,” he said. “But Montreal, I made everything I looked at, so it evens out, I guess, unfortunately. You would like to putt great every week, but that’s just not

going to happen for most people, especially me. That’s really been my problem

this year. I think tee to green I’ve been pretty much the same.”

He said he should be in the mix for the championship come Sunday but thinks he’ll have to go through Bernhard Langer, the 2010 winner here. Langer has had 13 top-10s in 15 events. His worst finish has been 17th. He has won once, finished second four times, third once and fourth twice.

“He’s obviously in great shape,” Calcavecchia added. “His thumb’s back to normal, so he’s healthy there. I really don’t think he has any physical issues that I know of. He’s got a lot of advantages there. He’s just the ultimate grinder.”

This is the eighth year for the event on the Jack Nicklaus-designed layout and three have been decided by playoffs, including a record seven-player playoff in 2007.

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Bob Sherwin

Bob grew up in Cleveland, an underdog city with perennial underdog teams, and that gave him an appreciation and an affinity for the grinders in golf, guys such as Rocco Mediate, Jhonattan Vegas and star-crossed John Daly. This is the 44th year for Bob as a sportswriter, the first 34 working for newspapers throughout the west, Tucson (Daily Star), San Francisco (Examiner) and Seattle (Times), and the past 10 years as a freelancer. He has covered just about every sport, including golf tournaments, Tucson Open, Bing Crosby/AT&T Pro-Am, the 1998 PGA Championship, the 2010 U.S. Senior Open, the 2010 U.S. Amateur and the annual Champions Tour Boeing Classic. He also writes articles for golf magazines. For most of his 20 years at the Seattle Times his primary beat was the Mariners. He then picked up Washington men's basketball in the winter. He also was the beat writer for the Sonics, including 1996 when they played the Bulls for the NBA title. After a lifetime hacking on public courses, he finally gave in and joined a country club in 2011, the Members Club of Aldarra near Seattle. He won't win the club championship any time soon with his 14 handicap and default-swing slice but he does have a pair of aces – 37 years apart – and in 2009 came agonizingly close to his ultimate golf goal of scoring in the 70s when he finished with an even 80. He lives in Seattle, and spends part of his winters in Marco Island, Fla.

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