Mark Calcavecchia: Birdman of the PGA, on his future in Golf, Gary Player and more

In 1989, veteran golfer Mark Calcavecchia won his first and only major at The Open Championship. He was almost 30 years old. At this year’s Open Championship in July, Calcavecchia showed there’s a lot left in his golf bag. He was alone in second place after two rounds of the tournament.

By the third round, however, things had gone awry. Calcavecchia ended up finishing out of contention. Up and coming, 27-year old, South African youngster Louis Oosthuizen was the champion of the weekend. Mark said he saw a lot of himself in Louis, when he was that age.

For more than two decades, Mark Calcavecchia has lived the life of a professional golfer. It’s something that makes him feel very lucky. He is a tweener, an American golfer of note who came on the scene before the likes of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson but after legends like Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson.

In 2009, at the ripe old age of 49, Mark etched his place in golf history when he birdied nine consecutive holes at the RBC Canadian Open. It’s the record for most consecutive holes ever birdied by a player on the PGA Tour. For all the magic golfing legends like Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan, Lee Trevino and Arnold Palmer have given us, Mark Calcavecchia holds a record none of them have accomplished.

Until recently the discussion of athletes utilizing performance enhancing drugs has seemed not to touch golf. However, over the summer Gary Player relayed to various media outlets that he had been told by current players that they were using performance enhancing drugs.

Calcavecchia, who admits to being a Gary Player fan, believes Player doesn’t have any proof linking players to performance enhancing drugs telling CY Interview exclusively, “I thought he was way off base with it and I’m a Gary Player fan, but I have no idea where he came up with that and I don’t believe he has any proof that anybody that he knows of is.”

Mark is currently on The Champions Tour, today at 50 year old. His goals are to win a tournament every year. Perhaps, in the future he’ll make a Tom Watson-like four day run at one of the majors, upping the ante on his recent two-dayer. Regardless, Mark Calcavecchia is one of those guys who will creep up the leader board a few more times before his career is over.

Listen to the Mark Calcavecchia CYInterview:

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Chris Yandek: I want to start off by reflecting upon your two impressive rounds at The Open Championship a few weeks ago. Did you surprise yourself as you were in second place going into the final group of the third round over that weekend?

Mark Calcavecchia: “Well, a little bit. I was playing pretty good and I knew that, but a lot depends on the weather over there and I got out. I was first off the tee on Friday and although the weather wasn’t great, it was a lot better than it was in the afternoon because that’s when the wind came up 40 miles an hour and it was tough and next thing you know I found myself in second place going into Saturday. I actually felt good, and then just three putted a couple times early, and hit in the bushes and made a nine. That was the end of that, but it was fun while it lasted.”

CY: At least the reminder how things can go so great in golf one moment and the next not so great?

MC: “Yeah. Pretty much. That is exactly why they call it golf. Every day you gotta bring it and you gotta perform. If you have one big bad hole and just hit a couple of bad shots at the wrong time, pretty much wrecks the whole day and most cases your whole week. So that’s the hard thing about it.”

CY: Playing with Louis Oosthuizen on Saturday who went on to win The Open Championship , what do you make of this upcoming young man who played amazing under pressure?

MC: “Yeah. He did play great. Actually, I told everybody when we got done Saturday, I said, ‘There’s no way this kid is going to lose tomorrow.’ I could just tell. He had the confidence. He was putting great and he hits it so far. I don’t think you can really tell on TV, but he just bombs it and I just was very impressed with his whole game and how calm he was. He said in interviews he just knew he was gonna win. He knew it was his week. So that was it. He played great.”

CY: Looking back at 1989, when you won your major at The Open Championship, what do you reflect back upon 20 years later after winning that tournament?

MC: “Well, I kinda saw in Louis kind of how I was when I was his age. I think he’s 27 and I was 29 when I won, but you know you look at a lot of these kids today that are in their 20s they’re starting to play great golf and it just kind of reminds me of how I was when I was that age. Although the tour wasn’t as deep obviously 20 years ago, 23 years ago, but you know he just, his distance is phenomenal. He just kind of reminded me of a young me who was just kind of fearless.”

CY: I’d love to know your viewpoints on how the game of professional golf has changed drastically since you stepped on to the scene in the early 1980s. What do you see today that surprises you most?

MC: “Well, it doesn’t really surprise me anymore, but the biggest thing is when young kids right out of college are – when they first get on tour if they’re 20, 21 whatever, they’re not afraid. They were brought up and went through great programs in high school and college and all that. When they get on the tour, they’re just ready to start kicking butt right off the bat. Back in the early 80s when I was out there, it was kind of more of a learning process.”

CY: Well, at the time of this interview you’re now on The Champions Tour. How is life different being on the Champions Tour compared to the PGA Tour?

MC: “It’s a little less stressful. The couple great things about The Champions Tour other than the majors that we play, every time it’s only three rounds and there’s no cut. So the good news is there’s no cut. The bad news is it’s only three rounds because the main thing is if you don’t have a good first round, then you’re pretty much, your chances of winning are pretty much right out the door because you’ve only got two rounds to make up a lot of ground and the first day is just usually important for the rest of the week. So that’s the biggest difference.

The no cut thing is nice. The other problem is our purses out on The Champions Tour are about a third of what they are on the PGA Tour so you’re playing for a lot less money, but on the other hand you got a lot less guys to try to beat. So it’s kind of a give and take, but I’ve been looking forward to it for a while and it’s great to see the guys that I’ve been playing with for the last 25 years and finally get out here with them.”

CY: So we’re actually coming up on the one year anniversary where you birdied nine consecutive holes during the second round of the RBC Canadian Open and that is the record for consecutive holes birdied ever on the PGA Tour. How do you think you accomplished it?

MC: “Well, it was, I just, I had a stretch of holes in that stretch where I had four par 5s and three of the four were reachable and two other short par 4s, but then about three or four really hard holes and on the hard holes I hit good shots in there about 10 or 12 feet and made the putts and on the par 5s I three putted two of them for birdie and then a couple of short par 4s I hit my nine iron in there about a foot from the hole for birdie. So five of the birdies were tap-ins and the other four were 10 footers. So it really wasn’t, I mean it’s certainly a great accomplishment, but at the time it didn’t seem like it was that hard to do.”

CY: Is that, by any clue, do you know if that’s the best consecutive nine hole score ever?

MC: “Ugh.”

CY: No clue?

MC: “Nah. I really don’t know. I don’t think anybody, maybe Annika Sorenstam on the ladies tour I think she made eight birdies, a par and an eagle when she shot a 59 in Phoenix years ago. But as far as the PGA Tour goes, I know Corey Pavin shot a 26 on the front nine in Milwaukee, which was a par 34. He birdied the first eight holes in a row. So I think 26 is the lowest nine of all time.”

CY: PGA Tour publicist Chris Smith told me to ask you about your bowling. So I want to know was bowling the other sport you aspired to be in if golf didn’t work out?

MC: “It’s definitely my next best sport. I grew up in a bowling alley in Nebraska and actually built one in the house in Florida. We got a two lane bowling alley in our new house. So I love to bowl. I go through stretches where I throw a lot of strikes and it’s fun, but I don’t think I could have ever been a very good professional bowler.”

CY: So we live in a world of celebrated athletes and there are hang-oners and groupies and a lot of distractions that could affect a marriage. Has your wife being there as your caddy given you some kind of counter balance in your life?

MC: “Yeah. Definitely. She travels with me almost every week and our philosophy, she caddied about four or five teams a year, but when she caddied in both The British Open and the Senior British Open, our theory is she’s gonna be there anyway, she’s gonna watch every hole cause there is nothing else to do over there. So she’s gonna watch every hole she might as well just be carrying my bag and walking down the fairway with me. So that’s kind of our theory of why she caddies at The British Open, but it’s great to have her out there. We have a lot of fun together and it’s just we’re a good team.”

CY: In recent years we’ve seen players in the golf world go in the gym and gain some muscle. Do you think it’s unfair for people to start assuming some guys on tour are doing some kind of performance enhancing drugs just because they’re going in the gym and doing a few things?

MC: “You know golf is just kind of a different sport cause it’s such a honest type. We’re obviously treating as if you get caught cheating you’re going to be ruined for life. So I think it’s such an honest and turn yourself in type sport that I don’t think anybody really thinks that anybody out on the PGA Tour is doing any sort of performance enhancing drugs. A lot of the guys are in great shape and it’s cause they get done at the golf course and they go to the gym. Now I’m not one of those. I go back to the hotel and take a nap or have a beer or something, but yeah a lot of the guys work out pretty hard and it definitely helps nowadays for sure.”

CY: I just wonder then cause Gary Player said recently in an interview he had heard a few guys were using something, some kind of performance enhancing drugs. I wonder what you make of his comments?

MC: “I thought he was way off base with it and I’m a Gary Player fan, but I have no idea where he came up with that and I don’t believe he has any proof that anybody that he knows of is.”

CY: Finally, two things that are very important, first of course, you and me attended the University of Florida, what are thoughts on the upcoming football season?

MC: “I think they’re gonna have a great team as usual. Everybody’s worried about now that Tim Tebow is gone what’s gonna happen, but you know certainly I think that John Brantley’s a great quarterback and I assume he’s going to be the starter, but I think we’re gonna have a great team and blow a lot of people out.”

CY: And the rest of your golf career? What would you like to accomplish?

MC: “I’d just like to, my goal every year is to win a tournament and whether it be on the PGA Tour or The Champions Tour, I’d like just to get a win in there somewhere and just enjoy myself and I’m lucky to play golf for a living. So just keep hitting it.”

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