Mark Calcavecchia wasn’t much bigger than the tiny trees at Cedar View Country Club in Laurel when he started playing golf.
“My dad and brother played and couldn’t break 100,” Calcavecchia said this week. “When I was about 6, they took me along. I’d wear my swim trunks so I could golf, barefoot, go swimming and golf some more. Sometimes 54 holes or more in a day.
“I could hit it pretty good and before too long I was beating them.”
Calcavecchia left Nebraska when he was 13, but he still is a Husker at heart. His family moved to West Palm Beach, Fla., when he was in seventh grade. He won the Florida state high school championship and played at the University of Florida. He’s won more than $30 million since turning pro in 1981.
“Laurel is where I grew up and that’s where I started playing golf, and I remember it all like it was yesterday,” he said. “I played there in a family reunion in 2003 and the course was all grown up and we went down Calcavecchia Drive to get there.”
Now 53, Calcavecchia has the 1989 British Open, 13 PGA Tour victories and two Senior Tour wins on his resume. He struggled early this season with a torn rib muscle he suffered in a South Africa tournament.
He said he has never been more excited than for this week’s U.S. Senior Open at Omaha Country Club in the biggest golf tournament in Nebraska history.
“Calc” will tee off at 1:58 p.m. Thursday and 8:13 a.m. Friday and hopes to make the cut of the best 60 scores and ties for the Saturday-Sunday finish.
The tournament has a purse of $2.6 million and the winner will earn close to $500,000.
The field includes Tom Watson, Bernhard Langer, Fred Couples, Fred Funk, Rocco Mediate, Tom Kite, last year’s champion Roger Chapman, David Frost, Scott Hoch, Kenny Perry, Colin Montgomerie and former Husker golfer Steve Gotsche.
The 6,711-yard, par-70 course includes deep, deep rough and the USGA's philosophy of “fast and firm” greens and fairways.
“It’s a lot like Merion (in Pennsylvania), where the U.S. Open was played last month and the winner was 1-over after four days,” Calcavecchia said. “My cousin from Lincoln, Jeff McKewon, plays there (at Omaha CC) often and he said, ‘Wedges out of the rough. Five or six super-hard holes and 10 holes where you can go for a birdie – just like the U.S. Opens and the Senior Opens on the older courses.”
Calcavecchia is one of the “old-school” pro golfers.
He was self-taught and didn’t take a lesson until he was 24. He's never had a swing coach or sports psychologist.
“You practice and you try to play your best or you get a different job,” he said. “I’ve got this big, big house and a motor home and, well, I still like hitting the ball, and one day, like all golfers of any age, I think I’ll find the secret to the perfect game.”
Calcavecchia has come closer than most. He blitzed the Phoenix Open in 2001 for a four-round total of 28-under (65-60-64-67). He won the British Open in 1989 in a playoff.
But it hasn't been easy.
He missed the cut in a couple of PGA tournaments in 1985 and 1986, so he caddied for a friend four times on the weekends of PGA events.
“I couldn’t afford to fly home and already booked a room, so I caddied a couple of times,” he said. “That’s the tough part about golf. Miss the cut and it gets expensive to change travel plans and not get paid anything.
“I believe tournaments, like this one in Omaha, have a lot more pressure on the first two days, to make the cut, than to win. Make the cut, then worry about where you are.”