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Mood Swing A peak performance by Mark Calcavecchia at a low moment in his life seemed apt at a Phoenix Open that was also trying to change

Feb. 05, 2001
Feb. 05, 2001

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Feb. 5, 2001

Super Bowl XXXV

Mood Swing A peak performance by Mark Calcavecchia at a low moment in his life seemed apt at a Phoenix Open that was also trying to change

They say a rolling stone gathers no moss, and the same is
probably true for a rolling golf ball or, for that matter, a
rolling human. At last week's weather-disrupted Phoenix Open,
Mark Calcavecchia, who is 40, won the tournament for the third
time at the TPC of Scottsdale, and he did it convincingly,
shooting the lowest 72-hole score in Tour history and winning by
eight strokes. This time, though, Calcavecchia's victory was
less a triumph of bold shotmaking and more a triumph of quiet
persistence in the wake of heartache.

This is an article from the Feb. 5, 2001 issue Original Layout

It was another golfer, however, who got the metaphorical stone
rolling. In the first round, veteran touring pro Andrew Magee
launched a drive on the 332-yard, par-4 17th hole while the
threesome ahead was still on the green. Magee had never reached
that green from the tee. He was surprised, therefore, when his
ball bounded onto the putting surface. Then he was stunned,
because the ball rolled toward an unsuspecting Tom Byrum, who was
lining up a short putt, glanced off the head of Byrum's putter,
and deflected eight feet into the hole. It was the first hole in
one on a par-4 in Tour history and a reminder that vicissitudes
and vagaries line every fairway. "I know all of you are going to
say it was a lucky shot," Magee said, accurately reading the
smirks. "All I can say is that I hit a good solid shot right at
the pin. That's as far as I can control it."

Magee could have been speaking for Calcavecchia, whose 20-year
pro career has sometimes looked directionless, even though he has
now accumulated 11 Tour wins, including a British Open title, and
made three Ryder Cup appearances. "I could've should've won
more," he conceded a few years back. "I could've should've
practiced more. It's too late to change that." Then Calc's family
life, which seemed to be the strongest part of his game, bounded
out of control last year when he separated from Sheryl, his wife
of 13 years, and moved into accommodations near their
Phoenix-area house. "It's hard to play when your head's in the
crapper," he said last July at the British Open.

To his credit, Calcavecchia has muddled on through spells of
melancholy. The Friday before the Phoenix Open he played a
practice round with friends at the Arizona Country Club. "I
whipped out a smooth 75," he said. His swing plane had gotten too
steep, causing him to hit toe hooks and "high poof-balls."
Calcavecchia phoned Butch Harmon, his swing coach, and Harmon
told him he was probably straightening his right leg and
overswinging. "That's all it took," Calcavecchia said.

In the Wednesday pro-am he shot a six-under 65. Then he got
serious, stringing together tournament rounds of 65-60-64-67 on
the 7,089-yard, par-71 TPC course. Calcavecchia's 256 broke the
46-year-old record of Mike Souchak, who shot 257 in the 1955
Texas Open. Calc's second-round 60 tied Grant Waite's course
record, set in '96. Calcavecchia also established a Tour mark for
birdies (32) in a 72-hole tournament and equaled the Tour
standard for best 72-hole finish in relation to par--John Huston's
28-under at the '98 Hawaiian Open. "Red 28. It almost seems
crazy," Calcavecchia said after Sunday's round, dazzled by the
under-par number next to his name on the leader boards. "I don't
know what happened."

This is what happened: A star-laden Phoenix Open field, led by
Tiger Woods and the other top 16 money winners of 2000, threw
everything it had at Calcavecchia on a week that featured sun,
wind, cold, rain, hail and lightning--and no one finished within
eight strokes. "Got waxed," said runner-up Rocco Mediate, whose
20-under 264 would have won all but eight Phoenix Opens, going
back to 1932. "Couldn't do anything. Too far behind."

The week's other event, a social experiment pitting the priests
of sobriety against the champions of inebriation, went closer to
form. On a good day at the Phoenix Open more than 100,000
spectators mob the TPC, and some of them behave more like rowdy
SIM Citizens than mild-mannered Phoenicians. In recent years
boisterous fans at the par-3 16th hole, 20,000 strong, indulged
themselves by roaring like West Point cadets from the start of a
player's downswing until the ball landed. They then peppered the
players with boozy witticisms--such gems as, "Walk it off, Casey!"
(to Casey Martin) or "Run, Forrest, run!" (to Scott Gump). Two
years ago a man heckling Woods was found to have a gun in his
fanny pack, a signal to the organizers that if the good times
were to keep rolling, they needed to roll at the speed limit and
in the assigned lanes.

The solution: behavior modification. This year the Thunderbirds,
the civic club that sponsors the Phoenix Open, moved the infamous
Bird's Nest party tent off the TPC to a site two miles away and
charged revelers $25 to get in. (The old tent was free and
proximate, making it easy for windbags to stagger out to the
finishing holes between brews.) In a more subtle ploy the
Thunderbirds added grandstands at 16 and expanded the corporate
castle overlooking the hole. With hospitality boxes leaving a
bigger footprint than they had in the past, the college kids who
used to stand on the hillsides with beers found themselves
effectively evicted.

Predictably the roars of old were replaced by a steady background
buzz, and instead of "You da man!" the players overheard snippets
of cocktail conversation. "It seems to be working," said Scott
Dunlap, who played the 16th hole all four rounds without
incident. "One guy booed me for missing the green, but I can
handle that." Matt Gogel, a second-year Tour player, agreed that
the galleries were "taking a little longer to get marinated."

There were still some security scares. Woods was addressing a
birdie putt at the end of his Thursday round when a large orange
flew past him, hurled on a dare by a 15-year-old boy. (Scottsdale
police handcuffed the youngster and held him in a golf cart
behind the 9th green, where he was heckled by spectators shouting
"Stupid idiot!" and "Get a rope!") With the Bird's Nest having
flown the coop, fun seekers at the TPC drifted to the food
pavilion, set up in a hollow between the practice range and the
9th green, to chant, sing, whoop and whistle for no apparent
reason. On Saturday afternoon, tournament officials suspended
liquor sales twice, worried that the food-court party might get
out of hand.

Unfortunately, most of the star golfers played as if they were
the target of the crackdown, not the fans. Six of the vaunted top
16 money winners missed the 36-hole cut, including David Duval,
Ernie Els, Justin Leonard and Arizona State grad and local
favorite Phil Mickelson. Of the surviving stars, only four
(Woods, defending champ Tom Lehman, Stewart Cink and David Toms)
finished within 17 strokes of Calcavecchia. Tiger, who shot
opening and closing rounds of 65 to tie for fifth, labored in
Phoenix. His second-round 73 ended a record streak of 52 Tour
rounds of par or better dating back to last May's Byron Nelson
Classic. "It was a good streak," Woods said, and golf historians
may someday see it as much better than good, the equal, maybe, of
Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak. The previous record, after
all, was 29, by Nolan Henke in 1991, and the only other player to
do better--Mickelson--saw his own streak of 31 end last Friday in
Phoenix. Furthermore, Tiger's par-or-better streak was actually
62, if you count his stroke-play rounds in non-Tour events, which
he does.

In any case the numbers last week belonged not to Woods, but to
Calcavecchia, who is famous for firing at flagsticks when he's on
his game. In Scottsdale his trademark high fades soared 300 yards
off the tees; his iron shots landed like butterflies; his putts
rattled home as if they were guided by a hidden hand--or, if you
will, a Tom Byrum putter. "Calc is at the top of the list of guys
who can shoot low," said Mediate. "He and Huston, they can both
go nuts."

The last putt Calcavecchia made on Sunday, a 2 1/2-footer for par
on the 72nd hole, rode around the rim before dropping. Still to
fall is the other shoe--the fate of his marriage. His daughter,
Britney, 11, and son, Eric, 7, ran onto the green to hug him, and
Mark got a kiss from his mother, Marjorie, who had flown in from
Florida for the tournament. But there was no sign of Sheryl, who
first met the young Calcavecchia in January 1987 at, you guessed
it, the Phoenix Open.

Sometimes, as James Taylor sings, "It's enough to cover ground."
That's as far as you can control it.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY J.D. CUBANCOLOR PHOTO: JIM GUND SWEET 16 The Thunderbirds toned down the notorious par-3 by surrounding the tee with corporate boxes and grandstands.
"Red 28. It almost seems crazy," said Calcavecchia, dazzled by
the under-par number next to his name. "I don't know what
happened."