Lucky 13

Mark Calcavecchia Makes the Most Of a Break--and a Friendship--to Win the PODS Championship
March 18, 2007

Golf, like life,is often a waiting game, which doesn't mean that Mark Calcavecchia, a teenagertrapped in the body of a 46-year-old, has to be happy with that. On Sunday,Calcavecchia only had to wait a minute or so, but he clearly hated everyagonizing second as he watched Heath Slocum prepare to hit the par putt thatwould determine whether Calc had won the PODS Championship or if he and Slocumwould head back to the 18th tee of the demanding Copperhead course atInnisbrook to begin a playoff. Slocum's four-footer hit the cup but spun out(Big Play, page G12), drawing a collective groan from the gallery and givingCalcavecchia, standing with his head down like a man facing the gallows, the13th victory of his distinguished if erratic career. "I guess I knew I hadwon, but it didn't feel like it," he said later.

Earlier in theweek Calcavecchia had spent 10 minutes--eternity in the Calc time zone--behindanother customer at a Tampa-area dry cleaner. "Some lady had $200 worth ofdry cleaning," he said. "She must've waited six months. It took herfour trips to get it out. I was so mad I was ready to break something." Andthe last time Calcavecchia took his two children, 17-year-old Britney and Eric,13, to Disney World, he sprung for special treatment. "We got thein-the-out-door pass," he says. "It's expensive but worth it. We meet alady, we skate in the exit and get on the ride. Nice." Calc doesn't wait inlines, he says matter-of-factly. What he means is, he won't wait in them.

This is relevantbecause Eric Larson--Calcavecchia's friend and caddie and the man who helpedhim win lucky number 13 in Palm Harbor, Fla.--is a master of time. In factLarson waited nearly a quarter of his life to share Sunday's big moment withCalcavecchia. It had been 12 years since Larson had been on Calcavecchia's bagduring a Tour win, at the 1995 BellSouth Classic. Larson spent almost 11 ofthose years in prison for dealing drugs.

A man learnspatience in prison. It's a necessity. Larson's father died while Eric wasserving time. So did his grandmother, a great-aunt and a nephew. "Life hasups and downs," Larson says. "You move on. You don't have achoice."

During Larson'sincarceration friends died too. Fellow caddies such as Bruce Edwards, TomWatson's bagman, and Jeff (Squeeky) Medlen, who won a British Open with NickPrice and a PGA Championship with John Daly. "They were big guys when Icaddied in the '90s," Larson says. "You look at other people and yourealize how fortunate you are and how short life is. I'm 46 and have myhealth."

Larson makes theperfect counterweight to Calcavecchia. He's calm, Calc is jumpy. He's patient,Calc is impulsive. He plans for the future, Calc lives for the moment. AfterSlocum missed the putt at 18, Larson and Calcavecchia shared a hug, a look anda bond. It was a quiet, understated moment.

"I always knewthis day would come," Larson said. "This has been my dream for a longtime--for 11 years. I simply kept focused on the date when I'd get out. Wesaid, 'We'll have a big year in 2007.' [Calcavecchia] helped me keep my focusto do all the right things to put myself in the position where I am now. If Iwent into prison and screwed up and did the wrong things, who'd care about me?I tried to prove to everybody that I could put it behind me. Fortunately, Markgave me the opportunity."

Calcavecchia andLarson have been friends for more than 20 years, having become acquainted fromthe West Palm Beach golf scene. Larson, who played on the Palm Beach JuniorCollege team in 1979, first met Calcavecchia through former Tour player KenGreen, Calc's best friend at the time. Larson caddied for Green and WayneGrady, among others. Larson also knew a man who sold cocaine and had friendswho used it. To Larson, buying an ounce of cocaine for $1,000 and selling itfor $1,500 seemed like an easy way to make a few bucks. Then his supplierratted him out to the feds, who said that over a four- to five-year periodLarson sold five to 15 kilos of the drug.

He was eventuallyconvicted of conspiracy to distribute cocaine and given 13 years, a seeminglyharsh sentence. "If the federal government feels you sold a certain amountof cocaine, which I did, they can sentence you to whatever they want,"Larson says. "They made me out to be the leader of a big conspiracy, whichI didn't feel I ever was. I was never a big-time player, but you don't have tobe to get a big-time sentence."

Larson served timein four prisons, and Calcavecchia was the only person who visited him in everyone. He promised Larson that he would give him another chance when he got out,and he was as good as his word. When Calc teed it up a year ago in the HondaClassic, Larson was his caddie. In mid-June, when Larson was allowed to traveloutside Palm Beach County, he and Calcavecchia were regulars again.

Last week lookedas if it would be a short one after Calcavecchia needed 36 putts while shootinga four-over 75 in the first round. Fully expecting to miss the cut, Calc andLarson had their bags packed and were ready to drive home to West Palm afterthe second round, but then Calc's putter, an off-and-on nemesis for a decade,warmed up, and he shot a 67 to advance to the weekend.

Calcavecchia wasusing a new wand, a Ping Redwood that he had bought in an Edwin Watts storeafter missing the cut at the Honda Classic the previous week. The $256.18investment--Calcavecchia, a member of the Ping staff, sent the receipt tocompany headquarters in Phoenix--turned out to be a good one. On Saturday,Calcavecchia birdied five of the first six holes and had five more birdies onthe back nine en route to a 62 that put him in a tie for the lead with Slocum."I had no clue I had that in me," said Calcavecchia, who one-putted 26of 36 holes in the second and third rounds.

His solid playcontinued on Sunday. After making birdie putts of 30 and 22 feet at the 13thand 14th holes, Calcavecchia missed a five-footer at 15 that would've cementedthe win. His nerves flared, he admitted. He bogeyed 16 after a poor drive andcame up short with his approach at the 18th, chipped to seven feet from a hairylie and missed his par putt. Then he had to wait while Slocum lined up thefour-footer.

The only thingbetter than a win is a win for a friend--even if it's 12 years later."They're both special," Larson says of the bookended victories."That was before, this one is after. This is icing on the cake."

Larson claimed theflag from the 18th pin, the traditional souvenir for the winning caddie, butleft the clubhouse without his caddie's bib. PODS officials, excited abouthosting their first Tour event, planned to put it on display at corporateheadquarters. But when an official told them Larson's story, they decided thecaddie should keep the bib. It was delivered to Calc's wife, Brenda. Shepromised to give it to Larson later at dinner. She didn't think he'd mind thewait.

• For Gary VanSickle's Inside Golf column, go to SI.com/golf.

For Mark Calcavecchia and Eric Larson, Calc's longtimefriend and caddie, a second victory together was worth the 12-year wait

TWO PHOTOSDavid WalbergSWEET FREEDOM When Slocum missed and Calcavecchia won, Larson's prison dream came true. PHOTODavid WalbergWHAT'S MY LINE? With Larson's help and a new putter, Calcavecchia averaged only 24.3 putts over the final three days.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)