BOCA RATON, Fla. – This should be Mark Calcavecchia’s time. With troublesome back problems under control, Calcavecchia started the Champions Tour season last month in Hawaii with a tie for 10th in the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, an event for the 2018 tournament winners. This week, Calcavecchia has returned to one of his favorite courses for a title defense at the Oasis Championship.
For whatever reason, though, Calcavecchia hasn’t entered this season on an optimistic note. He started the 2018 campaign with a wire-to-wire victory in what was then called the Boca Raton Championship. That triumph was even more special in that it came in Palm Beach County, Calcavecchia’s long-time Florida home, with his wife, Brenda, on the bag.
“It meant a lot to win,’’ Calcavecchia said during a recent pre-tournament visit to the Old Course at Broken Sound, site of the Oasis Championship, which begins today (tee times). Last year, Calcavecchia birdied seven of the first 10 holes, then hung on during a precarious final five holes. He and his wife were in tears when the last putt dropped.
“We had quite a few chances to win tournaments on the Champions Tour together, and I blew them, basically,’’ he said. “We did win the Wendy’s Three-Tour Challenge, the Shark Shootout and a tournament in Korea, but Lanny [Wadkins, the Champions Tour analyst on Golf Channel] said some things, like maybe I would have won a few if she wasn’t caddieing for me.’’
Calcavecchia, 58, hadn’t won on the 50-and-older tour since 2015.
Revisiting the subject less than a month before his title defense, however, brought an unusual reaction from Calcavecchia as the 30-year anniversary of his biggest victory, the 1989 British Open, drew near.
“I’m not as excited to play as I was last year,’’ he said. “Maybe it’s just because I’m a year older.’’
Or, maybe it’s because the 2018 season didn’t end on the high note on which it started.
“I missed the last tournament by a shot or two, and that was frustrating,’’ he said. “I didn’t touch a club for 43 days starting in November. I gained about 15 pounds, and I’ve lost about eight of those back because I worked hard the last two weeks to get stronger.
“I’m moving in the right direction, but it’s hard. I’m trying to get back in the mode of playing golf. I’ll get there, but once you stop playing, it gets harder to get back going. I like doing nothing. It’s easier that way. I literally didn’t get out of my chair for a week straight. [Wife] Brenda was mad at me.’’
There’s some incentive to get his act together fast beyond keeping the peace with his wife. The tournament on the Old Course at Broken Sound has been a strong one for the 50-and-older players, though it has had sponsorship issues. The city sponsored it last year to keep the event going, and now it’ll be called the Oasis Championship. Oasis, founded in South Florida 20 years ago, specializes in providing human-resource services to small- and medium-sized businesses. The company picked up tournament sponsorship for the next three years.
Regardless of its previous titles, the tournament never has had a repeat champion in its 12-year history. Calcavecchia could be the first, and that would mean something.
“I’ve never [successfully] defended a title,’’ said Calcavecchia, whose 13 victories on the PGA Tour and four on the Champions Tour span four consecutive decades. “Well, maybe I did in junior golf, but that doesn’t count. I won the Argentine Open two years in a row but didn’t go to it for a year in between , so I don’t think that counts.’’
Calcavecchia likes hometown tournaments and has a good record in them.
A South Florida resident for the past 46 years, Calcavecchia went to high school in West Palm Beach and won the 1978 state title for North Shore High School. After playing collegiately at Florida, he won the Honda Classic twice, in 1987 and 1998. He also has a home in Phoenix, where he has won three of his PGA Tour titles.
“That’s six home wins [five on the PGA Tour and last year’s victory at Broken Sound],’’ Calcavecchia said. “It may take the cake for home wins, other than Jack [Nicklaus]. How many Hondas and Dorals did he win?”
(For the record, Nicklaus won the Doral Eastern Open in 1972 and 1975 and the Inverrary Classic, forerunner to today’s Honda Classic, in 1977 and 1978.)
Broken Sound and the Honda base at PGA National are both about 45 minutes from Calcavecchia’s home. He moved to Loxahatchie Club in Jupiter last April but also uses Tequesta Country Club as a winter practice site.
The south Florida background creates an ideal early setting for Calcavecchia to kick his season into high gear. The Champions Tour plays the Chubb Classic next week across the peninsula in Naples.
It’s not exactly a home game for Calcavecchia, but it’s pretty close.
Len Ziehm spent 41 years as the golf columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times before his retirement in 2010. He is in his ninth year as golf columnist for the Daily Herald chain of Chicago suburban newspapers and in his 29th year as golf columnist for Chicagoland Golf, a monthly publication. He also contributes to Chicago District Golfer, the Illinois PGA website and operates lenziehmongolf.com. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @ZiehmLen