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Former champ Mark Calcavecchia still a big fan of Open

  • lccc-benefit-jpg

    PGA por Jimmy Hanlin in the pink pants watches as Mark Calcavecchia demonstrates a shot during the Q&A at the 2019 LCCC Jack Nicklaus Scholarship Golf Benefit at the Elyria Country Club.

    BRUCE BISHOP/CHRONICLE

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ELYRIA -- Mark Calcavecchia said he was glued to his television during the British Open last month.

“I know Shane Lowry,” he said. “Great guy. No one can ever say a bad word about him. To win in his own country -- to win The Open, which I think is the biggest and best golf tournament in the world -- was super cool.”

Calcavecchia was in Elyria on Monday at the guest pro at the 29th annual Lorain County Community College/Jack Nicklaus Scholarship Golf Benefit at Elyria Country Club. Along with long drive champion Mike “Ziggy” Zeigler, Calcavecchia offered instruction to several high school teams in attendance and the 144 participants.

“I’m excited to come out here and improve on my game based on how the professionals play,” said Columbia senior Ashley Kuhrt. “My dad (Chris) golfed in college and got us all started at a young age.”

The reason Calcavecchia was particularly interested in the British Open?

“I was still eligible to go as a past champion up until you’re 60,” said Calcavecchia, who is 59. “Leading up to it, I wasn’t playing that great and physically, I’m hurting a little bit. I just thought it was better to skip it and the Senior British Open and stay home and rest. I literally didn’t get out of my chair. I watched every shot.

“The only thing I got out of that one was about 10 extra pounds on my belly.”

Winning The Open in July, 1989, is still the longtime pro's biggest claim to fame. He won a three-way playoff against Wayne Grady and Greg Norman at Royal Troon Golf Club in Troon, Scotland. It was Calcavecchia’s only major victory, but he finished second to Sandy Lyle at the 1988 Masters.

“I think the super-bad weather on Sunday was really a good break for him,” Calcavecchia said of Lowry’s wire-to-wire win. “He even knew that pars were amazing and bogeys didn’t hurt you. That helped him with the panic factor.”

Calcavecchia, who was born in Laurel, Neb., and moved with his parents to West Palm Beach, Fla., as a teenager, thinks golf is in a good place. He loves the fact so many younger golfers have been playing well and, of course, he loved seeing Tiger Woods win the Masters.

“Winning the Masters, I was cheering for him,” he said. “I think everybody was.”

However, he believes winning may have taken its toll on the 43-year-old Woods.

“I think it was such a big deal and it was such a relief to him,” Calcavecchia said. “I think he almost mentally shut it down after that. ‘Oh, God, I won the Masters, I’m done.' I think he worked so hard to get to that point and even he said he didn’t realize how much it took out of him.

“I know. I have a bad back but I haven’t had four surgeries, let alone one. He’s going to have back problems the rest of his life. It’s a shame. He’s going to have stretches where he feels pretty good and stretches where he feels terrible. Right now, I think he feels terrible again.”

Calcavecchia loves the young golfers who are dominating the tour right now.

“The young guys are great,” he said. “The Justin Thomases -- guys like that and Brooks (Koepka). There are so many guys that are really, really good players now on the PGA Tour. The tour’s in a good spot, that’s for sure.”

Zeigler invited Calcavecchia to come to Elyria for the fundraiser and Calcavecchia was happy to oblige.

“I’ve learned a lot about it,” he said. “Lorain County Community College is No. 1 in the country from what I understand and I can see why. Everybody out here supporting it."

Calcavecchia was also impressed with Elyria Country Club, one of the oldest private clubs in the state.

“It’s awesome,” he said. “It’s beautiful. I’ve seen most of the back nine and it’s very cool. I love old-style courses like this -- tree-lined. You’ve got to drive it straight, greens are fairly slopey, my kind of course, kind of old style.”

“For me it’s very special because my great friend Joe Cirigliano started this with Jack (Nicklaus),” Zeigler. “The legacy behind it when you look at all the great players that have been here. For me to be a part of it is pretty humbling.”

What advice would Calcavecchia give to aspiring, young players?

“Get out and play as much as you can,” he said. “You need proper fundamentals obviously and help with that to get on the right path. You can learn how to hit it on a range but in order to learn how to play golf, you need to play on a golf course.

“I always love what I call 'play practice.' I can’t stand on the range for three hours and hit 200 straight golf balls. I just get bored and tired. I love playing golf. My whole career I’ve gone out and played two or three balls a hole and hit shots, hit bunker shots, chips and do my thing on the golf course. Aim at flags and try to envision shots. That’s where you learn how to hit shots -- on the golf course, not necessarily the range.

“I think we need to still do a better job of getting kids involved in the game. I’d like to see more par-33 courses or nine-hole courses that the kids can go out and play anytime and not have to worry about paying $125 to go take your 10-year old to go play golf. We need to do a better job with that.”

Contact Tim Gebhardt at 329-7135 or at timothygeb@msn.com.
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