Q&A with Mark Calcavecchia, Defending Principal Charity Classic Champion

Mark Calcavecchia recently caught up with Principal Charity Classic Senior Reporter Rick Brown to talk about preparing to defend his Principal Charity Classic title at Wakonda Club, his Midwestern roots, his approach to the game and of course, those famous bacon-print pants. Will they make a repeat appearance? Read on to find out that and more….

RB: How long have you been traveling the PGA TOUR Champions circuit in your RV?

MC: This is the sixth year my wife Brenda and I have been traveling in our motorhome. We tow a Jeep Grand Cherokee behind it. I don’t mind flying, but I’ve always loved to drive. And that thing is fun to drive. But it’s just nice to get where you’re going, and then you have everything right there.

RB: You won last year’s Principal Charity Classic wearing bacon-inspired pants during the final round. Have you heard every joke there is to be told about bacon pants?

MC: I’ve heard some here and there. I’ve got the pants in the motorhome. I’ll be in the full outfit come Friday at the Principal Charity Classic (first round of play is Friday, June 3). Bacon belt and bacon pants, white shirt, white hat. The whole look is coming back out.

RB: Are you superstitious?

MC: At times, yeah.

RB: Last year, as I recall, you didn’t wear the bacon pants in the second round. You wore them in the first and third rounds.

MC: I just wore the bacon belt in the second round. But in the third round, I thought, “Shoot, I’m leading, I better not mess with what’s working here.” So I brought the pants back out.

RB: You’ve broken par in nine straight Principal Charity Classic rounds at Wakonda Club (68.44 stroke average) and finished third in both 2013 and 2014 before winning last year. Are you in your comfort zone here?

MC: I think that has a lot to do with it.  You still have to play well and hit the shots and what not. But I think the week I spent here before the tournament last year helped, playing Harvester, Wakonda, Glen Oaks and Des Moines Golf and Country Club. I played four rounds that week. I ended up buying a putter at a local sporting goods store. I just worked on a few things and got a few things sorted out in my swing and started hitting it pretty good. I felt like I was starting to putt pretty good. In the Pro-Am, I felt like I played pretty good. I’m not sure what I shot. I think it was 4 or 5 under, fairly easily, without trying real hard. I thought, shoot, I’m playing pretty good, and your confidence picks up pretty quick.

RB: You also tied for 10th and were fifth in two appearances at Glen Oaks (2011, 2012). Is this a case of a former Midwesterner (Laurel, Neb.) returning to his roots?

MC: I think so. I said that right when we rolled into town the first time (in 2011). We stayed out in Adel at the KOA there. It was beautiful. It was on the top of a hill out there in a field, and we just loved it. Loved the town, loved West Des Moines, had a good time at Glen Oaks and had a good chance to win that year. And everything felt very reminiscent, flashbacks of the early part of my life.

RB: Is winning the British Open (in 1989 at Royal Troon, beating Greg Norman and Wayne Grady in a playoff) at the top of your list of golfing accomplishments?

MC: For sure.

RB: What a sense of accomplishment, right, winning a major championship and knowing your name will be on the Claret Jug forever?

MC:  It’s a cool trophy. I’ve got two of them at home. The first one is two-thirds the actual size. And then about four years later they came out with one that’s 90 percent of the actual size. So it looks like the real thing. I still look at it once in awhile. When Ernie Els won The Open (in 2012 at Royal Lytham) he was staying in the same hotel we were. By the time he got done with all the media and stuff, we were hanging around the bar waiting for him. When he came in, everyone was taking pictures and holding the Claret again. So it was kind of cool to hold the real thing again, and look at it again. I said, “Hey, there’s my name on it. Let me see that thing!” I wanted to see if they erased my name. But no, there it was, right between Seve (Ballesteros) and (Nick) Faldo.

RB: Your family moved from Nebraska to Florida when you were 13. A year later you played golf with Jack Nicklaus (at Lost Tree Village in North Palm Beach, Fla.)?

MC: I met him the summer we moved there, when I was 13.  Jack Nicklaus, Jr., was probably one of the first kids I met in the Palm Beach County Junior Golf Association. We’re the same age. From that point on we played junior golf against each other, and in high school. Jack came out and watched a lot of our matches. I was pretty sure it was later on that summer he came out and watched a junior tournament we were playing in together and had nice things to say to me right off the bat. And then I think it was the next year, Jackie (Jack, Jr.) saw me up at North Palm Beach Country Club, or maybe it was another junior tournament, and said, “Do you want to play with my dad and I?” I’m pretty sure I didn’t sleep that night.

RB: What was tougher, the night before playing with Nicklaus or sleeping on a lead the night before the final round of a pro tournament?

MC: When you’re 14, yeah, playing with Jack Nicklaus. I was pretty excited.

RB: What have PGA TOUR Champions events been like for you? Everyone says they’re more relaxed than the PGA TOUR. But when you’re on the course, is it still competitive?

MC: It doesn’t feel like the British Open, let’s put it that way. But once everybody gets out here and tees it up, it’s still very competitive. The guys still play really well. If you have any designs on winning or having a chance to win, you better bring it from the first tee on Friday. You’ve got to shoot some pretty low scores most of the time. One of the things I love about Wakonda is that you don’t have to shoot that low. There’s a good amount of hard holes out here to balance out some of the easy holes. There’s a good mix. It’s relaxed in the clubhouse and everywhere else.  But when you’re out there and playing in the tournament, everybody is trying to do their best, for sure.

RB: You’ve won 13 times on the PGA TOUR, and three times on the PGA TOUR Champions. Do you feel like you’ve gotten a lot out of your professional career?

MC:  I do. I think if you ask any player this, they’d all probably tell you they could and should have won more. I had 27 second-place finishes on the PGA TOUR. I probably gave 10 of those away. And the other 17 were probably good rallies to finish second. On the PGA TOUR Champions circuit, I’ve only won three times, and I know for a fact that I’ve given five of those away. So 20 wins and eight wins would have sounded better, but you can’t win every time you get in a position to win. You just can’t do it. That’s the nature of this game. Something goofy is liable to happen in the last four or five holes. It does almost every week to somebody. Sometimes the guy with the lead, who looks like he’s going to win, does win. But not always, that’s for sure.

RB: Do you still get those competitive butterflies down the stretch of a tournament?

MC: Definitely. Sometimes it’s less than others. You’ll be playing along and you’ll think, “I’m not even nervous.” And that’s probably the worst thing. Because then you start thinking about it. Other times you’re just kind of edgy all day. Us golfers, we all think a little bit different.

RB: PGA TOUR Champions players seem well aware of the fact that tournaments like the Principal Charity Classic have value beyond a golfing event.

MC: I know it’s a full-year job to run an event like this. Principal’s 10th year now? That’s awesome. You can’t have tournaments without sponsors. And $7.7 million raised for charity, that’s a lot of money. I know it’s well spent, and it goes to kids. It’s awesome.

RB: The PGA TOUR Champions has been called a second mulligan for the guys who play on it.  Is it a good want to keep your competitive fires burning?

MC:  We’re very lucky to be able to do this, at our age. You look at so many other sports, they’re done. They can’t do anything. And golf you can keep playing, and playing well, for a long time.

RB: Do you chase technology looking for an advantage, or are those days in the rear-view mirror?

MC:  I’ve given up entirely on the idea that a certain driver or certain shaft is going to find me 20 more yards. That’s just not going to happen. When you swing it 105 mph, or if I’m feeling loose and it’s warm out, I can come out of my shoes and get to 107. The ball’s only going to go so far. It doesn’t matter what kind of shaft you’ve got in it, or what kind of head you’re using. Irons, I’m still using X100 shafts I used in high school. I’m about as standard as it gets.  And a putter’s a putter.

RB: For a guy from Laurel, Neb., to have a bobblehead in his likeness, that’s big-time, right?

MC: That is big time. Pretty cool. And it’s in the Bobblehead Hall of Fame already (located in Milwaukee).

RB: You’re going back to Troon to play in the British Open in July. Will those bacon pants make the trip?

MC: They won’t. I want to keep them centrally located.

By Rick Brown, Principal Charity Classic Senior Reporter