BOCA RATON, Florida — This should be Mark Calcavecchia’s time. His troublesome back problems are under control and another PGA Tour Champions season starts this week in Hawaii with the Jan. 17-19 Mitsubishi Electric Championship for last year’s tournament winners. Then Calcavecchia returns to one of his favorite courses to make the first title defense in a full-field event of the Champions’ season, the Oasis Championship.
For whatever reason, though, Calcavecchia isn’t entering 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 win was even more special, in that it came in Palm Beach County — Calcavecchia’s long-time Florida home — with his wife Brenda on his bag.
“It meant a lot to win,’’ said Calcavecchia in a pre-tourney visit less than a month before his title defense is to begin. Now called the Oasis Championship, the tourney has a Feb. 4-10 run at the Old Course at Broken Sound. Last year Calcavecchia birdies seven of the first 10 holes, then hung on during a precarious final five holes. The couple was 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,’’ said Calcavecchia. “ 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 caddying for me.’’
Now 58, Calcavancchia hadn’t won on PGA Tour Champions since 2015 so that win had to be special.
Revisiting the subject less than a month before his title defense, however, brought an unusual reaction from Calcavecchia on the 30-year anniversary of his biggest-ever win, at the 1989 British Open.
“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. Brenda was mad at me.’’
There’s some incentive to get his act together fast beyond just keeping the peace with Brenda. The tournament on the Old Course at Broken Sound has been a strong one for the 50-and-over 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. It picked up tournament sponsorship for the next three years.
Regardless of its previous titles, the tournament has never had a repeat champion in its 13-year history. Calcavecchia could be the first, and that would mean something.
“I’ve never defended a title,’’ said Calcavecchia, who has won tournaments on either the PGA Tour or PGA Tour Champions in four straight 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, with 13 wins on the PGA Tour and four on PGA Tour Champions, likes hometown tournaments and has a good record in them.
A South Florida resident the last 46 years, Calcavecchia went to high school in West Palm Beach and was the 1978 Florida prep champion for North Shore High School. After playing collegiately at the University of Florida he won the Honda Classic twice at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens. He also has a home in Phoenix and has three PGA Tour wins there.
“That’s six home wins (five on the PGA Tour and last year’s victory at Broken Sound),’’ said Calcavecchia. “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 (the original name of what is now the Honda Classic) in 1977 and 1978).
Broken Sound and the Honda base at PGA National are both about 45 minutes from where Calcavecchia lives. He moved into the Loxahatchie Club (in Jupiter) last April but also uses Tequesta County Club as a winter practice site.