POTOMAC -- In a dozen seasons on
the PGA Tour, Mark Calcavecchia has been portrayed in many ways: struggling pro for five years, rising star for five, enigma the past two.
Now, after being hailed as the conquering American hero at the 1989 British Open and nearly as the goat of last year's Ryder Cup, Calcavecchia is searching again to find his niche.
Will he be the threat to win any week, on any course, in any kind of playing conditions, as he was from 1987 through 1990? Or has nearly $4 million in career earnings made Calcavecchia coast a little?
"I'm having a lot of fun," Calcavechhia said Friday, after a 2-under-par 69 in the second round of the $1.1 million Kemper Open put him at 6-under 136, two shots behind the leaders but solidly in the hunt. "That's as important as anything out here."
Refreshed from nearly a month away from the tour, and rejuvenated from his victory earlier this year at the Phoenix Open, Calcavecchia seems ready to reclaim his spot among the best players in the world.
After making $807,741 and winning three tournaments in 1989, including a playoff victory over Greg Norman and Wayne Grady at St. Andrews, Calcavecchia earned a career-high $834,281 in 1990 without any victories.
But last year he slipped to 50th on the money list -- with $323,621 -- and there were some who wondered whether Calcavecchia's star had begun to fade. The putting touch had disappeared and, for the most part, so had Calcavecchia.
"I had to dig deep to keep myself up last year," Calcavecchia said earlier this year after winning Phoenix for the second time. "I questioned myself. Where was the Calc putting stroke that we loved so well? Where was the chipping stroke? They came back this week."
Just as quickly, they left again. He finished tied for 69th at AT&T Pebble Beach, withdrew from Northern Telecom after an opening-round 85, tied for 50th in Los Angeles, tied for 69th at Doral, 21st at Bay Hill, 73rd at the Players Championship and tied for 31st at the Masters.
Calcavecchia had enough.
"I needed a break," he said.
So he went home to West Palm Beach, Fla., to spend some time with the family. Except for a two days at the Shell Houston Open, when he missed the cut after a second-round 80, Calcavecchia stayed away from the tour.
At one point, Calcavecchia didn't touch a club for 15 days. But he returned two weeks ago for the Byron Nelson and saw some encouraging signs. One was an opening-round 64. The other was that he didn't get too upset after his second- round 74 or a tie for 55th. He finished tied for 10th last week at The Colonial.
Calcavecchia's new frame of mind was evident Friday. After getting to 8-under and tying for the lead, he fell back with bogeys at 16 and 17 to finish two shots behind second-round leaders Brad Fabel, Jay Don Blake, Bob Gilder and David Toms. He was at 6-under through 15 holes yesterday when played was postponed.
"I feel like I have a lot of energy," said Calcavecchia, who'll be 32 in a couple of weeks. "I'm awake. I feel a lot better than I did a month ago."
Or 10 months ago on Kiawah Island, S.C., in the Ryder Cup. With a chance to clinch victory when his opponent, Colin Montgomerie, hit a tee shot into the water at the par-3 17th hole, Calcavecchia shanked his own shot into the water. He wound up blowing a five-shot lead and halving the match.
He cried and left the course, only to be dragged back by his wife, Sheryl, and see the U.S. team win the match when Bernhard Langer blew a short putt on the final hole. Though it relieved some of the burden from Calcavecchia's shoulders, it didn't take away any of the doubts.
"Sometimes you handle pressure great and sometimes you can't handle it at all," said Calcavecchia. "I've won a British Open and six tournaments out here, so obviously I can handle it. But I've blown some tournaments, too. I blew my Ryder Cup match and I didn't handle it.
"When you blow it, it's tough. I got maybe thousands of letters from fans across the country [after the Ryder Cup] and not one gave me a hard time about it. That also made me feel good. People in airports right after that said, 'Man, you did great.' We won the cup. That's all that counted."
Calcavecchia's career stats
Year.. ..Earnings.. ..Rank
1981.. .. .. $404.. .. 253
1982.. .. $25,604.. .. 134
1983.. .. $16,313.. .. 161
1984.. .. $26,660.. .. 140
1985.. .. $15,957.. .. 162
1986.. ..$155,012.. .. .58
1987.. ..$522,423.. .. .10
1988.. ..$751,912.. .. ..6
1989.. ..$807,741.. .. ..5
1990.. ..$834,281.. .. ..7
1991.. ..$323,621.. .. .50
1992.. ..$258,541.. .. .19
Career victories: 1986 - Southwest Golf Classic; 1987 - Honda Classic; 1988 - Bank of Boston Classic; 1989 - Phoenix Open; Nissan Los Angeles Open; British Open; 1992 - Phoenix Open.