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I'd give back every cent I've earned to win the Open again; I've been a club thrower and bag trasher in my day.

The first time that Mark Calcavecchia clapped eyes on Royal Troon he thought the parched, baked course resembled a lunar landscape.

A week after that first sighting, the man from Nowhere, Nebraska was over the moon as he cradled the famous claret jug.

That was 1989, the last time the Open Championship was played over the gruelling Ayrshire links.

This is 1997, and the golfer who stunned the pundits, the bookmakers, his fellow pros - and most of himself - is getting ready to launch another full- scale assault on Troon.

At the time, he didn't appreciate the enormity of his unexpected elevation to the ranks of major champions. Eight years on, he does.

He admitted: "You know, I would give back every cent I've earned just to win that championship again. That's how much it means to me."

When he walked onto the first tee at Troon, few gave him a snowball's chance in hell of winning an Open.

He had the strength of a lumberjack and a swing that nearly won him the 1988 Masters captured by Sandy Lyle.

But he was surely temperamentally unsuited to the rigours of Scottish `bump and run' golf that is totally alien to Americans weaned on lush fairways and receptive greens.

For a start, he had a reputation as the terminator of golf bags.

He admitted: "Yeah, I've been a great club thrower and bag-trasher in my day. In college I guess I ruined more golf bags than anybody else in the world. Just my nature, I'm afraid.

"It was a constant battle with my temper. I used to explode every now and again.

"But at one tournament my wife Sheryl took me aside and told me I was an asshole. That put me straight. She's great - the best thing that ever happened to me. She keeps me right."

Calcavecchia was playing so badly before one Honda Classic in Florida that he put his clubs away and caddied instead for his friend Ken Green.

The following year he went back and won the tournament!

He didn't endear himself to some of the snootier members at Royal Troon when he spent the entire prize giving ceremony with his face virtually concealed beneath his visor.

Calcavecchia didn't care. He was Open champion - the first of several majors, or so he believed.

Little did he realise that he was to become a classic under-achiever.

He admitted: "I suppose that's true. In the nineties alone I've had 19 second place finishes.

"At the time of Troon I was pretty much on top of my game. I'd won two tournaments that year and I never thought about what lay ahead.

"I just went out and played and thought: "This is easy, this is fun'. I didn't know any better.

"I expected to keep on winning tournaments and thought another major would come along as a matter of course. Now I know it's a lot, lot harder."

Calcavecchia has slipped to No.48 in the world rankings - but hopes that a return to his favourite course in the world can be the inspiration he needs to become a major player again.

He said: "Obviously it's my favourite golfing memory and the highlight of my career, but I happen to believe Troon IS one of the best courses in the world."

Even Calcavecchia didn't honestly think he would win the Open until he birdied the 18th for the second time on that dramatic Sunday.

Aussie Wayne Grady was out in front, pursued by his more famous countryman Greg Norman, who stormed round in 64.

Calcavecchia had all but given up the ghost. But then everything changed on the 11th and 12th holes.

He recalled: "I wasn't even thinking about winning the Open with six or seven holes left.

"On the 11th I had to make a 50 footer for a par, but still nothing registered. Then at the next I was in the rubbish with no shot. I was out of it."

A bogey five seemed inevitable. Calcavecchia dug out the ball with his wedge. It smacked the stick two feet up - and dropped like a stone into the hole for a birdie.

He said: "When that shot flew in, Grady was still way ahead. But I birdied the 14th and 16th then hit my second to five feet at the 18th for another.

"I knew I needed a birdie to tie Norman by that stage. Then in the play- off I hit a career five iron to six feet at the 18th to birdie it again.

"It was a dream - but it was luck. I can't explain what happened that afternoon. Maybe it was just meant to be."
COPYRIGHT 1997 Scottish Daily Record & Sunday
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Copyright 1997 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Sport
Author:Simpson, Gordon
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jul 16, 1997
Previous Article:Troon trivia.
Next Article:I got skewered going to the loo.

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