Pro golfer Mark Calcavecchia is a college sports fan with three favorite schools.
First is Florida, where he played college golf. Next is Ohio State, “because that's where my wife went, so I had to become a fan.”
Nebraska, where he lived until age 13.
“I still root for the Huskers,” said Calcavecchia, who will return to his native state for the July 8 to 14 U.S. Senior Open at Omaha Country Club. “I like to keep up with how they are doing.”
His Big Red roots came from growing up in Laurel (population 1,000) in northeast Nebraska.
Calcavecchia stayed through seventh grade before the family moved to North Palm Beach, Fla., in 1973. His father, who taught him golf on the local nine-hole course, suffered from multiple sclerosis and had difficulty dealing with the harsh Midwest winters.
“We had taken vacations quite a few times to Florida when I was little,” Calcavecchia said in a recent interview. “All of my dad's brothers and sisters lived in the Palm Beach and Miami area.”
That familiarity, though, didn't guarantee a smooth transition from small-town Nebraska life.
“It was a shock when I got down there,” he said. “My eighth-grade class had more people than the entire town of Laurel.”
One early memory of the move to Florida stands out to Calcavecchia — playing golf with his brother on Christmas morning at age 13 in 80-degree weather.
“I knew there was a blizzard in Laurel,” he said, “so at that point I kind of thought it was going to be a good spot for me.”
Calcavecchia won the 1977 Florida state high school golf championship, earned a scholarship to Florida and was an all-conference pick. But as he once told Golf Digest, he wasn't interested in a degree.
“I was there to play golf and have fun, and I did both,” he told the magazine. “I stayed eligible for 212 years.”
A failing grade on a sociology test put Calcavecchia on academic probation, so he turned pro in 1981 and earned his PGA Tour card in 1982.
He won 13 PGA titles and the 1989 British Open in a playoff over Greg Norman and Wayne Grady. He also played in four Ryder Cups, and holds the tour record for consecutive birdies in a round — nine — in the 2009 RBC Canadian Open.
On the Champions Tour, the 53-year-old Calcavecchia has two wins: the 2011 Boeing Classic and the 2012 Montreal Championship.
Through the years, Calcavecchia has been known for sometimes spending his tour dollars — $24 million in lifetime earnings — as fast as he made them.
So he chuckled at a question about his motivation to play the Champions Tour.
“Hey, I don't want to be homeless and start selling everything I own,” he said. “I still have a house to pay for, and I bought a big motor home last year. Those things aren't cheap, either.
“So I still have expenses like everybody else. But I love golf.”
Without the game, Calcavecchia isn't sure what he would do.
“I don't mind taking some time off,” he said. “But after a couple of weeks at home, you sit there in your chair and look at the TV and you get tired of looking at the same (thing). So I'm always ready to get back out on the road.”
The fact that the road soon will lead to Omaha pleases Calcavecchia.
“I'm super excited about it,” he said. “They announce those things two or three years in advance, and I've been looking forward to it ever since.
“We don't get to play close to home very often. I know the crowds are going to be huge.”
After an early-season slump tied to an injury suffered in South Africa, Calcavecchia has played well in seven of the past eight tournaments. Last weekend, he tied for ninth at the Senior Players Championship in Pittsburgh, earning $64,800 and moving him to 17th on this year's money list at $511,658.
“I started off horrible this year because I felt terrible,” he said. “But I got another injection in my back last week, so I'm looking for a good run coming into Omaha.”