BOCA RATON, Florida — COVID-19 has had a dramatic impact on the PGA Tour Champions, and no one knows that better than Mark Calcavecchia.
Like the other 81 players 50 and older who are competing this week in the TimberTech Championship, Calcavecchia has adjusted to not playing in front of fans and having to social distance from the parking lot to the clubhouse to the practice range to the golf course.
But as Calcavecchia, 60, of Jupiter, prepares for the event, which is Friday through Sunday at The Old Course at Broken Sound, he’s still trying to fully recover his strength after contracting the coronavirus in September while on vacation in his native Nebraska.
“I feel good now,” said Calcavecchia, who won this tournament when it was called the Boca Raton Championship in 2018. “After I was sick, I was pretty weak for two or three weeks and my back hurt, so I still had kind of lingering effects from the aches and pains of it.
“Then sure enough, in Cary, North Carolina, the last day (of the SAS Championship on Oct. 11), back spasms grabbed me right in the middle of my back and buckled my legs and I went down. I couldn’t even make another swing.”
Calcavecchia, whose wife and caddie, Brenda, has consistently tested negative for the virus, headed to Virginia for the next tournament, but his back did not improve. They returned to Florida, where Calcavecchia’s back doctor gave him “a nice little injection in the right spot, so I feel really good now. We’ll see how long it lasts.”
He said his back felt good during Wednesday’s pro-am, adding that the course played long for him. One of the shorter hitters on the senior tour given his back and COVID issues, Calcavecchia said he hit some approach shots that he’s not used to hitting, such as 5-irons to greens where he would normally hit 8- or 9-irons.
The pandemic has forced players to get used to not having fans, and grandstands, at their tournaments. That changes the strategy on holes such as the par-5 18th. Many players went for the green in two knowing that if they ended up against the grandstand, they received a free drop and a chip that often resulted in an easy birdie. A second shot like that now could end up in a pond behind the green.
“Eighteen has a whole different look to it,” Calcavecchia said. “It looks weird with no stands, or fans.”
Added Jesper Parnevik, “The thing we miss are fans. That’s the saddest part I would say. It’s kind of lonely out there.”
Dudley Hart can relate to that. He made a hole-in-one at the tour’s first tournament back after the shutdown to a pin hidden from the tee. His only clue that he hit a great shot was a marshal waving his arm.
“That kind of stuff is different, but I’m just glad we’re out playing,” Hart said.
COVID had an impact on Ken Duke of Stuart, who canceled his annual charity golf tournament. Although the Champions Tour has had a safe season since play resumed on July 31 after nearly a five-month closure, Duke didn’t want to take any chances with his Ken Duke & Friends Celebrity Pro-Am, which was scheduled for this past weekend at Floridian National Golf Club in Palm City.
“It was the right thing to do with people traveling from all over the United States,” Duke said, noting that his family has been safe and healthy. “We just didn’t need any kind of spike at our event and get negative publicity from that. We’ve done pretty well the last four years, raising a lot of money for a lot of different charities, so we thought it was the best thing to do.”
David Frost said COVID has had some benefits and some drawbacks. He took advantage of the time off to spend three months at home in Delray Beach and expand his wine business. The highly regarded wines from his vineyard in South Africa are sold at Trader Joe’s and online at frostwine.com.
“I’ve never really been home in 35 years for that amount of time. I’ve traveled non-stop since 1982,” he said. “So it was nice to have a break like that. However, when I came back, my golf game completely sucked.”
During that break, Frost also posted a bunch of Facebook Live videos on his David Frost Golf page.
“I have received so much support over the last 30 years playing golf, so I think it was my time to spread the word that everybody should be patient, stay safe, stay at home as much as possible,” he said. “In a short while, this thing will be over and then we can get back to normal again.”
Frost and his family have been safe and COVID-free. He said his only close friend to get COVID was President Donald Trump.
Parnevik, of Tequesta, said COVID had little effect on him and his family because they went to his native Sweden in mid-April and stayed there for the summer.
“We never had a lockdown,” he said. “Bars, restaurants, schools, everything was open. They never shut down. My kids thought that was great, because we went from Florida lockdown where we barely stuck our heads out of the window because we were scared of COVID to being in Sweden where we did pretty much normal things.”
For Hart, of Naples, the COVID shutdown came at the perfect time: He had just had surgery on his thumb.
“I couldn’t practice or play,” Hart said. “My son’s a golfer, he’s a freshman on the golf team at the University of Florida. So I was out with him messing around all the time, which at least got me out of the house and got me out of my wife’s hair.”
Hart’s family did have some COVID close calls. His son’s roommate at Florida had COVID, but he did not contract it. Neither did his daughter, whose roommate at the University of Tampa got the virus.
“We’ve done well,” he said. “Everyone’s been pretty smart about it. Not paranoid. I feel like there’s a big difference between that. I don’t stress about getting it, but I’m going to try to do everything I can to be smart. If I go in somewhere, I’m going to put a mask on and wash my hands.
“I still try to live my life as normal as I can and I’m not locking myself in my house in fear, which isn’t safe for your sanity.”