For Larson, road to Ryder Cup has been a long, complicated trip
To be working on the bag of a man many regard as the best young talent on the PGA Tour is the stuff caddies dream about while charting yardage books, cleaning clubs and hustling from one PGA Tour town to the next.
Calcavecchia visited him at each one."He never lost his attitude, even though there were some down times," said the 13-time PGA Tour winner and 26-year veteran. "He had appeals getting denied, and there were some tough months. He's always kept a sense of humor and good attitude. Considering what he's been through, I don't know if there has ever been a prisoner who didn't change. But he stayed the same person, didn't act bitter." Larson earned a college degree while in prison, and for a time was making about $13 a month doing various tasks. He kept positive, however, knowing that a job awaited him when he got out.
"He gave me hope," Larson said. "As I was doing my time, I was able to do all the right things knowing I was going to come back on the PGA Tour. If it wasn't for him, I probably wouldn't be out here and I definitely wouldn't be in the position I'm in right now."
Larson was released to a halfway house in West Palm Beach, Fla., in February 2006, which allowed him to caddie for Calcavecchia that year at the Honda Classic. Due to a ban on travel, Larson didn't go to another tournament until the Western Open that year. He then caddied for Calcavecchia at the PGA Championship and throughout the following spring.
It was when Calcavecchia won the PODS Championship last year -- earning Larson a hefty commission from the $954,000 first prize -- that Larson was able to take big steps in putting his life back together. Caddies typically earn a weekly travel allowance plus 5 percent of a player's earnings, with some players paying a higher percentage for top-10 finishes and victories. Larson owed a $25,000 fine to the federal government, not to mention the expenses associated with starting anew.
"He did very well for me," Larson said. "It was a great year. I also caddied for Steve Marino for seven tournaments and for A.K. for one. I was out here 32 or 33 weeks, and I just wanted to get out, show my face so people would know me again. It worked out for me to be able to branch out a little bit."
That was always part of Calcavecchia's plan. Never one to use a caddie exclusively and for any extended period of time, his hope was to get Larson back on his feet financially and in the presence of other players.
And nearing age 50 with the Champions Tour in sight, Calcavecchia figured it would be best for Larson to hook up with somebody younger.
"He always said, 'Look, I'm going to help you get back on your feet and if an opportunity comes up, you need to take a shot with it.' I think in the back of his mind, he was always hoping he could play well for me and get me back on my feet and then try to hook up with some young guy," Larson said. "And if I ever wanted to work for him occasionally, I could. He told me as long as he was playing golf, if I didn't have another job, I could work for him. Because he wouldn't hire a guy full time."
With Kim, Larson has hit the lottery. Depending on the deal they negotiated, it is no stretch to think that Larson was paid in the $100,000 range for each of Kim's victories at the Wachovia Championship and AT&T National. Both tournament wins earned Kim in excess of $1 million.
"He's been tremendous in my growing as a player and a person," Kim said. "He just brings a new perspective, a great attitude every morning, and I feel if there was something lacking before a round, it was [me] being positive and happy to be there. I feel like with everything Eric has gone through, he feels happy to be out here.""It's incredible how things have turned out for E," Calcavecchia said. "Three years ago, he was in the slammer and he probably didn't know the difference between Tiger Woods and Anthony Kim. If you ask Eric every day, no matter what happens, life is good." Or, put another way, Woods had yet to turn pro and Kim was 10 years old when Larson went away to prison. "Eric is the first person to recognize, 'I broke the law, I deserved to be punished,'" said Kevin Richardson, a friend and attorney who let Larson live with his family for six months in West Palm Beach after his release and helped him get a job at Bear Lakes Country Club in the same town. "I just questioned the [length of] the sentence for what he did. It certainly punished him and had a great role in rehabilitation and hopefully it will serve as a deterrent for others." Larson worked the bag room for six months at Bear Lakes while having to stay close to home. He then slowly but surely worked his way back to the tour, with the help of Calcavecchia. Last year, Larson got to know Kim simply by being out on tour. The opportunity to caddie for him came at the Texas Open. That led to another chance this spring when Kim decided to make a change in caddies. With Calcavecchia's blessing, Larson went on a four-week trial run with Kim -- who won the third week, at Wachovia. "He's definitely matured," said Larson of Kim, who was known for being on the cocky side during his rookie season. "He's grown up a lot, saying and doing all the right things. I think he expected to come out here and win quick without putting in the hard work. During the offseason, he put in the hard work. It took a little while for it to kick. Now it's kicked in and the confidence is there and everything else has fallen into place. "I just happened to be there at the right time." Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.
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37th RYDER CUP
United States, 16½-11½
Where: Valhalla Golf Club; Louisville, Ky.
Yardage; Par: 7,496 yards; par 71
Rosters: U.S. and Europe
• Forde: Weekley's antics a key for U.S.
• Harig: Azinger had a blueprint for victory
• Sobel: Grading all 24 Ryder Cup players
• Watch: Azinger, Mickelson discuss the win
• Watch: New guard taking over for U.S. squad
• Jason Sobel's Ryder Cup blog
• Scores: Sunday's singles matches
• Fast start leads U.S. to victory | Zoom photos
• Forde: Saturday was pure match play madness
• Harig: Character Weekley proved his worth
• Sobel's blog: Breaking down Sunday singles
• On The Tee: Sunday predictions
• Sunday's singles matches pairings
• Watch: Azinger, Weekley on Saturday's action
• Watch: Sobel, Harig on American's chances
• Euros inch closer after fourballs | Zoom photos
• Scores: Afternoon fourballs | Morning foursomes
• Ryder rookie Wilson shows he belongs on team
• Garcia, Westwood return after benching
• Harig: Kim, Mickelson a match made in heaven
• Forde: Revenge will have to wait for Perry
• Harig: U.S. rode the wave in Friday foursomes
• On The Tee: Stellar start for U.S. | Photos
• Jason Sobel's Ryder Cup blog | Saturday pairings
• Scores: Afternoon fourballs | Morning foursomes
• U.S. jumps out to big early lead | Watch: Azinger
• Garcia, Westwood benched | Watch: North's take
• Mickelson-Kim lead off for U.S. | Pairings
• Furyk leaves Valhalla to be with wife
• Ali makes surprise appearance at Valhalla
• Controversial pick Poulter in spotlight
• Ali welcomes guests in Louisville for Ryder Cup
• Tiger wishes U.S. team well, but won't attend
• Azinger eyes Holmes, Perry pairing for first day
• Europe arrives at Ryder Cup before power does
• Heavy winds damage parts of Ryder Cup site
• Azinger finalizes Ryder Cup roster
• Azinger: Door open for Tiger to attend Ryder Cup
• Faldo uses captain's picks on Poulter, Casey
• Poulter picks playoffs over Euro Tour event
• Surgery KOs Donald for Ryder Cup team
• Hawkins: Time for U.S. to rescue Ryder Cup
• Verdi: In the Captain's Corner with Azinger
• In '67, Hogan's presence loomed large
• 37th Ryder Cup viewer's guide
• Captains Azinger, Faldo are an odd couple
• Watch: Nicklaus on his changes to Valhalla