CROMWELL, Conn. — In a unique way, Harris English and Eric Larson are perfect together as player and caddie, because both know a thing or two about dark times.
When English won the Sentry Tournament of Champions in January at Kapalua it was a particularly emotional moment for him because he’d gone seven years without a victory.
Larson’s drought was longer and a bit more profound. He went 10 years without his freedom, incarcerated from 1995 to 2005 at four different federal prisons for selling cocaine.
English’s issue was his struggle with golf.
Larson’s issue was his struggle with life.
The intersection of the two has produced beautiful results. Larson has his life back, and English has his game back.
“It’s about the perspective he brings,’’ English told The Post on Thursday after shooting a 3-under 67 in the opening round of the Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands to stand four shots out of the lead four days removed from finishing third at the U.S. Open. “There’s nowhere I can put him on the golf course that’s going to be in a worse spot than he was in 15 years ago.
“I know he has my back and he’ll do anything for me and I’ll do anything for him, too. That’s the kind of relationship you build with your caddie out here. You’re with him almost more than you’re with your wife, so you better respect him and like him and enjoy being around him.’’
Larson, 60, enjoys being around pretty much everyone. Those who know him best say he’s one of the most popular figures on the PGA Tour because he’s perpetually upbeat.
And why wouldn’t he be?
Being locked up for 10 years can mess with the strongest of minds, and how could Larson have had any idea he’d get back to doing what he always wanted to do with his life, caddying?
“I was dreaming to be able to come back out here, but you never know if you’re going to have that opportunity,’’ Larson told The Post.
The player-caddie dynamic has changed dramatically since Larson’s early looping days. More and more players are bringing family and friends to caddie for them, making it more difficult for the seasoned caddies to find steady work.
Larson said he “never felt’’ apprehension about whether he’d be accepted back in golf “because I didn’t use [cocaine] or bring it on Tour. I did it for monetary purposes only. I was not a major drug dealer.
“What I did was wrong, but I wasn’t worried about what people thought. A lot of people came and visited me in prison and I knew a lot of people before I went in. So, they were very supportive and glad to see me get out.’’
No one was more supportive of Larson than Mark Calcavecchia, who had a significant role in saving Larson’s life.
Larson was caddying for Calcavecchia before he was sent away, and when Larson went to prison, Calcavecchia told him to “do the right thing when you’re in there and when you get out you have a job as long as I’m still playing. And if I’m not, I’ll find you one.’’
“Fortunately,’’ Larson said, “he was true to his word.’’
Larson was on Calcavecchia’s bag when he won the 1995 BellSouth Classic shortly before he went to prison, and after he got out and the two were reunited as player and caddie, Calcavecchia won the 2007 PODS Championship.
Unofficially, the Larson-Calcavecchia Slam.
Larson said Calcavecchia has been “like a brother’’ to him.
Calcavecchia visited Larson in all four prisons he was incarcerated — in North Carolina, California, outside of Orlando and Miami.
“I wasn’t really scared,’’ Larson said of going to prison. “It was the idea of spending so much time away knowing how much I’m going to miss in life. Calc came to see me at all the prisons, took his time to do that even when there wasn’t a tournament near me. He gave me the hope that when I got out I’d be able to get back on my feet.’’
Calcavecchia on Thursday recalled his prison visits and phone calls with Larson.
“He’d call me collect and I’d accept and he would say, ‘Seventy-two more months,’ ’’ Calcavecchia told The Post. “I’d be like, ‘Jesus, he’s got a countdown going.’ I know how much it meant to him for me to visit. I tried to put myself in his position and what that would mean to me if I had a friend make the effort to see me if I was in prison.
“I did it because I wanted to do it,’’ Calcavecchia said. “That’s a long time he was in there, and to have something to look forward once the nightmare was finally over it’s got to be a huge help mentally.’’
At his second prison, Taft Correctional Institute in Taft, Calif., a hot, dusty place somewhere between nowhere and nowhere near Bakersfield, Larson met and became friends with Tommy Chong, of Cheech and Chong fame.
He, too, became acquainted in prison with Jordan Belfort, the former stock broker about which the “Wolf of Wall Street’’ movie was based.
Larson, who said he had a “two-year degree on the street’’ before he went to prison, earned his bachelor’s degree in business while behind bars “to keep the mind going, stay busy and help me pass the time.’’
It’s been quite a run for Larson, who — if it’s even possible — appreciates caddying more post-prison than he did before … and he loved it before.
“I respect his story,’’ English said. “He could have gone two different ways with going what he went through and he chose probably the hardest way, which was pick himself up and keep going and make himself something. He has obviously been through a lot in his life.
“What I like about Eric is he doesn’t really treat caddying as work. He loves everybody out there. Like, this is his family, and you can sense that from him every single day. It doesn’t matter if I play a practice round at 6 in the a.m. or 6 in the p.m., he’s ready to do whatever it takes to get me where I need to be.’’
Neither English nor Larson has ever been in a better place than where they are right now.
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