THE US Champions Tour is under serious threat with news this week that irreverent American golfer Rocco Mediate has turned 50.
It is unclear whether Mediate will impose himself on the tour immediately but just the fact he is now eligible will surely liven things up.
Many golf fans grew a huge soft spot for Mediate during his performance at the 2008 US Open when a wounded Tiger Woods sunk a bomb putt on the 72nd hole at Torrey Pines to force a playoff.
Everyone had to come back the next day for an 18 hole playoff between the then world No.1 against the world No. 158.
Woods was just about on one leg due to a knee injury and it was clear the then 45 year old Mediate tried to talk his ears off as well.
Mediate captured everyone’s affection with his animated performance, laughing and joking with the crowd throughout what should have been a tense encounter. Mediate lost on the 19th hole but won a huge number of fans.
With four US PGA Tour wins in a 28 year career that has earned him some US$17 million, Mediate could waltz onto the Champions Tour.
Speaking to a local new outlet in hometown Naples, Florida earlier this year Mediate didn’t sound too keen on the lucrative over 50’s tour.
“Until I have to go, I have absolutely zero interest,” said Mediate. “I want to put my 30 (years) in. I have my work cut out for me, but I’m going to try. I’m fit and ready to go. I’m just going to play as much as I can.”
In a fascinating wide ranging article in the US Golf Digest celebrating Mediate’s birthday milestone, his position isn’t so clear.
On playing the Champions Tour Mediate told the Digest:
“The Champions Tour is sitting there waiting to be had, right? No cut. Guaranteed check. But the decision isn’t that simple. The Champions Tour is completely misunderstood. It’s murder out there. The guys can and do go deep. Freddie Couples and Tom Lehman could definitely still win on the PGA Tour. So on one hand there’s the bigger purses on the PGA Tour — where I still think I can win, by the way — but a more steady income on the Champions Tour. Which would you choose if you were me?”
On the 2008 US Open playoff against Tiger Woods:
“Guys would play against Tiger and fold up like lawn chairs. But in that 2008 U.S. Open playoff, I wasn’t worried about falling apart. One of my caddies, Pete Bender, had always told me, “One thing you never do, Roc, is spit the bit.” I’m proud of that. I saw going up against Tiger as an opportunity to show myself and the world what I’d learned in my career playing golf. I liked the idea that there was no place to hide.”
“Was I rooting for Tiger to miss that putt he had to tie me on the 72nd hole at Torrey Pines? Of course. Did I think he would make it? Of course. Would anybody other than Tiger have made that putt? Absolutely not.
“At the press conference Sunday night I was asked about my chances in the Monday playoff. I said, “I have absolutely nothing to lose.” When the conference was over, it hit me: I had everything to lose. This was my moment. It was my big chance. Everything I’d coveted my whole life was right in front of me.”
“Losing that playoff hurt. It lingered, and even though I’d won five times on tour, I think there was a sense my Open performance was kind of a fluke. But in 2010 I won the Frys.com Open, opening with 64-65. Getting that trophy took all of the hurt away. It affirmed I wasn’t just a tour pro, but a genuinely good one.”
On being Tiger Woods:
“When Tiger was on top, I would have loved having his gig — for about a month. After I lost the playoff to Tiger, I got stopped 10 times a day, easy, for a year. It started to get to me, and I’m no introvert. I can’t imagine living my whole life having to eat in back rooms with my friends instead of out in public.”
On the golf swing:
“The newest technology is an MRI-like thing for your golf swing. It’s beyond TrackMan. They strap these sensors on you, and you get a profile where parts of your body register in different colors. The trick is to keep the colors as uniform as possible, because if you’re stressing one part, the rest come tumbling down. Now, what lowers the stress is to keep your head level throughout the swing. To do that, you need to swing from the ground up and use your lower body and the big muscles to generate speed. I call it “sucking the power out of the ground.”
“If your head stays level — I don’t like this dipping stuff you see among a lot of players — it leads to effortless power. And it’s easier on you physically. You hit it more solid. I’m longer than I’ve ever been and have an extra 15 to 20 yards on call with the driver when I need it, by pretty much keeping my head level. It’s a good swing thought for everybody.”