By Craig Dolch, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent
BOCA RATON, Fla. -- Rocco Mediate had to attend a new-player meeting this week for the Champions Tour when he was told something he learned a long time ago.
“They said on this Tour they’d like for us to talk to reporters during the round and try to interact a little more with the fans,” Mediate said. “I’m like, ‘This is why I’m at this meeting? This is what you’re telling me? Really?’”
Asking Mediate to be a fan favorite is like requesting Jerry Seinfeld to crack a few jokes, the Kardashian sisters to do another reality-TV show or Joey Chestnut to eat a couple hot dogs. Mediate does almost as much talking on the course as he does walking.
“I’ve always felt the way you play your best golf is when you are playing like you would with your buddies,” Mediate said. “I’m serious for about eight to 12 seconds a shot. That’s all I need.”
But Mediate is very serious about taking advantage of golf’s golden mulligan after a PGA TOUR career that included six titles, almost $16.8 million in earnings and a memorable near-miss at the 2008 U.S. Open, when Tiger Woods had to go 91 holes to beat the underdog Mediate.
Mediate says he’s been eyeing the Champions Tour for several years, knowing he needs to have his 'A' game to compete on the 50-and-older circuit.
“It’s a phenomenal opportunity,” Mediate said. “Where else can you play a full career and have a chance to have another full career on this Tour, especially against great players and great courses? I have been paying attention to this Tour for a while. Look, John Cook and David Frost shot 17 under in three days (in the season opener). My math isn’t perfect, but that’s almost 6 under a day. You better have you’re game ready if you want to win on this Tour.”
Mediate says in many respects he fills like a rookie again. He said his back problems are in the past, he recently became engaged and he decided to have no sponsors so he could play whatever equipment he wants. He’ll be wearing a hat this week with the words “Rocco Golf” on it, but admits he’s not sure what he will do with that idea.
“I want to do it my way for a while,” he said. “I don’t want to work for anybody but me. I’m only going to use clubs because I like them, not because somebody is paying me to.”
Mediate says he still hears about the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines at least five times a day from fans who enjoyed his tenacious performance. Twice, Woods had to birdie the 18th hole (in the fourth round and in the playoff) or Mediate would have been one of the most unlikely national champions.
“Everybody in the world thought I was going to get my butt handed to me in that playoff … everyone but me,” he said. “If I would have won, I would have the trophy I most covet. But it was a special week. How cool was it to go head-to-head against the best player in the world – and I still feel that way about Tiger – for something we both wanted. I didn’t win, but I did almost everything else that week I wanted to do.”
Mediate admits it took him a while to get over the playoff defeat. It probably wasn’t until more than two years later, when he won the Frys.com Open, that the disappointment was finally gone.
“If I had quit playing golf after that U.S. Open, it would have kind of stunk,” he said. “That (runner-up finish) could destroy people. It has destroyed people. But not the way it was won or loss. It’s not like I finished with three bogeys.”
Mediate said his expectations on the Champions Tour are no different than when he played 27 years on the PGA TOUR – to win tournaments. The first order of business is to get into contention.
“Most of these guys kicked my butt on the regular TOUR, and I’m ready to change that,” he said. “I missed the heck out of competing against these guys for championships.”
Even if he doesn’t win, Mediate will still talk a good game.
The Allianz Championship is Friday through Sunday at Broken Sound and includes 29 of last year’s top 30 money-earners. Corey Pavin hit a miraculous 8-iron lefthanded out of a hole last year to save par at No. 14, eventually winning in a playoff against Peter Senior for his first Champions Tour victory.