By Vartan Kupelian, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent
DULUTH, Ga. -- Rocco Mediate is making himself right at home on the Champions Tour.
Rocco the Rookie posted a victory out of the gate at the Allianz Championship in February and has finished sixth or better in each of his four starts on the Champions Tour. He’ll attempt to keep the top 10 roll going when the Champions Tour returns to the Atlanta area for the first time since 2000 with this week’s inaugural Greater Gwinnett Championship at TPC Sugarloaf.
Mediate is making it look easy. Rest assured, it’s not, and he knows it. But that’s Mediate. His comfort level is high no matter where he is. He can make an 18-hole playoff against Tiger Woods for the U.S. Open championship look like a stroll in the park. Sure, he’ll be churning inside – everybody is on the first tee – but you’ll never see it on the outside.
“You don’t ever expect to go out there, a whole new tour, a whole new bunch of guys, and have a start like that,” Mediate said. “You do the work in the offseason but you never know when it’s going to show up. It showed up fast.”
The caliber of play on the Champions Tour is what Mediate expected. “Just as good as anywhere I’ve ever played,” he said.
“It’s not hit-and-giggle,” Mediate said. “It’s nasty out there. I love it.”
One of the questions the rookies get on the Champions Tour is this: Are you surprised at the level of competition?
“It’s not unexpected,” Mediate said. “Everything I saw was exactly what I thought. I knew it would be hard.
“Like I’ve been telling everybody, we should be good at what we’re doing. We’ve been playing our whole lives. I never, ever expected it to be easy or not competitive. They can still really play. Look at the scores being shot … all on courses over 7,000 yards. You’ve got to play. You’ve really got to play.”
So far, that’s what Mediate has done.
In four starts – a victory at the Allianz Championship, a T5 at the ACE Group and successive T6 finishes at the Toshiba Classic and the Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic – Mediate is a cumulative 40-under-par. He has seven rounds in the 60s, including 61 at Allianz.
“The 61, that was definitely interesting,” he said. “One of those days when I made almost every putt I looked it.”
Mediate has had his share of that kind of putting day on the Champions Tour. He’s No. 1 in putting average at 1.671 and No. 2 in putts per round with 27.83, behind only Gary Hallberg’s 27.50. That’s impressive, given Hallberg’s performance at the Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic at Fallen Oak where he one-putted 26 holes for the event, with 11 of those in the third round and 13 more in the final round.
The Champions Tour will see another of those 7,000-yard plus courses at Sugarloaf. The Greg Norman design is 7,259 yards and plays to par 72. It was host to the PGA TOUR’s BellSouth Classic from 1997 to 2008.
Back in those days, Mediate was using a broom-handle putter. In 1991 at the Doral-Ryder Open, he became the first player to win on the PGA TOUR using the long putter. There are plenty of subjects that Mediate is a go-to guy for answers. The long putter debate is on the front burner these days and there’s nobody better than Mediate to discuss it.
“Here’s what I think – and sums it up,” said Mediate, who has featured a conventional length putter at the start of his Champions Tour career. “If it was the answer, if it makes it easier to putt, why isn’t everybody using one?
“I don’t think it’s an advantage. You still have to make the putter move. The USGA can make rules. I will always abide by them … I don’t know if it’s warranted.”
Mediate’s use of the long putter was all about his chronic back problems. His back issues “are doing pretty good,” he said.
“I can’t complain. Back in ’94 when I had surgery, they said it was the end for me so I’m ahead of the game,” he said.
“If you’re injured, have a bad back, it is an advantage because you can practice with it,” he said. “Jim Ferree got me on it. All of a sudden I could stand out there without feeling pain. It definitely helps standing up taller.”
In late 2009, Mediate returned to a conventional length putter and won Frys.com Open with it in 2010.
“It was all about (the back) for me, not the yips,” Mediate said. “I became quite efficient with it but it takes a long time.”
Mediate is eager to return to TPC Sugarloaf.
“I always liked it,” he said. “It fit my eye pretty good. Everybody liked it. I’m glad we’re having another one back there.”