When Hale Irwin won the U.S. Senior Open at Riviera Country Club in 1998, he became only the seventh man to win both the U.S. Open and the Senior Open.
No doubt, Rocco Mediate was watching closely from a distance and it is just as likely that the subject came up Tuesday when Mediate and Irwin played a practice round at Omaha Country Club in advance of the U.S. Senior Open.
That’s because Mediate is a golf history buff, especially if that history involves Irwin.
Mediate is a rookie on the Champions Tour who has made some history himself. He won in his Champions Tour debut this year, at the Allianz Championship. He’s made history on the PGA TOUR, too. In 1991, he became the first golfer to win using a broomhandle putter. It was at the Doral-Ryder Open.
Twenty years later, Mediate won the 2010 Frys.com Open. He was 47 years old and became the oldest wire-to-wire winner on the PGA TOUR.
“I didn’t know that,” Mediate said Tuesday. “I would much rather have been the oldest U.S. Open champion in '08. You can have the wire-to-wire thing.”
What you can’t have is a re-do on Mediate’s Champions Tour career.
“I get to play with the greatest players that ever played the game,” Mediate said. “That's pretty much all there is to say about that. It's pretty cool.”
Mediate’s playing partners during Tuesday’s practice round in Omaha were Irwin and Dave Eichelberger.
“I call him Mr. Irwin just to make him mad,” Mediate said. “I mean, just listening to them talk, I laughed the entire day. Hale was fantastic. And Berger is just ‑ they're so cool. It's nice to see that.
“Hale and I were talking, asking about what do you think your best shot was like in your career?”
Mediate offered two shots he believes define Irwin struck in a career that featured three U.S. Open wins.
“I know a lot of stuff that I probably shouldn't know,” Mediate said. “I study this stuff. But I said the 2-iron on 18 at Winged Foot in '74, pretty good. But no one talks about the 2-iron on 16 at Medinah when he beats (Mike) Donald in the playoff (1990). He was just talking about that. He was middle of the fairway at the 200‑yard marker, a yard less than the 200‑yard marker, and he had to hook it up on the green.
“I don't remember Medinah that much. I didn't play that U.S. Open. I only played there once, I think. Anyway, he hooked it around this tree in the middle of the fairway, and he’s got an 8- or 9‑footer that breaks 7 or 8 inches. Of course, he made it (and went on to win). Of course he did, he only won three of those. It was cool talking about that stuff, and watching him being out here. He was my man when I was in high school and college. He still is my man actually. I love watching him play.”
Joining Irwin as golfers who have won both the U.S. Open and U.S. Senior Open are Billy Casper, Orville Moody, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Lee Trevino. That’s a mighty elite group.
Mediate said the opportunity to continue to learn about the game from someone like Irwin is a unique trait of golf and the Champions Tour.
“It's cool to be able to ask him a question or watch him hit balls,” Mediate said. “I'm still learning. If we're not still learning, we're finished. We're all finished. We had a great time.”
What Mediate, in search of his first senior major championship, would like to see this week in Omaha is a putter that gets a “teeny-weenie” bit hotter.
“Not a lot, a little,” he said. “I was telling the guys my first five weeks on the Champions Tour, I putted really good for me. I made a lot of good putts. I hit it good, but I putted good.
The next five weeks, I putted mediocre, and I finished mediocre.”
His best finish in a Champions Tour major championship this year is T20 at the Senior PGA Championship. Two weeks ago, he finished T2 at the Constellation SENIOR PLAYERS Championship.
Mediate studies the present, too. He knows what to expect in Omaha: Huge galleries.
“I already know this is the biggest selling Senior Open in history,” Mediate said. “There’s going to be 250,000 people here this week. We have some good crowds, too, but it is different. It's totally different.
“But they should be here for this. I mean, if I had my choice and I was a spectator, would I want to go watch the other guys, or would I want to go watch my heroes? I'm picking heroes every time. You go watch Mr. Watson play or Mr. Irwin play, they haven't lost a lot. I think Tom hits it as far as he did. I don't know. He used to hit it really far.
“Hale said he lost it a little bit, but he can still really play. At 68 years old, it's ridiculous how good he plays. If you look at these guys, I would watch them every single day of the week if I had my choice. I actually do sometimes.”
Mediate will tee it up at 8:03 a.m. CT on Thursday in a group with Willie Wood and Duffy Waldorf.
Champions Tour Insider Vartan Kupelian is a freelance contributor for PGATOUR.COM. His views do not necessarily represent the views of the PGA TOUR.