Thursday bits: Learning Fox Chapel and mid-50s success

Chris Condon/PGA TOUR
Steve Elkington is among the many players raving about Fox Chapel.
June 27, 2013

By Vartan Kupelian, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent

PITTSBURGH - Rocco Mediate is a Pittsburgh guy, from nearby Greensburg. Steve Elkington would have no problem making a home at Fox Chapel Golf Club, the classic Seth Raynor design in Pittsburgh.

Mediate and Elkington arrived together on the Champions Tour. They were the signature rookies at the start of the 2013 season, both seen as golfers with a chance to take the Champions Tour by the scruff of the neck.

Mediate demonstrated that the hype wasn’t just hyperbole by winning his debut at the Allianz Championship in February. He continued to pile up top-10 finishes. It hasn’t been the same for Elkington, the 1995 PGA Champion.

Mediate played his way through the transition from the PGA TOUR and the Champions Tour. He did it with distinction, adding the 2010 Open to his list of six PGA TOUR victories.

Elkington took a different fork in the road, choosing instead to take some time off to refresh and reinvigorate.

“I had a sabbatical year, so my short game was pretty average when I first got back out here this year,” Elkington said. “I was kind of playing around it, starting to get into gear now a little bit. I just wanted to take a year off the regular TOUR. I played the TOUR 28 straight years … I wanted to be fresh when I came out here. There's no rush. I mean, I'm not going anywhere. Guys are still playing here when they're 60, so I'm in no rush to do anything.”

Elkington’s immediate goal as the Constellation SENIOR PLAYERS Championship teed it up Thursday at Fox Chapel was to focus on his start.

“I haven't been getting out of the gate quick enough,” he said. “Guys are getting off 68, 67.”

Elkington opened with a 68 on Thursday.

He also made an interesting observation. Remember when the Champions Tour rookies - the 50-year-olds – were the dominant players on the Champions Tour?

“It seems like Champions Tour is dominated by guys that are about 53 to about 55, that's what this seems like to me. (Bernhard) Langer, Jay Haas, Freddie Couples, David Frost, all these guys have all been out here two or three years and it seems like they've pretty much got this whole schedule down pat pretty good.

"I'm still kind of looking around a little bit, focused, not quite as good as it should be. But I'd like to win, it'd be great to get up and amongst everything, but right now I'm just trying to focus on learning this course and finding my game just like everyone else.”

Frost (age 53), Langer (55), Couples (53) and John Cook (55) are currently the top four in the Charles Schwab Cu points standings.

Learning Fox Chapel may not be the easiest challenge but it sure is fun. Seth Raynor’s work continues to earn rave reviews in its second year as home to the Constellation SENIOR PLAYERS Championship.

"Fox Chapel last year was a wonderful surprise,” said Tom Watson, who shot a 2-over 72 in Round 1. “This is a gem of a golf course. When I play a golf course, if I can remember more than a few holes at my age, that's really pretty good. I can remember all 18 holes of this golf course and that's how I assess what a good golf course should be.

“It's a combination of a great set of shot values for me and that's what I love about the golf course.”

There has been plenty of rain at Fox Chapel. Three inches fell Tuesday night and there were more delays Thursday but that didn’t dampen the level of enthusiasm for Fox Chapel.

Fred Couples was runner-up to Joe Daley last year at Fox Chapel. He opened on Thursday with a 4-under 66, one off John Huston's lead.

“For us as players, we enjoy playing courses that are as good as this,” Couples said. “We're lucky to be here.”

That kind of sentiment doesn’t surprise Mediate.

"I knew when they picked Fox Chapel guys would lose their mind," said Mediate, who opened at even par.

The test for Fox Chapel will be how it holds up in the face of the torrential onslaught of rains, which continue to be an issue in the forecast.

It won’t matter to Elkington. He knows what he knows.

“It's a shame it's got to rain where some of these features may not be able to work as good where they feed in,” he said.

“I've never seen a golf course this well designed. Seth Raynor, of course, is a great architect. He grew up in a great era. We were talking about it last week, why were all the architects so good back then? They had other examples like Macdonald and Tillinghast, they all were great. This one, in particular, is verging on being spectacular the way they built these greens. I could sit here for an hour and talk about all the nuances … it’s going to be a treat to play for four days.”

Like so many of the courses in golf’s Golden Era of architecture, Fox Chapel needs to be played with care and precision. There’s no point to bomb-and-gouge here.

“Raynor wants you to stay away from some nasty spots,” Elkington said. “This is the kind of golf course I could play on a daily basis just because it's so interesting.”