Insider: Mediate joins elite club of Champions Tour debut winners

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Rocco Mediate is 1-for-1 on the Champions Tour. What might be next?
February 13, 2013

By Vartan Kupelian, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent

Rocco Mediate is the 16th golfer to win his Champions Tour debut. That’s a fact that’s been widely circulated in the days following his victory at the Allianz Championship.

There is another number that should resonate with Mediate because it speaks to what he can expect in the weeks, months and years ahead in his Champions Tour career.

The number is 128.

That’s how many titles the 15 golfers who accomplished the feat before Mediate combined to win. The total includes 24 majors on the Champions Tour.

What it all means for Mediate, if form holds, is that he can expect to win a few more wins and quite possibly, somewhere along the way, a major.

Of the 15 players who achieved a coveted first victory in their first attempt, nine went on to win at least one major. That’s 60 percent. And 12 of the 15 posted multiple victories, with only Rod Funseth, Lanny Wadkins and Tom Pernice Jr., failing to win again.

But Pernice, winner of the 2009 SAS Championship, only now is transitioning on a more regular basis to the Champions Tour and it won’t surprise anyone if he wins a few more times now that his focus has switched from the PGA TOUR.

“I want to play full time out here this year and give the Charles Schwab Cup a shot,” Pernice said at the Allianz Championship, where he shared second place with Bernhard Langer. “I’ve worked hard in the off-season on my driving and short game. I’ve committed to this tour.”

Mediate’s focus also is squarely on the Champions Tour, too. But he admitted that the events at the Allianz Championship caught him off-guard.

“I’m a little bit shocked,” said Mediate, who may be shocked but never to the point of silence.

Mediate gives the Champions Tour one more personality and there’s always room for one more of those.

“It’s nice to see Rocco out here,” Pernice said. “He’s very entertaining.”

There have been times when Mediate’s personality has overshadowed his ability. Except for a cranky back and a series of setbacks as a result of it, Mediate would have won more than six times on the PGA TOUR. The Allianz victory was his first since the 2010 Open on the PGA

Strangely, Mediate’s defining moment on the PGA TOUR came in defeat, not victory. It was his runner-up finish at the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. It was there that Tiger Woods birdied the 72nd hole to force a playoff with Mediate. The next day, they played 18 more holes with no resolution. Finally, on the 19th hole and in sudden death, Woods prevailed. Over five days, Mediate and Woods tangled for 91 holes. Mediate lost but he had given Woods, the best player in the world and 14 times a major champion, all he could handle.

The prospects of facing Woods straight-up didn’t faze Mediate. Few things do when you’ve endured the kind of issues he has with his ailing back.

Mediate is a gamer and a tremendous ball-striker when he’s healthy.

Mediate turned professional in 1985. In the early days, he compensated for his back issues by using a broomhandle putter. In 1991, he became the first player to win on the PGA TOUR at the Doral-Ryder Open using the long putter. He has gone back-and-forth between putters. His
victory at the Allianz came with a conventional-length putter.

Mediate endured his back problems through major back surgery in 1999 and chronic discomfort which effectively sliced years off his career during its peak. Still, he arrived this year on the Champions Tour with nearly $17 million in career earnings.

In a short time, Mediate has made some discoveries about the Champions Tour. Sure, he had heard all of it but it’s not quite the same until you experience it. For instance, he knows now, first-hand, that these guys can play. He also knows the game is different, that 54 holes on
the Champions Tour constitutes a sprint, not a marathon.

“You can’t let off the pedal,” Mediate said. “You have three rounds and have to go crazy from the start.”

Mediate did that in the second round at the Allianz when he shot 61, lower than even his best round on the PGA TOUR, and said, “I want to earn the respect of the guys out here.”

He also got validation of something else he knew.

“Amazing things happen on the Champions Tour,” he said.

15 golfers before Mediate who won their Champions Tour debut
Don January (1980)
22 1982 Senior PGA
Roberto de Vicenzo (1980) 2 1980 U.S. Senior Open
Arnold Palmer (1980) 10 1980 Senior PGA, 1981 U.S. Senior Open, 1984-85 Senior Players Championship
Rod Funseth (1983) 1 none
Gary Player (1985) 19 1987 Senior Players Championship, 1987-88 U.S. Senior Open, 1990 Senior PGA
George Archer (1989) 19 none
Jack Nicklaus (1990) 10 1990 Tradition, 1990 Senior Players Championship, 1991 Senior PGA, 1991 U.S. Senior Open, 1991 Tradition, 1993 U.S. Senior Open, 1995-96 Tradition
Bruce Fleisher (1999) 18 2001 U.S. Senior Open
Lanny Wadkins (2000) 1 none
Bobby Wadkins (2001) 4 2006 Senior Players Championship
Mark McNulty (2004) 8 2007 Tradition
Mark Wiebe (2007) 3 none
Tom Lehman (2009) 7 2010 Senior PGA, 2011-12 Tradition
Tom Pernice Jr. (2009) 1 none
Michael Allen (2012) 3 2009 Senior PGA