For Mediate, selection into LG Skins game a surprise

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Mediate: "I didn?t think they had the right number [when they called me]."
November 19, 2008
PGA TOUR staff

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. -- When Rocco Mediate got the call inviting him to his first LG SKINS GAME, his first reaction was a combination of disbelief and utter elation.

After all, Mediate remembered watching his hero and fellow Western Pennsylvanian Arnold Palmer duel Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Tom Watson in the inaugural LG SKINS GAME a quarter-century ago. So, an invitation to play in the Thanksgiving weekend event was a call he never thought he'd receive.

"I didn't think they had the right number, so I told them to call me back," he said.

They had the right number -- and the right man in Mediate, who will face two-time defending champion Stephen Ames, the world's No. 3-ranked player Phil Mickelson, and seven-time PGA TOUR winner K.J. Choi in the $1 million LG SKINS GAME on Thanksgiving weekend, Nov. 29-30, at the Celebrity Course at Indian Wells Golf Resort.

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As Mediate tees off in his first LG SKINS GAME, Ames angles for a share of event immortality. A third victory would make him only the second player in history -- after the late, great Payne Stewart -- to win three consecutive Skins Games.

That's one of many reasons why the LG SKINS GAME is renowned for its high entertainment value on Thanksgiving weekend. In its 26th year, the LG SKINS GAME will be produced by ESPN and aired on ABC Saturday, Nov. 29 from 1-3:30 p.m. ET and on Sunday, Nov. 30 from 3:30-6 p.m. ET (check local listings).

This is the 18th year ABC has served as the U.S. broadcast home to the Skins Game, which is co-owned by ESPN Regional Television and IMG Media.

During the past 25 years, the list of participants in the LG SKINS GAME reads like a who's who of the greats in golf -- Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Tom Watson, Gary Player, Lee Trevino, Fred Couples, Curtis Strange, Nick Faldo, Raymond Floyd, Tom Kite, Paul Azinger, Vijay Singh, Colin Montgomerie, Stewart, Greg Norman, Mark O'Meara, Tom Lehman, Fuzzy Zoeller, John Daly, Sergio Garcia, Corey Pavin, Adam Scott, Peter Jacobsen, Jesper Parnevik, David Duval, Fred Funk, Ames, Zach Johnson, and the only female player, Annika Sorenstam.

"This is totally cool. I can't believe I'm going to be a part of it," Mediate said.

Mediate will also be a focal part of a public golf clinic Friday, Nov. 28 at 9 a.m. at the Indian Wells Golf Resort Driving Range. Attendance is free and open to the public.

"The LG SKINS GAME can be nerve-racking and it can make you jittery, but the bottom line is I'm not playing in the Skins Game to win a million dollars," Mediate said. "I'm going because, A) I can't believe I'm a part of it, and B) I want to give people watching on TV an idea of what it's like to play a round of everyday golf, like you'd play with your buddies on Saturday morning."

And so Mediate will tee off on a cool, clear Saturday morning in November with the intent of talking and bantering his way through his first LG SKINS GAME. If winning a million dollars in the Thanksgiving weekend tradition isn't at the top of his agenda, getting his game and health in shape for 2009 certainly is.

"I've battled injuries for a while, and this year and last year they came together and went away, kind of," said Mediate. "I had a bad start and then, obviously, a decent middle of the year.

"A good year for me. I was not very solid the first half of the year and then, all of a sudden, things happened. I almost won the big one, and it was a lot of fun. I had a decent two or three months after that, and then it's been good. It's been fine. Coming off these injuries, I'm very, very pleased."

He should be. Aside from the $1.42 million he banked in 2008 -- the sixth time he's cracked the $1 million mark -- Mediate is riding a wave of popularity that can only come from winning a major championship.

There's one small detail there: Mediate didn't win a major championship. But he came about as close as you can come without actually hoisting major hardware.

Always one of the more popular players on the PGA TOUR due to his everyman persona, accessibility and willingness to try anything; he took a flyer and entered the Main Event at the 2005 World Series of Poker mere months after he took up the game and finished 600th out of 5,619 entries, Mediate discovered -- to his utter relief -- that nice guys can finish second.

The story of Mediate's magical week on the Pacific, where he took Tiger Woods to the 19th hole of their now-epic U.S. Open playoff before finally succumbing to the world's No. 1 player, wasted little time becoming part of golfing lore. Mediate finished regulation at 1-under-par and held the clubhouse lead as Woods and Lee Westwood -- both a stroke back -- played the par-5 18th hole.

LG SKINS GAME

Woods birdied the hole to force a Monday playoff, then survived Mediate's three consecutive back-nine birdies by once again birdieing the final hole to tie. In sudden death, Woods parred the par-4 seventh hole, while Mediate finally succumbed with a bogey after he drove into a fairway bunker and missed a 20-foot par putt.

"As far as being a player, I've become better," he said. "You can't get worse in that situation, but it was the battle-royale I've always wanted with him and I want another one. You're always nervous and jumpy in a U.S. Open and in a playoff, especially with someone like Tiger. But there's nothing that can top Monday."

Mediate, 45, rode the near miss of becoming the oldest U.S. Open champion into a wave of popularity that he still is coming to grips with. He enjoys the warmth of the glow that comes with nearly winning one of the most prestigious titles in all sports -- a national championship.

For someone who likes to experience all that life has to offer, the 2008 U.S. Open provided a life experience that Mediate will savor for the rest of his life.

"When you're playing against Tiger, you just want to -- I just didn't want to live up to the expectations of everybody else, which was to get my butt handed to me, and that wasn't going to happen," Mediate said.

"You want to be there with the best guy in any sport, and you want to see what you have. And what it did for me is it showed me that I can still do this thing, this golf thing, and I liked what I saw. I watched some of the replay stuff, and I liked what I saw, how my body did what I asked to do it a lot of times. Sometimes it didn't, but, being human, we screw up sometimes."

In the LG SKINS GAME, players compete for money for each hole rather than the low score for the round. A player must win a hole outright to win a skin. If a hole is tied, the skin(s) and money carry over to the next hole. Each of the first six holes (one through six) will be worth $25,000. Each of the second six holes (seven through 12) will be worth $50,000.

Holes 13 through 17 will each be worth $70,000, and the 18th hole, the LG Super Skin, will be worth $200,000. The foursome will play for $300,000 on Saturday and $700,000 on Sunday. Twenty percent of the winnings ($200,000 total) will be donated to the players' favorite charities.

The photogenic Celebrity Course, which opened in November of 2006 to rave reviews, hosts the LG SKINS GAME for the second consecutive year and will host the event through 2009. Last year, the par-72, 7,088-yard course lived up to expectations by giving the professionals a dramatic stage loaded with risk/reward scenarios. For example on the par-5, fourth hole Couples went for the island green in two, managing to avoid the water, but instead he found a green-side bunker.

Then, in what will certainly make highlight clips for years to come, Couples holed out for eagle and three skins, worth $75,000. In addition to competitive drama, the Clive Clark-designed Celebrity Course features aesthetic drama such as spectacular mountain views, streams, brooks and split-level lakes connected by cascading waterfalls.

Vibrant desert wildflowers along with mature trees neatly frame the fairways and greens adding yet another dimension to the Celebrity Course's alluring charm.

A limited number of tickets are available for the LG SKINS GAME. Fans can enjoy all three days of action with a three-day pass for $75. Individual day tickets are priced at $25 for Friday's LG SKINS GAME CELEBRITY PRO-AM; $45 for Saturday's first round and $35 for Sunday's final nine holes.

There is also a daily VIP ticket for $150 per day, or enjoy the three-day VIP ticket for $300. Indian Wells residents will receive a special rate and can purchase their tickets at the Indian Wells Golf Resort Golf Shop or City Hall.

Parking and shuttle service are free. Tickets may be purchased online at www.indianwells.com or in person at the Indian Wells Golf Resort, 44-500 Indian Wells Lane, 8 a.m.-3 p.m., seven days a week, or Indian Wells City Hall, 44-950 Eldorado Drive, 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Friday. Tickets may also be available for purchase during LG SKINS GAME weekend. Children under 17 years of age are admitted free.

The popular event was first played in 1983 at the Desert Highlands in Scottsdale, Ariz. for two years before moving to Bear Creek Golf Club in Murrieta, Calif. in 1985. The Coachella Valley became a permanent fixture for the event beginning in 1986.

The TPC at PGA West in La Quinta, Calif. was home from 1986-1991 and then the site shifted to BIGHORN Golf Club in Palm Desert from 1992-1995. Rancho La Quinta Country Club in La Quinta, Calif. hosted from 1996-1998, followed by Landmark Golf Club in Indio, Calif. from 1999-2002. The LG SKINS GAME was played at Trilogy Golf Club in La Quinta, Calif. from 2003-2006.