OMAHA, Neb. – So, let’s get to the guts of it. That’s the way Rocco Mediate prefers it. That is, in fact, what Rocco Mediate did Tuesday afternoon at Omaha Country Club when he readily embraced discussing the outcome of a certain major championship he nearly won five years ago.
Mediate, 50, makes his debut Thursday in the U.S. Senior Open, playing the first two rounds with Willie Wood and Duffy Waldorf, and he is one of the more celebrated newcomers to the Champions Tour and to this major championship.
Part of that has to do with his garrulous nature. Mediate is a talker, and a fast one. He enjoys the interview room as much as he enjoys the spotlight on the golf course. He won six times on the PGA Tour, including the 2010 Frys.com Open when, at age 47, he became the oldest wire-to-wire winner.
I didn’t know that, Mediate responded when he heard the statistic. I’m pretty happy about that right now. Oldest wire-to-wire winner. … I would much rather be the oldest U.S. Open champion in ’08. You can have the wire-to-wire thing.
Mediate went down to the wire with world No. 1 Tiger Woods in the 108th U.S. Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course near San Diego. In fact, he went past the wire. A birdie on the 72nd hole by Woods tied Mediate at 1-under 283 and forced an 18-hole playoff the next day, which Woods won on the first extra hole after again tying Mediate with a birdie on the 18th hole.
Not many players find the high point in their career in a loss, but Mediate could give himself another chance at the U.S. Open if he were to win here at Omaha Country Club in the 34th U.S. Senior Open.
The Champions Tour rookie won his senior debut at the Allianz Championship with a 17-under-par effort over 54 holes, followed by three finishes in the top six. He has had none since, mostly, he says, due to his lack of finishing on the greens. I putted mediocre and I finished mediocre, he said.
But seeing the setup authored by the USGA had him salivating.
I’ve always said, and I’ll say it again: I love coming to USGA set-up golf courses, Mediate said. Great golf course, set up perfect. Rough is nasty. Isn’t that how it’s supposed to be? So you got to drive straight? Good. It’s great. A lot of motion in the golf course, hard walk, hot as hell. I love it. I hope it gets like concrete.
Mediate also loves renewing acquaintances with many of the players he grew up with. He played a practice round Tuesday with Hale Irwin, who won the U.S. Open three times and the U.S. Senior Open twice, and Dave Eichelberger, who also won a Senior Open.
I get to play with the greatest players that ever played the game. That’s pretty much all there is to say about that. It’s pretty cool, said the Pennsylvania native, who now lives in Naples, Fla. I played with Hale this morning and Eichelberger. I mean, just listening to them talk, I laughed the entire day. Hale was fantastic today. And ‘Berger’ is just … they're so cool. It's nice to see that.
Of course, they took pictures together with their iPhones afterward. I do it a lot because I love all that about this game, he said, meaning the camaraderie.
When the gun goes off for Mediate at 7:52 a.m. Thursday, he will be trying to beat the players he regards as the best that ever walked on grass that still play golf. Regardless of whether he’s playing in the U.S. Open or the senior version, Mediate looks upon USGA events with immense respect. For him, it’s the tournament to win.
It's a special thing. It's our National Open. There's nothing better than that, he said. And the other U.S. Open is the same. I don't care what anybody says, it's our National Open. I don't know what else you would want in golf as far as the players; maybe somebody but not me. You can have the other ones.Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.