There are a handful of golfers like Tiger, Phil, Jack, Rory, or Brooks whose first names alone bring to mind their huge accomplishments in the game. Rocco Mediate is one of those guys but not because he won the big one, but because he lost it in a memorable playoff……..to Tiger Woods
No won will forget Rocco’s name or his performance in his 2008 loss of the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines to Tiger. In some of the most riveting playoff golf we have ever witnessed, Rocco took Tiger, the #1 Player of our time, to the 19th hole of a playoff watched by a gazillion golf fans playing hookey from Monday’s work. He was not intimidated by the task of playing Tiger one-on-one in a playoff for a Major. Rocco relished the moment and would not have wanted it any other way.
Wearing his emotions on his sleeve-an air of quiet confidence always prevailsEmbed from Getty Images
This interview on the No Laying Up Podcast, couched in Rocco’s own devilish story telling style reveals all that has been through over a 35 year professional career-including 6 wins on the PGA Tour, years cast out to the hinterland because of chronic back issues, more then a few flirtations with winning a major, a colossal train wreck on #12 at Augusta in 2006, the aforementioned playoff in 2008 at Torrey Pines, and a second life winning 4 times on the PGA Tour Champions including a Senior PGA.
Rocco methodically won 13 times over his professional careerEmbed from Getty Images
Growing up a drive and a 5-iron from Latrobe, Rocco talks at length about his relationship with Arnold who served as a second father and a life coach throughout his career. Rocco played hundreds of rounds with The King over the years, including walking with him for his final two rounds in the 1994 U.S. Open at Oakmont, a home game for both of them.
But it was his golf mentor Jim Ferree, one of the great ball strikers of all time, who taught him the fundamentals of the game that would serve him so ably for years on the Tour. To this day he still has the same neutral grip that Jim taught him as a teenager and does not wear a golf glove just like his mentor.
As to Tiger, Rocco literally saw him coming, he was in attendance when Tiger won his first U.S. Am at Sawgrass where Rocco was living at the time. Tiger’s immediate success on the Tour was no surprise to Rocco, he knew that this kid had a set of skills the Tour had never seen before. There were a few Tiger tales of course, the tallest of them all being that fateful week they shared in La Jolla at the 2008 U.S. Open.
Wearing red for the Monday playoff Rocco and Tiger were equals that week
There are plenty of other nuggets in this interview, you just have to play really close attention since Rocco’s hyperactive pace of delivery can make it a real challenge to follow the details of the script.
My favorite part of the interview was Rocco’s description of his last PGA Tour win at the Frye’s in 2010. He holed out four times over the four days, the last time on the 17th on Sunday where he asked his playing partner to mark his ball even though Rocco was 116 yards from the pin. The rest is history.
Take a listen to this one, it is full of giggles and grins…..just like Rocco.
(Click to hear the No Laying Up Interview with Rocco Mediate)
Rocco Mediate-Episode 365 (2020)
No Laying Up Podcast
I’ll never forget what Rocco said literally seconds after Tiger holed his incredible birdie putt on the 72nd in US Open of 2008 to force a playoff the next day. Rocco just looked at the TV camera and smiled and said, “I knew he’d make it: He’s Tiger Woods.”
That said it all.
But it also showed that Rocco wasn’t fazed. The match-play mindset is to expect your opponent to hole it, and Rocco made darn sure that Tiger had to play like Tiger Woods the next day.
Which he did, on one good leg, and gave us the most riveting match I can ever recall seeing.
I remember taking off work the next day for the playoff it was truly grand theater.
It only distresses me that Tiger has never given Rocco his due. Rocco left a photo on Tiger’s locker the next year hoping to get a nice comment written on it to hang in his study. He got nothing.
That’s very disappointing. I was not aware of that.
I’ve always felt that Tiger won two Majors he had absolutely no right to win: the USPGA in 2000 – to equal Hogan’s feat of 3 Majors in a row – and the 2008 US Open. The mental strength he showed in making his birdie putt on 18 at Valhalla was incredible to behold, and the same was true for how he battled his way through the final round and playoff at Torrey Pines, with one leg buckling under him. It was like seeing the famous Snead vs Hogan playoff at the LA Open in the aftermath of Hogan’s accident being re-enacted.
Whether Tiger realises it or not (and I’m sure he does) it took two relatively unheralded players, Bob May and Rocco Mediate, to bring the absolute best out of him and make him play to a level that even he probably didn’t know he had. When his career is finally over, those two victories might turn out to be the deciding factor as to whether people judge him to have been a better player than Jack, and the greatest player ever. It would be nice if he acknowledged Rocco’s part in that, because those of us who witnessed it certainly do.
You have a great website, by the way, and I’ve enjoyed browsing through it tonight. It’s easy to see you have the true spirit of the game inside you.
I am glad you are enjoying it.
On the Bob May PGA, not many people know that even though May was about 8 years older then Tiger they had competed against each other in California local pro events. Bob May was a stick. So Tiger knew May well and I think he knew what he was up against.
I played Torrey Pines a few years later, and as most people do, I took a look at that putt Tiger made on 18. The break is almost counter intuitive and the conditions of the green that day was downright poor. For me no one else could have made that putt in that situation. Except possibly Jon Rahm.
In looking at your website I am happy to see that in Maryland you have noted Wade Heintzlman’s Golf Care Center. I have been a patron of Wade’s for over 20 years and have to say he is as good at his craft as anyone I have ever run into. I am a total believer in custom club fitting.
That was certainly my impression from reviewing his website. I will email him sometime to introduce myself and will pass on your regards.
And yes, regarding Bob May, I remember the commentators during that USPGA in 2000 saying how he had been a hotshot junior player in Southern California and that he and Tiger were no strangers. They certainly brought the best out of each other that day. May played out of his skin, and Tiger dug really deep.
Imagine getting the chance to hit the Tiger putt in Torrey Pines…nice. I remember that discussion well about how all the players were misreading it that day.
As for Jon Rahm…now there was a guy that didn’t need to be asked twice!
All the best,
I have a review of Tom Wishon’s book The Right Sticks on the site. Also have an article on the Golf Care Center.
As to Rahm he is the man. They said he had an off year but I don’t see that. New kid in the family, new demands, but I think he played well in a number of events. Threatened at Brookline. Nothing like his 2021 where he was top 10 in all four majors. High bar. Rahm has a lot of Arnie in him, much better putter.
Rahm had a bit of Arnie charisma better putter. His 2021 he had top tens in all four majors. High bar.
BTW, I have a review of Tom Wishon’s book The Right Sticks on the site.