Rocco Mediate primed for KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship title defense
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The 2017 KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship is scheduled to take place May 25-28 at Trump National Golf Club, Washington, D.C.
On Thursday, defending Senior PGA Champion Rocco Mediate was in the nation’s capital for Media Day, where he reflected on what it was like at Harbor Shores in 2016 when – in scintillating fashion – he claimed his first major title.
“It’s weird still to be called a major champion, even though that tournament was one and felt like one,” Mediate said. “Coming back as the defending champion is awesome. The week’s going to be awesome and I can’t wait to see how it all plays out.”
At Harbor Shores, Mediate birdied two of his final four holes – including a bunker hole out at the par-3 17th – on his way to a three-stroke victory over two-time defending Senior PGA Champion Colin Montgomerie.
As the bunker shot dropped in the hole, Mediate pointed at his caddie to say, “I told you it was going in,” similar to when Tom Watson chipped in from behind the 17th green at Pebble Beach on his way to winning the 1982 U.S. Open.
“Anything that’s ‘like Tom Watson’ is a good thing,” said Mediate, who was the tournament’s first wire-to-wire winner since Jack Nicklaus in 1991. “I told my caddie, ‘I knew it was going in,’ as well as a few other choice words we can’t mention here. I just had a feeling. I didn’t know I was going to make it, but when I looked at the shot, I saw that it was flat and the green was firm, which helped because I didn’t have to hit it so far. I fancy my bunker work most of the time, so I just wanted to pop it out and give it some motion going to the hole. I didn’t care if it went in. I just wanted to make 3 and have a two-shot lead going to the last. I should be able to handle that, hopefully. As soon as I hit it, I went, ‘oh boy. Here we go.’ It was right on line and just fell in. It was perfect.”
Mediate also said his final-round pairing alongside Montgomerie was the perfect mix of comfortable and uncomfortable. It was comforting in that he considers Monty a great friend, but also daunting knowing that if he slipped up at all, the multiple senior major champion would be right there to pounce.
Fortunately for Mediate, he never gave Monty the opening.
“Comfortable because I love him and uncomfortable because he’s so damn good,” Mediate said. “It was good too, because it kept me going. He’s one of the best players of all time, period. Major champion or not – he is on our Tour, obviously. He’s one of the best hitters of a golf ball I have ever seen in my life. That day, he was the best hitter of a golf ball. He never made a mistake. He missed one shot. The last shot on 18. It didn’t matter, because it was over anyway unless he holed it. It was very rewarding playing with him and winning. And the comments he’s made about it and me since? He’s just been awesome.”
Mediate is a six-time winner on the PGA Tour, but might be most well-known for the tournament that he didn’t win. That would be the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines.
It was at that course in La Jolla, Calif., where Mediate pushed Tiger Woods to the absolute limit. Woods, hobbled by a broken leg that entire week, holed one the best putts of his career at the 72nd hole to tie Mediate at the top and force an 18-hole, Monday playoff.
Even the 18-hole playoff wasn’t enough. After 90 holes, the two were still tied up. Woods finally closed out the tournament on the 91st hole – the first hole of sudden death – to win his 14th major title.
It also remains the last major Woods has won.
“I’ve seen the replay of that U.S. Open like 500 times,” Mediate said, “Every time I freaking lose. You’d think one time his putt lips out, or I make another putt, but no! I lose every, single time!
“I get asked about it every single day,” he added. “But I don’t think about it that much because I got beat. If I would have made an eight on the last hole with a two-shot lead and lose by one, my career is over. You don’t bounce back from that. Stuff like that has ruined a lot of people. I got beat. What can I say? I played as good as I can play and he played better. I can handle that and I don’t mind talking about it at all. If I had three-putted for bogey on the last hole to lose, different story. I wouldn’t be sitting here because I’d probably have been done. Then winning the Frys.com Open two years later didn’t save my life, but it made me feel better about my career. The Open wasn’t the worst thing, but I didn’t want it to be the last thing. And it wasn’t. That U.S. Open was the greatest five days of golf I’ve probably ever played. That’s all I can really say about it and that’s why I’m OK with it.”
Six weeks away from his title defense, Mediate says his game is shaping up. His best finish in three starts on the PGA Tour Champions this season was a T8 at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai in January.
He got a little lost with his game after the Harbor Shores victory, but everything is beginning to click again.
“Rick Smith [his coach] and I have been working so hard to get back to a motion I used to have,” he said. “It’s a bigger turn and it’s more reckless. I lost that. Not because of my body, but I just went the wrong way with it. I’ve got a bigger shoulder turn now. Playing with Fred Couples in Naples a couple weeks ago reminded me that I used to feel like Freddie looks. I never looked like Freddie, but I used to feel like he looks. He said, ‘Dude, you used to have a way bigger turn.’ That’s what I’m trying to get back to now. In the last round at Naples, I hit it perfect the entire day. Since then, I’ve been able to keep that going. I’m looking forward to seeing how it plays in Tucson next week and going forward. I’m excited. I haven’t been this excited about hitting in a long time.”