In 2008, Rocco Mediate warmed the hearts of many golf fans worldwide with his runner-up U.S. Open performance at Torrey Pines Golf Course, taking then-World No. 1 Tiger Woods to a Monday 18-hole playoff before losing on the first extra hole of sudden death. Nevertheless, Mediate’s Herculean effort and charismatic personality made him an instant hit with those in attendance as well as the millions who watched on television and via their computer. The 48-year-old native of western Pennsylvania is currently not exempt into the 2011 U.S. Open and will likely have to endure 36-hole sectional qualifying (he was a sectional qualifier in 2008) to make the 156-player field at Congressional Country Club. Mediate chatted with the USGA online editor Ken Klavon at The Players Championship about this year’s U.S. Open venue and what he learned from the 2008 competition with Woods.
What is your assessment of the U.S. Open going to Congressional Country Club?
Mediate: It’s going to be ridiculously unbelievably good. I love playing Congressional. I didn’t play the Open in ’97; I was hurt, I think. The 18th hole is going to be the coolest thing ever, because I know it’s 40 yards longer. When [Executive Director] Mike Davis gets his hands on things, it just gets better. I love what he does. It’s going to be a phenomenal venue.
So you’re in favor of the setup?
Mediate: The thing I like with the way he sets it up is he lets you play. And par always wins. Most of the time. Right around par.
Do you like that?
Mediate: I love that. I’d rather be able to shoot one over par and win. That would be cool. Even at Torrey Pines, I remember the guys at the beginning of the week going, ‘Oh my God, we’re going to 20 under par here.’ I thought, ‘Excuse me?’ And we shot one under for the playoffs, so think about that.
Think about the ’08 Open. One of the shortest drivers in the field was in a playoff. And one of the longest drivers in the field was in a playoff. I kind of think the setup worked. That’s the beauty of it. You still need to do certain things to make it happen, but at Congressional it’s going to be tough. It’s going to be really hard. There’s so much slope to the course; there’s a lot going on.
Mike Davis has said he’d like to get the greens to about 14 feet on the Stimpmeter. What are your thoughts about that?
Mediate: He must be in a bad mood. In those types of golf tournaments, you have to play underneath the hole. You can make those greens 15, 20 [on the Stimpmeter] – just kidding about that – if you’re under the hole, you can play it. If you go past those things, you’re screwed. In most Open courses, especially old-school ones, if you don’t play underneath the hole, you don’t get the win for sure. There are some greens there you can’t play from.
It’s supposed to be hot and muggy at Congressional in June. Does that bother you?
Mediate: Good. U.S. Opens are supposed to be hot and nasty, to add on top of the very difficult golf course. That’s why it’s the best test, in my opinion.
What did you take from the playoff you had with Tiger Woods in ’08?
Mediate: I learned that everything I worked on in my whole life worked. When I got three strokes down, because of two bone-headed mistakes on Nos. 9 and 10 - just stupid mistakes – I remember telling my caddie on the 11th tee box, ‘If I do exactly what I want to do with my golf ball coming in, I’ll beat him.’ I did not miss the middle of the clubface the rest of the day. All of a sudden, I’m one up with three to play, just where I envisioned myself. And I thought I hit a shot on 16 – I hit a 4-iron – I hit a pretty solid high slight draw 4-iron. As soon as I hit it, I went, ‘This thing is over now.’ And it just came up a little short. If it carries five more yards, it’s stiff. I hit it exactly like I wanted to but it didn’t go as far. So it was like the coolest thing ever. Unfortunately, I got the little medal instead of the big trophy.
How did the playoff loss affect you mentally?
Mediate: Winning at San Jose [Frys.com Open] last year – I can’t say got me over that – but sometimes guys never come back from something like that. It’s not like I blew it. It’s not like I bogeyed the last four holes to lose, but I still lost. It’s not like I had a six-stroke lead with four to play and lost in a playoff. It just affected me because [the U.S. Open] is the thing I covet the most. I didn’t think it affected me, but it did. It took me awhile to get out of that funk I was in. When San Jose happened, I thought, ‘Beautiful.’ Because now it wasn’t my last tournament. If I had to quit or retire or something, and that was my last thing, I would have been sad. Now it’s not. Hopefully there’s more to come.
The only thing the U.S. Open did for me really was good things. It made me believe a little more in my ability, even though it hurt to lose. I still believed in my ability and what I’ve learned in life. Even in the most intensive pressure, it worked. It felt great to be out there. It was some of the most fun I ever had to be out there.
Did it also make you believe in yourself?
Mediate: That’s huge. That day was a test for your whole lifetime of practice and things you learned. Tiger [Woods] already knows he can do it. He’s done it 13 times [in majors prior to that week]. That was basically another notch for him. To me it wasn’t. To me, it was one of the most special days because, first of all, I was supposed to get destroyed. I knew that wasn’t going to happen. Like I said, when I got three strokes down, it was because I made two stupid mistakes on Nos. 9 and 10. And you don’t get to do that against him most of the time and beat him. That was invariably why I lost, even though I came back hard. Other than that, it was one of the greatest days ever. Unfortunately, I keep looking for the trophy and can’t find it. I look in the closet, I look up there and it’s not there.