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Golf: Mediate has hard time believing his rise

Sunday, May 05, 2002

Holding a three-shot lead and on the verge of winning for the fifth time in his PGA Tour career, Rocco Mediate did not smile for the crowd or the television cameras as he walked up the 18th fairway at the Greater Greensboro Chrysler Classic.

Rocco Mediate earned his fifth PGA Tour victory last week at the Greater Greensboro Chrysler Classic. (Bob Jordan/Associated Press)

He was safely on the green in regulation, about 45 to 50 feet from the hole, and about the only way he was going to lose to Mark Calcavecchia was if he pulled the greatest collapse in PGA Tour history.

Still, Mediate waited to smile.

"Until he missed his putt, then I knew it was over," Mediate said. "But I didn't even crack a smile because I don't want to get caught up in that, because I don't want to be standing out here saying, 'How did I lose? I should have won. What happened?' So I wasn't going to let that happen."

Only after Mediate two-putted for par, putting the final touches on his 16-under 272 total, did he manage a smile.

That's when it set in: Mediate, who didn't start playing golf faithfully until he was 15, won his fifth PGA Tour event, his third in the past four seasons, a week ago.

The $684,000 first prize pushed his season earnings to more than $1.4 million, a career best and good for sixth on the PGA Tour money list.

"Five times I've won," Mediate said. "It's still hard to believe sometimes."

So is this:

Mediate, a Greensburg native, has jumped to No. 12 in the Official World Rankings. Only six American players are ranked ahead of him -- Tiger Woods (1), Phil Mickelson (2), David Duval (6), David Toms (8), Davis Love III (9) and Chris DiMarco (11).

Even Mediate has a hard time believing it.

Why?

"Because I wasn't that good," Mediate said. "I didn't have a pedigree. I didn't have -- what do you want to call it -- I just wasn't that good. I didn't start until I was 15. When I went to [Florida Southern], everybody said, 'Are you crazy? You're never going to make it down there.' I got through it and got better. The only reason I tried tour school was because I had been playing golf for five years. I figured at least I'll give it a shot, so, in 10 years, I won't have to say, boy I wonder if I would have made it.

"But I wanted to try, and here I go make it the first time, and I'm still here. It still surprises me sometimes. I don't know what you want to call it. Some people think I'm crazy for thinking that. I know I'm a good player and everything, but this keeps proving it and I'll just keep thinking that when it happens. I'm not a world player, by any means, but I'm holding my own."

Despite his self-evaluation, Mediate slowly has climbed the world rankings. In the past 10 months, he has finished fourth in the U.S. Open, second in the Marconi Pennsylvania Classic and third at the Bay Hill Invitational and The Players Championship.

With the exception of the Pennsylvania Classic, those tournaments feature strong fields and carry extra weight in the world rankings.

The victory at Greensboro -- he also won there in 1993 -- was his first since he won the 2000 Buick Open.

"It's definitely knowing I still can," Mediate said, when asked the best part about winning. "It puts me up to five, which is five more than I thought I would win."

Trivia question

Mediate won his first PGA Tour event in 1991 in a playoff. What was the event and whom did he beat? Answer at end.

Woods and weather

Woods grew up in Southern California, where, according to the song, it never rains.

Nonetheless, he has proved to be an excellent bad-weather player. He won the Masters a month ago during three rounds of rain and muddy fairways, and he's the three-time defending champion at the Memorial, where rain has followed the tournament like a pack of locusts.

How did he become such a mudder?

"When the weather was terrible out, I'd always go out and practice and play in it, whether the Santa Ana [winds] were blowing in from the desert or we'd get a storm from the Pacific Ocean," said Woods, recalling his younger days in San Diego. "I was always out at the golf course playing in that stuff because I thought it was so neat to go playing in difference conditions. In Southern Cal, you always had pretty good weather. When it was different, I enjoyed that.

"The hard part was trying to convince my mom to let me go out there and not catch a cold."

Tri-State Match Play

The first of the Tri-State PGA's big events starts tomorrow with the three-day Match Play Championship at Montour Heights Country Club.

Totteridge pro Sean Farren, the defending champion, is exempt from the 18-hole stroke qualifier that will determine the 31 spots.

Farren and the rest of the 80-player field will find several favorable changes to the P.B. Dye-designed layout.

The most dramatic is at No. 14, the dogleg-left, uphill par 5 that plays 473 yards from the gold tees. For starters, the ladies tee that sat at the corner of the dogleg has been removed and the fairway has been flattened in that area. Also, the steep transition rough from the first plateau to the second has been built up with dirt to create a more level playing area.

"It's still rough, but it's flat now, not that steep grade," said Montour pro John Mazza. "That's not a great hole, but it's much more playable than it's ever been."

The other change was at No. 4, a 550-yard, par 5, where the area left of the fairway has been built into a series of grassy swales. Formerly, the area dropped off down a steep bank, making it difficult to find an errant tee shot.

"If you hit a questionable shot that just misses the fairway, you'll probably be able to play it," Mazza said. "It's really a nice change."

Turf tips

Tom Seapker, director of grounds at Southpointe Golf Club, on those yellowish, bumpy spots on the greens: "Those are patches of annual bluegrass, otherwise known as poa annua. What happens in the spring is that the annual bluegrass plant goes into a 'flowering seedhead bloom.' There are ways to control this, chemically, but timing of application is critical. Most of the seedheads will disappear by mid-May."

Quotable

Lee Trevino in Golf Digest: "People ask me who's better, Tiger or Jack [Nicklaus]? It's close, but if they played one 18-hole round, both men in their primes, I'd have to take Jack. He was longer than Tiger, a better putter, and he'd game-plan Tiger to death. Nicklaus, at his best, always found a way to win."

Dissa and data

More than 100 physicians and health care professionals -- most of them golfers -- from Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia will convene for a symposium on golf medicine May 24-25 at the Lakeview Golf Resort and Spa, Morgantown, W.Va. They will discuss how the medical profession can assist golfers who wish to pursue their sport after injury or illness. The symposium, co-sponsored by the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, will address issues affecting both professional golfers and weekend players.

Total prize money for the U.S. Open has been increased to $5.5 million, with the winner receiving $1 million. Also, the purse for the U.S. Senior Open has been increased to $2.5 million, with $450,000 going to the winner.

The United States Golf Association received a record 8,468 entries for qualifying for the U.S. Open, which is June 13-16 at Bethpage, N.Y. Players must have a USGA handicap index no higher than 1.4 to enter the qualifying rounds. The youngest entrant is Min So, 13, of Wichita, Kan. The oldest is Joe Moresco, 70, of Woodmere, N.Y. The first local qualifier is May 13 at Scotch Valley Country Club in Hollidaysburg, Pa. The other is May 16 at Quicksilver.

Trivia answer

Mediate beat Curtis Strange in a sudden-death playoff to win the 1991 Doral Ryder Open.

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