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My Shot

Rocco At 50

Continued (page 2 of 3)

Arnold is very big on taking hats off indoors; if you walk into Bay Hill with a hat on, someone will correct you within 10 seconds. He hates facial hair, too -- you're taking your chances showing up in front of him without having shaved that morning. At Pebble Beach, I dropped into the restaurant for a minute, not to eat but just to mingle. A buddy tells me Arnold is there, on the other side of the restaurant, and suggests we go over and say hello. I refused. "No way I'm going over there," I said. "I didn't shave this morning. If he sees me like this, he'll kill me."

There's a movement to relax the standards in golf, a fear that if we don't start allowing hats to be worn backward, the game will die. Well, golf didn't get to where it is now by allowing bare feet in the dining room. Traditions and institutions are important. If everyone asked themselves what would Tom Watson, Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan or Byron Nelson do in a given situation, and behave the same way, the game would be better off.

There are a lot of differences between a tour pro and the average amateur that are hard to explain, but here's one: Hand me a driver -- any loft, swing weight, length or flex. The first drive will be off the planet. The second drive will be pretty straight. Not optimal, but straight.

Some guys try to work the ball both ways. Not me. I don't care if the pin is two feet from the right edge of the green, I'm going to draw it in there because that's my natural shape. I won't hit a fade unless I have a tree right in front of me. I got to where I am because I have only one shot shape, not in spite of it.

rocco mediate

Pros miss a lot of shots, obviously. The difference between outstanding pros and ordinary ones is, the good ones can tell immediately what caused the bad shot and fix the problem before the next shot. Ordinary pros are lost until they get to the range after the round.

I'll hit a bad shot and blurt, "I am so dead over there." Invariably, somebody will say, "Don't say that!" As though what I said is going to cause the ball to jump out of a good place and into a bad one.

I don't ask god for help on the golf course. There's too much going on in the world for God to intervene on a stupid golf shot. I think God looks at me and says, "I gave this guy the ability to be very good at what he does; I'm gonna let him go." And He puts the fate of that six-foot putt all in my hands.

I have nothing against sport psycholo-gists. I've just never had the need for one. Here's golf in a nutshell: If you don't think you can pull off a shot, you probably won't. If you do think you can hit the shot, you still might not. Have a nice day, and good luck.

Guys would play against Tiger and fold up like lawn chairs. But in that 2008 U.S. Open playoff, I wasn't worried about falling apart. One of my caddies, Pete Bender, had always told me, "One thing you never do, Roc, is spit the bit." I'm proud of that. I saw going up against Tiger as an opportunity to show myself and the world what I'd learned in my career playing golf. I liked the idea that there was no place to hide.

Was I rooting for Tiger to miss that putt he had to tie me on the 72nd hole at Torrey Pines? Of course. Did I think he would make it? Of course. Would anybody other than Tiger have made that putt? Absolutely not.

At the press conference Sunday night I was asked about my chances in the Monday playoff. I said, "I have absolutely nothing to lose." When the conference was over, it hit me: I had everything to lose. This was my moment. It was my big chance. Everything I'd coveted my whole life was right in front of me.

Losing that playoff hurt. It lingered, and even though I'd won five times on tour, I think there was a sense my Open performance was kind of a fluke. But in 2010 I won the Frys.com Open, opening with 64-65. Getting that trophy took all of the hurt away. It affirmed I wasn't just a tour pro, but a genuinely good one.

The onslaught against Tiger during the "scandal" was ridiculous. When you become the best at something, people want to take you to the ground. Nobody knew what was going on in Tiger's marriage or his life, and they didn't care. All they knew was, anybody who was this supposedly perfect needs to be taken down. He needs to suffer. I ask, "Why?" If you tore down every athlete who was imperfect, there wouldn't be any athletes left.

When Tiger was on top, I would have loved having his gig -- for about a month. After I lost the playoff to Tiger, I got stopped 10 times a day, easy, for a year. It started to get to me, and I'm no introvert. I can't imagine living my whole life having to eat in back rooms with my friends instead of out in public.

At the 1999 Phoenix Open, I'm paired with Tiger and Harrison Frazar in the last round. The number of people following us was insane. As we're walking off the sixth tee, a security guard and some others charged by us and tackled a guy. The dude was huge, and they weren't messing around; it was a brutal takedown. I looked over at Tiger, and he just shrugged and kept walking. It was like, No big deal. I've seen this before. It turned out the guy had a gun in his backpack. I was shaken up, but for Tiger, it was life as usual.

I've been a Pittsburgh Pirates fan my entire life. They haven't had a winning season since 1992, and I'm still with them. I don't leave. With that, you think I'm going to kick Tiger to the curb because he had a couple of rough years?

I listened to the outrage about Keegan Bradley spitting and wondered, Are there any more ways we can think of to stop a person from acting like a human being? What about baseball players? Have you gotten on their cases lately? It was ridiculous. But that's the world we live in.

In poker, there are tells -- some giveaways from players that reveal something they don't want you to know. At my first World Series of Poker, in 2005, a pro player comes up to me and says, "I want to give you a little advice. I notice you're waving your hands around and talking a lot. Be careful. You might give something away." I said, "But did I ever stop waving my hands and talking? It seems to me the tell would be if I stopped doing what I do all the time." The guy said, "Good point," and left.

There are tells in golf, too. The biggest is a guy taking more time to putt or hit a shot. Jim Furyk at the U.S. Open and again at the Ryder Cup are great examples. Being super careful and extra prepared doesn't help. If I'm playing against a guy and he starts taking extra time, it's going to make me a little more relaxed, because I know he isn't comfortable.

The newest technology is an MRI-like thing for your golf swing. It's beyond TrackMan. They strap these sensors on you, and you get a profile where parts of your body register in different colors. The trick is to keep the colors as uniform as possible, because if you're stressing one part, the rest come tumbling down. Now, what lowers the stress is to keep your head level throughout the swing. To do that, you need to swing from the ground up and use your lower body and the big muscles to generate speed. I call it "sucking the power out of the ground."

If your head stays level -- I don't like this dipping stuff you see among a lot of players -- it leads to effortless power. And it's easier on you physically. You hit it more solid. I'm longer than I've ever been and have an extra 15 to 20 yards on call with the driver when I need it, by pretty much keeping my head level. It's a good swing thought for everybody.

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July 28, 2014

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