PEBBLE BEACH - Last week in the U.S. Open sectional qualifier in Columbus, Ohio, Rocco Mediate marched off the golf course at the Lakes G&CC about as disappointed as he'd been in his 25-year professional career.
He had just suffered a bogey to be the odd man out in a six-player playoff for five remaining spots for the 110th U.S. Open. "Don't even bother guys. For the first time ever I have nothing to say," Mediate said that evening in disgust.
Mediate was laughing at himself Tuesday afternoon at Pebble Beach GL thinking about that heat-of-the-moment comment. He could afford to laugh. Mediate ended up getting the last spot in the Open when a repeat winner on the PGA Tour since last year's championship didn't materialize at the St. Jude Classic.
"Can you believe I didn't want to talk? That tells you how ticked off I was," the traditionally garrulous Mediate said on the driving range at Pebble Beach. "I wanted to be here so badly, but I just thought I blew it, and I was ticked because I had played so well all day."
Mediate, 47, didn't even realize he was still in the running for a berth when he received a call from the U.S. Golf Association Sunday night, but it was determined that the Columbus sectional, where 120 players (mostly tour pros) vied for 15 spots, was the toughest of the 13 sectionals contested in the U.S., giving Mediate the first slot among all the first alternates in sectional competition after Memphis was in the books. He didn't arrive until Tuesday afternoon after flying all day from Naples, Fla., to San Francisco and then driving two hours to Pebble Beach. He went straight to the first tee and played 18 holes.
"I really had no idea what would happen. I was not expecting to have the chance to be here," said Mediate, set to play in his 15th U.S. Open. "It's been a tough year. So for me to be playing, it's great. I'm loving it. It's perfect."
Mediate made headlines two years ago when he survived a playoff in the Columbus sectional and went on to tie Tiger Woods after 72 holes at Torrey Pines GC in La Jolla, Calif. The five-time PGA Tour winner tied Woods over the 18-hole playoff as well, but lost on the first hole of sudden death.
He hasn't been playing quite as well as he did two years ago, having missed the cut in 11 of his 14 tour starts this year. The sectional, where he shot 9-under-par 135 over 36 holes, was his first decent performance, which only made the seeming near-miss all the more galling at the time.
"It's my 25th year. I still love it, and I still want to be out here and play," he said. "I'm working my butt off, but I haven't seen the results. I'm starting to feel better and play better. I've had a few personal things I'm working through, but it's all clearing out, so maybe things are finally turning around. I sure hope so."
Reminded of how he nearly went from sectional playoff survivor to playoff winner in the tournament proper at Torrey Pines two years ago, Mediate laughed again. "Yeah, same thing two years ago ... well, almost. It's amazing how that worked. Hope we get some similar results."
-- Dave Shedloski