|ESPN.com: Sobel||[Print without images]|
Rocco Mediate has been pulling our collective legs.
Tell him you'd like to speak about last year's U.S. Open and the affable, loquacious runner-up maintains that he's not much of a talker, doesn't really enjoy the grind of a question-and-answer session.
"I'm just an actor," he contends. "This is all an act."
Of course, Mediate says this with tongue firmly planted in cheek. The world-class golfer is also a world-class gabber.
And now, he's a writer, too. Along with John Feinstein, Mediate has co-authored the book "Are You Kidding Me?" in which he relives the tourney at Torrey Pines and his sudden-death playoff loss to Tiger Woods. Rocco recently sat down on the ESPN.com Hot Seat to discuss his second career as an author, the upcoming U.S. Open at Bethpage and the one thing he'll always remember about the day he tried to take down the world's No. 1-ranked player.
Q: Since June 16 of last year, has a single day gone by when someone hasn't congratulated you on the U.S. Open?
A: I've got to say no. It's just amazing. The only time it didn't happen was when I had knee surgery in late January, but everyone around me kept saying, "That was really great last year." So, no, it hasn't happened.
Q: Tiger has so often stated that if you don't win, you lose. Is it bittersweet to receive congratulations for coming in second place?
A: You know, Tiger is right. Of course I obviously wanted to win, but it's a different situation. I don't know how to explain it to you, Jason. It was just weird. I did lose the tournament, but I gained so much from it for myself. Not from the people, who have been great, but as far as knowing what I can do under the most intense circumstances was a huge lift for me, even though I lost. If it was anybody else -- and no disrespect to anybody else -- but I would have been devastated. It would have been a horrible thing. But when it's Tiger, you just don't know what the hell is going to happen. You do all you can and he still finds a way to get the job done. He performed miracles to win that week. Usually if you perform miracles against him, you still don't win. I just played a good solid week. I don't know what else to say. I did everything I could do.
Q: Tell me the story of what Tiger said to you when he first saw you on the range that morning wearing a red shirt.
A: [Laughs] Well, Cindi [Hilfman] and I had talked about what I was going to wear. I had a red shirt and a black shirt. And I said, "Well, Tiger wore red on Sunday. He's not going to wear red today." So I wore red. When I went over to say good morning to him -- he was there a little before me -- he looked at me and said, "Nice shirt." But there was a not-so-nice word in between those two words. It was priceless. I was like, "Well, I didn't think you'd wear red two days in a row! I thought red was your Sunday color!" So I guess it's his Monday color, too.
Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images
Rocco Mediate and Tiger Woods captivated the sports world with their 19-hole playoff at last year's U.S. Open. According to Mediate, the two have never sat down and talked about their experiences since that fateful day at Torrey Pines.
Q: You're a poker player. Did it feel like a heads-up poker game against Tiger in the playoff? Or were you still playing the course more than the opponent?
A: Well, I'm looking at him, I'm looking at the golf course, but as far as poker, he would be a dangerous opponent because he has way more money and chips than all of us. You see what I'm saying? So I had to play perfect golf -- or poker, if you want to call it that -- to even have a chance to beat him. He can play normal and still win a golf tournament; he's done it about a million times. That's just how much better he is than everybody else.
But in the U.S. Open, that's a whole different ballgame. If it was for the Buick Invitational, I'd have no chance. But at the U.S. Open, I had a very, very good chance, a minimum 50-50 chance. In my mind, I thought I had a really good chance because I was hitting more fairways than everybody else. In the U.S. Open, that's what you have to do, especially someone who hits it 280 yards. If I miss a fairway, I can't do anything; if he does, he can still do stuff, which is the advantage he gets because he's better and stronger.
Q: Is there one story from that day that will always remain fresh in your mind, maybe something from behind the scenes that the cameras didn't capture?
A: Yes. When we were walking to the first tee -- Cindi would always meet me walking from the putting green to the first tee -- there was this little spot on the left just before you made the turn in the corner. It was maybe a 20-second conversation. I looked at her and I said, "You know, I've waited for this my whole life." And she looked at me and said, "Well, go get it done then." That's all I had to do. I thought I was going to get it done. You wait for these situations your whole life. The putt I had to beat him on the 90th hole from 18-20 feet, I remember saying the same thing to myself: "You've waited your whole life for this opportunity. Make sure you give it a shot." And I did. You know, it wasn't short, it wasn't weak. It was strong, a little firm. You look back and say, "Did I give it as good a chance as I could?" I have to say yes. It just wasn't good enough.
Q: Do you ever wake up at night thinking about that putt?
A: No, I don't have any dreams or nightmares or any of that stuff, because I got so much out of that day and that week and how I performed and all the stuff I learned over 24 years on tour. I passed my test. I just didn't happen to get the big trophy. The only thing that messes with me on that putt is I gave it really good speed, but the ball didn't do anything that we expected it to do. It stayed pretty straight. It should have broke to the right, even with that speed on it.
Johnny Miller talked to me days after, he said, "I can't believe that putt did not break a little to the right." It had enough speed on it. It didn't go 5 feet by; it went 3 feet by. So it had a good shot of going in. But that's the one that makes me mad, because any other time that putt does break. The poa [annua grass] in the afternoon, it's funny. So that's how it is. That's the same reason [Woods'] putt went in in regulation. It just bounced the right way. Am I going to say it's lucky? Absolutely not. There was no luck involved. He hit it as good as he could and he did his job. But it just does that. Poa does that to you. It gives you surprises.
Unfortunately, if my ball would have bounced a little bit to the right, it's in and it's over. That's all I can really ask of myself.
Q: Years from now, when you have grandkids and they want to sit on your knee and hear all about the 2008 U.S. Open, what will you tell them?
A: I'm going to say that I took the No. 1 player in the world to the end of his rope, took him as far as he could go. I didn't blink -- well, actually, I did blink on the 19th hole; I hit it terrible -- but I never was afraid. I thought I was going to beat him. And I really couldn't do much more. He's just that good.
You know, I beat him before in Phoenix. When I won in Phoenix, I said, "Now I can tell my kids that I took Tiger Woods for the last two days at a golf tournament and I beat him." This time, he beat me. I want to end my career ahead, so I have to get my act in gear and get into another final group with him somewhere.
Q: Was there a time, maybe a week after the playoff, maybe a month later, that you ran into Tiger and had a chance to discuss everything that happened?
A: You know what? The sad part about the whole thing, Jason, is that I haven't been able to get with him and talk with him about it. It's something I dearly, dearly want to do, but I don't know if it's ever going to happen. I don't know that we'll do that. I haven't asked him. I just want to sit with him, just him and I for an hour, and just talk about that day. He probably won't tell me what he was thinking, because he's that much of a competitor, but it would just be nice to know what he thought about the whole thing. I really haven't talked to him.
Q: I'm guessing there are some high school teachers of yours who never believed they'd hear the words "Rocco Mediate, published author," huh?
A: That would include myself, too. English wasn't my finest, uh, deal. But writing the book with John, I really just talked. I got to see why he's who he is. When I read the transcripts of the book, I was absolutely shocked at how much fun he made that book. All the stories he got from my friends, it was really something else.
Q: What comes next in your writing career -- romance novels? Mystery thrillers? Science fiction?
A: I'm thinking of maybe going into some science fiction-mystery-romance novels, just mix all of those into one. I think that's where I'm going to go next. It depends on how much I want to play golf.
Q: Good call. Looking ahead to this year's U.S. Open at Bethpage, what can you do for an encore?
A: Just get back in the hunt. That's all I can do. I think I'm hitting the ball good enough to do it. I haven't putted the ball well at all this year; the whole year, since the end of last year, I just haven't made any. I just haven't made enough. I think we can all say that. But I've really hit it good for the last seven or eight months and I've gotten nothing out of it.
In the U.S. Open, that may pay off. If I can continue to strike it like I am, I don't have to make every putt. Pars are good there, which I love -- especially at Bethpage. It's going to be very much a par challenge. It's going to be a really good golf tournament. So for an encore, it's hard to do. It just goes to show you how good Tiger and Jack [Nicklaus] and all the guys who have won multiple majors, how good they are that week. It's amazing that they can do this so many times. There are only four per year. So for me to get back in the hunt, that's definitely my goal. My No. 1 is to get into the hunt somehow.
Whether I win or lose, it doesn't even matter once you get into the hunt; you just have to get in there and try.
Q: You know there are going to be New York fans chanting "Rocco!" the entire time from outside the ropes.
A: I just need to ask them, are they prepared for me? [Laughs] I am so prepared for that. I loved the '02 Open. I love the way they are. They're into it. They'll boo you if you screw up. They'll go crazy if you hit a good shot. In every other sport they do the same thing, but New York fans -- I love 'em. I've always loved playing at Westchester for The Barclays. I've always loved it up there. I have a lot of good friends there. I just hope the weather is good so they can all flock out there. It will be great.
Jason Sobel is a golf writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com.