Nine holes with ... Rocco Mediate

Former U.S. Open runner-up has brought his fast-talking, fun-loving style to the senior tour

Rocco Mediate on playing at North Shore Country Club in Glenview.

Before he let me ride in his cart, Rocco Mediate needed a yes on this question: "You like music?"

Mediate then fiddled with his iPhone and walked onto the first tee box. With rap metal music blaring from his shorts, playing partner Tom Ealy remarked, "Sounds like you have a call coming in."

"No," Mediate replied, "that's Rage Against the Machine."

And so it began. Nine holes with the most entertaining man in senior golf.

As he approached his first tee shot, Mediate pretended to be Keegan Bradley, the PGA Tour star who got tons of TV time last weekend at the Byron Nelson Championship. Mediate imitated Bradley's odd pre-shot routine, during which he stands behind his ball, rocking forward and back, then finally marches toward it like an enraged bowler in search of a spare.

"Nobody wants to see that!" Mediate shouted.

His morning began with a flight from Minneapolis, where he shares a condo with fiancee Jessica Somers. Mediate arrived at the venerable North Shore Country Club in Glenview to promote the Encompass Championship, the June 21-23 Champions Tour event.

He hit about three practice chips and was ready to go. Or so he thought.

His first tee shot sailed right. So he hit another.

"Can we do this again next month?" he said. "I love the Champions Tour — hit until you're happy."

Mediate was all smiles and punch lines. And, really, why shouldn't he be happy?

OK, so he is not one of the 16 players in the Encompass field to have won a major. (It will be 17 if Fred Couples adds his name.)

But Mediate won six times on the PGA Tour, shot a second-round 61 at the Allianz Championship in February in a victorious senior tour debut and has perhaps the best loss in major championship history.

After a gimpy Tiger Woods rolled in a 15-footer on Torrey Pines' 18th hole to force a Monday playoff in the 2008 U.S. Open, no one gave Mediate a chance. But vying to become the oldest Open champion, he played Woods even for 18 extra holes. He won the crowd — which chanted, "Roc-co! Roc-co!" — but not the trophy.

"We put on a nice show," Mediate said. "I wish we both could have won. But I know Tiger doesn't feel that way."

On Golf Channel's "Feherty" show, Mediate said he asked Woods to sign and inscribe a photograph and pin sheet so he could frame them as a memento. But Woods signed without writing a note, and Mediate was hurt enough to toss it in the trash.

Mediate insists he really likes Woods, and the proof is on his feet. Not only does Mediate wear black Nike TW13 golf shoes, he purchased them himself.

"I do need the money," he half-joked after being asked about turning down endorsements, "but I don't like to ask for (free) stuff."

Midway through our nine, Mediate removed the shoes and played barefoot to test his balance. He passed, using his natural draw to bomb a 300-plus-yard drive on No. 7.

On the par-3s, Mediate did not use a tee. He took the edge of his club and smacked it into the turf a few times to create a small ridge. Trying to pure a long iron without a tee is way more difficult, like stroking practice putts into a smaller cup.

"Prepping for tourney week," he said.

But mostly just enjoying the day.

With his favorite concert soundtrack playing (Rush in 1992), Mediate dished on his top Chicago restaurant (Gene & Georgetti) and the films he has watched dozens of times — "Pulp Fiction," "Get Shorty," the "Rocky" movies and the poker flick "Rounders."

Mediate finished 600th out of 5,619 players at the 2005 World Series of Poker main event but no longer plays Texas hold 'em. He still has some gamble in him, though.

"The only way to re-create tournament conditions," he said, "is to play for money you don't have."

Wolf is Mediate's game of choice, and his stakes are not like mine — a dollar a dot. Mediate's crew is OK with five-figure swings on some holes.

As a teenager growing up near Pittsburgh, Mediate was invited to play a match at Latrobe Country Club, Arnold Palmer's home course. Mediate beat "The King" by shooting 69 and still has the winnings — a $20 bill.

"Mr. Palmer taught me it's easy to be a nice guy when you shoot 65," he said. "But can you be the same guy when you shoot 79?"

tgreenstein@tribune.com

Twitter @TeddyGreenstein

9 holes with … Rocco Mediate

Five-second bio: The gregarious six-time PGA Tour winner dueled with Tiger Woods in the 2008 U.S. Open.

Where: North Shore Country Club, Glenview (blue tees: 3,613 yards).

Event: Encompass Championship media day.

Mediate's handicap: Plus-5.

What he shot: 32.

One word to describe his game: "Efficient."

 

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