Rocco Mediate is a nice guy, a funny guy, a talk-so-fast type of guy that it’s hard to distinguish the words.
All you know when he finishes talking is that you are smiling and laughing.
So, when Rocco tees off on Friday morning defending his title in the Allianz Championship on The Old Course at Broken Sound in Boca Raton, don’t expect him to be all grim-faced. Just not in his nature.
Mediate would be every golf fan’s favorite person if they had a chance to meet him, and you better believe he tries to meet everybody. As he puts it, “I’ll talk to you, no matter if you want to hear what I say or not.”
Golf is a game to Mediate, not a way to earn a lot of money. But, that said, he does earn a lot of money. Since turning pro in 1984, he has collected more than $15 million off PGA Tour and Champions Tour events.
Not bad for a guy who earlier in his career had to go through a nearly five-year hiatus when he did not know whether he would play again because of a bad back that required surgery in the ’90s. He pretty much was unable to play in those five years
“I was told at the time of the surgery that I would never play with the ability that I had before,” he said. “I didn’t buy that diagnosis at the time. Then I woke up from the surgery, and then I definitely bought it. I couldn’t move for three days.”
The surgery required an attitude adjustment from Mediate, who grew up in Pennsylvania just a few miles from Arnold Palmer’s home in Latrobe.
“I told myself I didn’t lose my ability or my swing, that I just lost my body for a while,” he said of his back. “It was a lot of work, and sometimes it still is.”
Just several weeks ago, on Jan. 20, Mediate, 51, got married to fiancée Jessie Somers, who usually travels to tournaments with him. The wedding came after Mediate finished fifth in the Mitsubishi Championship in Hawaii.
Mediate and Jessie, ever the free spirits, decided a beach was the place to be married. And what better beaches can you have than in Hawaii. So, with little fanfare and just a few people, Mediate and Somers got married.
No tuxedo, strictly on the beach, no shoes.
Mediate’s victory in last year’s Allianz was a breakthrough moment for him. It was his first-ever Champions event on the tour for 50-year-olds and older. He won in his first outing. And he did it doing his normal thing while on the course — talking to fans, shaking their hands, joking with them, signing autographs, slapping them on the back. And, occasionally, walking over to the gallery to talk to then- fiancée Jessie.
“I haven’t changed, don’t want to,” Mediate said. “That’s me. I acted the same way with fans when I was on the regular tour. I don’t understand why not.”
Did winning in his first Champions event make him think everything would fall into place and he would dominate that tour?
“You don’t know how hard this tour is,” he explained. “You think it’s easy. That’s not the way it happens. Nobody is going to do it every single week. I did not have any false impressions.”
That said, he added that the victory a year ago at Allianz, was “absolutely great. It was even unexpected.”
As he heads into the Champions Tour’s first full-field event at The Old Course on Friday, Mediate said he is striving for consistency this year.
Top 10 finishes week in and week out would be fine with him, but then he added a proviso, “You really want to have a chance to win.”
Regardless of golf, he knows he is fortunate.
“I’m just lucky to have Jessie and have all this happen to me in golf,” Mediate said. “Very fortunate.”