BENTON HARBOR, Michigan – It was vintage Rocco Mediate but here’s the thing: There is an amended standard these days for what constitutes vintage Mediate.
“I’m speechless,” Mediate said Sunday after winning the Senior PGA Championship presented by KitchenAid, his first senior major title. “I didn’t know what to say.”
Mediate? Speechless? There’s the first telltale sign. That’s a different Mediate right there but, more importantly, so is the golf game. It was pure and flawless at Harbor Shores in the second PGA TOUR Champions major of the year.
Mediate closed out his victory with 66 Sunday for a record 265 total, 19-under-par. He led wire-to-wire and set records with every round. In the end, he set the record for lowest score at the Senior PGA Championship, three shots better than Sam Snead’s 268 total in 1973 at PGA National. Colin Montgomerie, who fell short in his pursuit of Mediate, closed with 67 for 268, matching the previous low score. The last man to win the Senior PGA Championship wire-to-wire was Jack Nicklaus in 1991.
That’s the kind of week it was for Mediate, who has worked hard to reconstruct his golf game, his confidence and even his self-worth as a golfer.
“It’s hard to dream that,” said Mediate, 53, after turning the page on three discouraging seasons.
“It just turned out really cool. I didn’t know I shot 66. I didn’t know what I shot. But when I added it up, I went, yeah. A lot of great things happened today and I don’t believe I’m sitting here. I really don’t. I’ve said that about eight or nine times in my career, that’s about it. Every time you’re like, ‘I can’t believe that I was the low score this week.’ My wife told me it was going to happen, but you know I don’t believe everybody.
“One thing Jess said to me is, this is what you like, you like all the fans and you like all the pressure. And I’m like — I hadn’t been (in contention) in 1,700 years. She’s like, this is what you like, you should be able to thrive in this. And I’m like, that’s actually a point, I do like it. I think we all like it. But it’s just hard to get there.”
The exclamation point on the victory came at the 17th hole where Mediate holed a bunker shot for birdie 2 to stretch his lead to the final 3-shot margin. It was another example of his vastly improved short game, featuring some uncanny putting.
“I made everything,” said Mediate, who needed just one putt on each of the first five holes. “I just kept making them and making them and making them.
Montgomerie had to watch the display and was duly impressed, especially by the hole-out at the 17th.
“A three would have been a good score out of the bunker, I think he would have admitted that as well,” Montgomerie said. “And he goes and holes it. So that was that.”
When the ball rolled into the cup, Mediate immediately pointed to his caddie, Martin Courtois, and said something.
“I just turned away in disgust,” said Montgomerie, feigning disgust. “He obviously said, ‘Christ, that was good’ or I hope he did. I hope he didn’t say he duffed it or something because it was perfect. I don’t know what he said. But I hope it was, ‘My God, Martin, that was good.’
“Because that shot won him the event, obviously.”
What Mediate said was, “I had a feeling.
“Martin had no idea what I was talking about. He was like, what? Because I didn’t say anything to him. I worked so much on the short game this week and the short game area … If you can do that stuff, which I did all week really well, who knows? Then all of a sudden bang, I had the shot. For it to go in was ridiculous. But I felt like I was going to get it close enough to make three. Which all I was really trying to do.”
Mediate said from the conclusion of his opening 62 Thursday that he is back, that his game has been rejuvenating by the collaboration of hard work, good advice and the determination to cure what has ailed him.
Then he went out at Harbor Shores and proved it by taking on and defeating the best of the PGA TOUR Champions.
“All credit to Rocco,” Montgomerie said. “I did nothing wrong. I went out and shot 67 and I was beaten by the best man on the day today.”
Mediate, winless on the PGA TOUR Champions since his Rookie of the Year season in 2013, stared down two-time defending champion Montgomerie, and did the same from a distance to the best player on PGA TOUR Champions, Bernhard Langer, who finished tied for third 6 shots behind the champion.
Langer started the final round 5 shots behind Mediate and did what he does best – pursued relentlessly until he was in range. But this time, Langer, who won the year’s first senior major last week at the Regions Tradition, couldn’t sustain the charge.
Of course, Mediate was largely responsible because each time Langer got closer to the lead, Mediate fired a warning shot to signal that he wasn’t about to be overtaken.
The package of what Mediate produced at Harbor Shores, he acknowledged, is a new standard for vintage Rocco.
“I think it’s a little new because my short game is way better, better than it used to be and I’m way tighter, I know what I’m doing more,” he said. “And I’m not afraid, I can hit pretty much any shot that I need to hit, at least try to, I guess. At least I believe I can hit it. So that’s huge. But I think that’s the difference.”