Golf Notebook: Mediate has to prove worth on Champions
February 16, 2013 5:00 AM
Rocco Mediate became the 15th player to win his debut on the Champions Tour when he won the Allianz Championship last week in Boca Raton, Fla.
By Gerry Dulac Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
It is almost 13 years to the day that Lanny Wadkins, a former major champion and notorious PGA Tour gunslinger, won the ACE Group Classic in his debut on the Champions Tour. For Wadkins, who won 21 times on the PGA Tour, it was to be the start of something big in his new career on the senior circuit.
But Wadkins never won again in 138 events on the Champions Tour and now rarely, if ever, competes. He spends his time at the course as a tower analyst for the Golf Channel.
Tom Pernice Jr. knows the feeling. When he won the SAS Championship in 2009, he became the 15th player to win his Champions Tour debut. But, 38 events later, Pernice is still looking for victory No. 2.
Pernice does not have the pedigree of Wadkins, or even Rocco Mediate, for that matter. He has just two career victories on the PGA Tour, both in 1999.
But he has discovered what Wadkins discovered a decade ago -- just because you make your first Champions Tour event look easy doesn't mean the rest are going to be that way, too.
And that's what Mediate, who won the Allianz Championship last week in his Champions Tour debut, is trying to tell himself.
"I want to try to prove myself to these guys," Mediate, a Greensburg native, said the other day before preparing to play in this weekend's ACE Group Classic in Naples, Fla. "I was on tour 27 years, I felt like I proved myself. Whether I did or not doesn't matter, I felt like I did.
"So out here I've got to do it again just because, you know ... you have to come out and play against these guys and show them that you still have game. That's what the plan is. That's totally the plan."
The plan got off to a good start in Boca Raton, Fla., when Mediate tied the tournament record with a winning total of 17-under 199 and set the course record Saturday at Broken Sound Golf Club with a career-best 61.
But will it continue?
The percentages are on his side.
Of the 15 players who won their Champions Tour debut before Mediate, 12 combined to win 125 more times on the senior circuit. That number includes 24 major titles.
So it is reasonable to expect that Mediate, like the majority of others, will go on to post multiple victories, possibly even major titles, on the Champions Tour.
The only players to not win again are Pernice, Wadkins and Rod Funseth, though Pernice is just now settling into a full schedule on the Champions Tour after splitting his time playing on the PGA Tour. He finished tied for second, behind Mediate, at the Allianz Championship.
Mediate doesn't want to be one of them. But there's no guarantee his quick start will translate to continued success. Just ask Wadkins.
"The first two events were won with about 6?under-a-day for three days," Mediate said. "Go ahead, try that once or twice, it's not easy. I knew that coming out, though. I wasn't one of those. ... I knew what I had in front of me, I played with these guys my whole life, so I knew what I was going to face. So it's not a surprise."
Ben Roethlisberger goes there. So does Emmanuel Sanders, Dick LeBeau, Dan Bylsma and a host of local golf professionals.
It's the Robert Morris golf dome on Neville Island, a winter practice home for golfers preparing for the season or a mid-winter getaway. It has reopened after the inflatable dome ripped and collapsed in a microburst June 1, shutting down the facility for three months.
Nobody was injured in the accident and damage was minimal, though the indoor sand trap area had to be rebuilt.
If there was good news, it was that the dome collapsed during the slow season when most golfers are outside playing or practicing.
"We knew we were in our slow period so it didn't matter as much," said PGA professional Jim Cichra, the dome's golf director. "The main thing was getting everything replaced. We wanted to get the word out that we're up running again."
The climate-controlled golf dome (it's always 68 degrees) is a popular spot because it has 42 hitting stalls in a 100-yard area that allows golfers to hit any club in their bag. In addition to the sand trap, the facility also has a synthetic putting green.
Cichra has been in charge of the dome since it opened in 1999. He is one of six professionals who give lessons there, along with Kevin Shields, Bill Kurp, Sean Parees, Jay Wiegand and Jodi Renner. Shields is one of the top players in the Tri-State PGA section.
"It's grown each year, even though golf has leveled off," Cichra said. "It's really conducive to practice because we don't have to fight the conditions. When I was giving lessons outside last summer when the dome was shut down, when it was 100 degrees, I was like, get me back inside."
The right fit
Looking to get fitted and try your new clubs outside at the same time? The Vietmeier Golf Center in Kennedy is the only public facility in the western half of the state where golfers can do that.
Vietmeier GC has been equipped with the TaylorMade Fitting Center -- the same one used at Golf Galaxy -- where golfers can get fitted for any of TaylorMade's new products: The R1 driver, the RocketBallz Stage 2 driver or the new RocketBladez irons.
Golfers can have different heads mounted on different shafts to find the right fit. After being tested on the indoor launch monitor, golfers can go outside (weather permitting) and check real-time ball flight on any of the 36 matted hitting stalls at Vietmeier's. The center is hoping to open its grass range that is 110 yards wide, 40 yards deep, in the spring.
"It's a very unique situation because I'm one of the few shops that only carry one product -- TaylorMade," said owner and PGA professional Ed Vietmeier. "We put the fitting wall in in December and we changed half the golf shop. It actually looks like a golf shop now."
Oakmont Country Club and Merion Golf Club, site of the 2013 U.S. Open, are the only known clubs in Pennsylvania that feature the TM fitting center. But the public -- and even other country-club members -- do not have access to those as they do at Vietmeier GC.
Fitting prices are $50 for drivers, $75 for irons or $100 for both. But, if a player purchases the equipment within 30 days of being tested, the fitting price is included in the cost of the club.
• I really like Johnny Miller, but, for my money, Brandel Chamblee on the Golf Channel is the best analyst in the business.
• David Feherty is quick-witted, intelligent, passionate, irreverent, entertaining and informative. But, if I had to listen to just one on-course announcer for 18 holes, I'd still take NBC's Roger Maltbie.
• Tiger Woods is back making Nike commercials. And, just like his old Buick commercials, he's very good.
• I know Brandt Snedeker won the AT&T National Pro-Am at Pebble Beach last weekend. But, judging from the endless amount of air time given to CEOs and billionaire investors, I thought Toby Wilt and Randall Stephenson were in contention.
• I will watch golf any time, in any form, but not even the beauty of Pebble Beach can keep me watching the soporific coverage given a bunch of millionaires nobody knows. I thought CBS covered the PGA Tour, not a charity pro-am.
• By the way, how many more times do we have to watch Bill Murray steal a lady's cookies in the gallery?
• I'm not sure, but I believe Clint Eastwood uttered more words in "High Plains Drifter" than he did Sunday in the 18th tower at Pebble.