"I was pissed," says Rocco Mediate, sucking a five-espresso-shot iced latte through a straw. Trailing Tiger Woods by three shots in the U.S. Open playoff last June, Mediate stormed off the 10th green after his second straight bogey. "I said to myself, 'No, no, no he is not gonna beat me by six. I'm not gonna be the guy who shoots 75 and says, 'That's OK. I was supposed to lose.' 'F--- that!' I told my caddie. 'Enough of this s---. You just watch.'"
We all watched as Mediate birdied 14 and 15 and took the one-legged wonder to the 91st hole. Mediate lost the Open but won millions of new fans. "It was the greatest week of my life on a golf course, but I was not just happy to be there I expected to win," he says in an Italian restaurant in Brentwood, Calif. Fielding queries from Golf Magazine and Golf.com readers, the five-time Tour winner looks a decade younger than 46 in his T-shirt and cargo shorts. Edgy, intense and brimming with caffeine, Rocco will now take your questions.
Rocco, on Sunday at the U.S. Open, you needed a birdie [on the reachable 573-yard par-5] 18th to win. But you missed the fairway with a big hook, laid up and made par. Did the pressure get to you on that drive?
Mark Blue, 37, Indianapolis, Ind.
That's a fair question, but no, absolutely not. Actually, at that point, Tiger's behind me in the last group, so I didn't know what I needed to win. And 18 wasn't a gimme birdie for him. I wanted to reach it in two, and to do that I had to hit a hard, nasty hook to get inside 250 [yards to the pin], so it was a shot I had to hit. Either I pull it off or I don't. I didn't.
What was it like on the first tee in the Monday playoff? Were your knees knocking?
Craig Musch, 36, Toledo, Ohio
Nervous? Hell no! If you're a Tour pro and your knees are shaking, you won't last two minutes out here. But the first tee was surreal. I like to soak up the surroundings. I play fast, and hell, I only think about my swing for two seconds per shot, so I have a lot of time to focus on everything else. I remember the smell of eucalyptus. I remember feeling I finally had something I'd waited for forever playing Tiger for the title at a U.S. Open, and in a playoff. I had to settle myself down and say, 'You're here to play golf.' I'd never felt emotions on a course like I did that day. And the sounds? When I made that [35-foot birdie] putt on 15, that was the loudest f---ing roar I've ever heard.
When did you have Tiger scared on Monday?
Charles Burgstedder, 33, Baltimore, Md.
Scared? I don't think Tiger gets scared. He's a well-oiled machine. A killer. But he might get concerned and think, Hmmm, interesting. I think I had him concerned for sure after I birdied 15 to take a lead. That's where I wanted him to feel it. I can tell you that I was not scared to take the lead. He didn't panic, but neither did I. I've always said that Tiger brings out either the worst or the best in you. I've always played my best with him. I was so comfortable out there. The U.S. Open is about striking it, and that's my game. I just told myself, "Stay standing up straight on the last three holes and you can beat him."
Rocco, how did you stay so calm and relaxed? I was nervous just watching you.
Ryan Kelly, 17, Waterville, Ohio
Pressure's what you make of it. If I didn't laugh, joke, have a good time, then I'd be in an asylum. I was the most relaxed person at the entire event. My oldest boy, Rocco [watching on TV], was pacing back and forth about to have a heart attack. It was nervy, sure, but it was good nervy. You want that, especially against Tiger. This is what you work for. When I woke up that morning, I thought I was gonna beat him. I felt great. I wasn't feeling, "Hey, I'm happy to be here. Let's go get my ass kicked." I wanted to beat him, I thought I would beat him, and I came pretty close. So why be nervous? I was playing too good. Was I just happy to be there? Hell no. I wanted the trophy. I knew it wasn't gonna be easy. I knew head-to-head that shooting a 70 or 69 was gonna win, and I was right. Tiger just happened to think the same thing. We both shot 71 [through 18]. I'm the hundred-billionth-ranked player in the world, but he can't stop me from making pars on a U.S. Open course. I'm not afraid of Tiger, the people, the pressure. He can't do anything to me. OK, if we get in a fistfight, he's gonna kick my ass, I'll give him that.
Did you feel like Rocky after losing to Apollo Creed? 'Ain't gonna be no rematch...'
Corky Michelson, 42, Bucks County, Pa.
"... Don't want no rematch." [Laughs] I know that movie like the back of my hand. But f---, I want a rematch! What kind of question is that? You kiddin' me? I want a rematch every Sunday. Every. Single. Sunday. What, should I be afraid? Tiger's the best, the best of all time. No offense to [Greg] Norman, but Tiger is the real great white shark. He just devours everyone, everything. And just like Rocky, I want to see what I got against the best. S---, you want to be there.
Any memorable exchanges with Tiger that will stay with you?
Dave Tramlin, 55, Reno, Nev.
Yes, but I won't tell you. A lot of special things were said, and no one gets to know them except him and me it was too special. I can say that, when we were done, after the 91st hole, he said, "Great fight." I said, "You, too enjoyed it." Nothing fancy. He said other things. He was different that day than in other tournaments. No fist-pumps. There was something special happening. He was into it. He got a great battle, and I'll bet he enjoyed it more than if he'd won by 10.
Rocco, I never watch golf, but I love you. Why did you wear that peace-symbol belt buckle? Are you a hippie?
Becky Frey, 29, New York City
[Laughs] No, actually, I got it from my personal trainer, Cindi Hilfman, who's a remarkable person. She's helped me so much with my back. If I'd have met her five years ago, I would have won the Masters. [Mediate was in contention at the 2006 Masters on Sunday when his back gave out.] She wanted me to wear it. It wasn't a political statement. It said peace. Hey, peace is always good.
How much will the Open be worth to you in endorsements?
Eric Guranda, 44, Jefferson City, Mo.
Probably about $700 million, cash. [Laughs]
Was there any downside to the Open?
Kevin Marks, 37, South Bend, Ind.
Yeah. I lost. It was one of the coolest matches ever and it brought people together, but the bottom line? I lost, so I was disappointed by that. People still come up to me talking about it, months later people who've never watched a golf tournament watched that day. I got hundreds of text messages that week. It was 99.999999 percent a great experience. But that millionth of a percent I lost is a lot.
Does Tiger have a good sense of humor?
Jose Solano, 36, Dallas, Texas
The funniest things Tiger says you can't print in your magazine. You know what was funny? On the first hole of the Open playoff, he hit it perfect, after having so much trouble all week on that hole, hitting it all over the map. I turned around and said, "Sure, now you drive it in the fairway, you sonofabitch." And he laughed so hard. He pissed his pants. That's what the pictures were of us laughing.
You're a big poker player. What kind of player would Tiger be?
Jeff Slagter, 36, Aurora, Ill.
He'd probably try to buy himself out of some bad hands, since he has more money than anyone else. But he'd get good fast, and he'd have a hell of a poker face.
Do you think there are there any Tour pros who are secretly happy that Tiger got injured?
Andrew Hagop, 49, Orlando, Fla.
I hope not, because that would be a real shame. He's great for golf, great for the sport. He's a sportsman. He's why we have the TV ratings we do. He's why we're playing for almost $10 million per week. People didn't tune in to the U.S. Open because of me. Sure, they saw me and said, "Hey, it's a match!" But they tuned in because of him.
Rocco, like you, I'm not a big hitter. How do I compete with longer players?
Riley Sager, 14, Monclova, Ohio
Here's a story. I qualified for the Open in an 11-man sudden-death playoff. On the first playoff hole, it was almost dark. There's me, Chad Campbell and a bunch of kids in their late teens and 20s. So, I'm dead tired, and I know that I'm not gonna be worth a s--- the next morning if they stop the match because it's dark. The kids bomb it over a bunker, 290 yards away. I hit a little slice down the left-center and say, "Come along, children" as we walk off the tee. They're 50 yards in front of me. I'm 145 yards from the hole. I hit first. Before I do, I say to a group of about 30 people following us, "Guys, isn't it amazing how this game's changed? These kids are 50 yards in front of me, but when I stick this 9-iron to three feet, their perspective's gonna change." I hit it to three, four feet and make birdie. I'm in the Open. There are a lot of ways to get the ball in the hole. Length isn't everything.
My backswing has a lot of moving parts. How can I simplify it?
Jason Smith, 27, Provo City, Utah
There aren't 12 pieces to the swing. Keep it simple. Try, "Everything back together, everything through together." One, two, back and through. I know it sounds pretty simple, but simple is good. Try it. That'll straighten you out.
I have first-tee jitters. Any remedies?
Ron Hemet, 62, Irvine, Calif.
Hit a shot. What I mean is, try to go for a side of the fairway, or a particular shot shape. I don't mind hitting the ball off the map if I'm trying to do something with it. That's golf. But don't mis-hit it because you're worried or nervous or unsure.
What's the best non-golf advice you've ever received?
Karen Vavrik, 34, Rossford, Ohio
My trainer Cindi says, "Don't think about what you didn't get think about what you got." I didn't get the U.S. Open trophy. That could drive me crazy, but it doesn't because I have a lot, and I got a lot that week.
Rocco, was the Open your swan song? Will you fade into the sunset?
Marty Lyon, 44, Coral Cables, Fla.
Hell, no! I'm playing some good golf. I want another shot at Tiger. I want to play him every Sunday. My back feels better than it has in years. I'll hang it up when I stop enjoying it, and I'm not even close to not enjoying it.
What's the most important thing you learned from your teacher, Jimmy Ballard?
Eric Weinberg, 46, Los Angeles
Setup and motion. There are so many secrets in the swing that I could fill a book. But the biggest secret no one knows about is that the feet should be just outside the shoulders at address, for every club. Narrow feet lead to twisting and turning [of the upper body], and that's no good. A wider stance gives you stability. Then, once you have that, the swing is a lateral motion back to the right, through to the left.
I'm a 15-handicap, and I want to lose strokes fast. What's the best way?
James Westfall, 50, Apple Valley, Calif.
Improve your short game. Practice all kinds of shots from inside 100 yards chips, putts, and pitches. And practice hitting wedge shots with lower-lofted clubs. For instance, hit 7- or 8-iron out of a [greenside] bunker. Your sand wedge will seem so much easier to use. Same with short wedge shots. I'll hit them with a 9-iron for a while; then when I use my sand wedge, it's a much easier shot.
I gag on pressure putts. How do you calm yourself when the heat's on?
Mark Guthrie, 37, Iowa City, Iowa
All the great ones say this: It's just another shot. You can tell yourself that it isn't and put all kinds of pressure on yourself, but it's just another shot. The ball doesn't know the score of the match. The ball does what you tell it to do that's that.