Pieces of the Rock

Rocco Mediate's back is healthy ... for now.
Steve Grayson / WireImage.com

PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. — You can run “fenjoozler” through spell check on your computer but trust me, it won’t do any good. Rocco Mediate made up the word to describe a botched pitch shot. It’s colorful and descriptive and I’m not sure I spelled it right but since it’s not a real word, it doesn’t really matter.

“Fenjoozler” was one of Mediate’s contributions to golf earlier this year when he spent three weeks as an on-course reporter for the Golf Channel. Another was bringing the word, “crap,” to televised golf. Please, people, hold your applause.

It happened at the Sony Open in Hawaii. “When Paul Goydos was in the rough at the 17th hole,” Mediate said, “I told Nick Faldo, ‘It’s really hard to judge the ball out of this crap.’ He said, ‘You mean the rough is a little more difficult? Isn’t that bermuda grass?’ I said, ‘No, it’s crap.’ Well, the Golf Channel wanted me to be myself and that’s how I talk. I did use crap twice in three weeks. The other time, I said, ‘The wind knocked the crap out of that one, guys.’ I didn’t swear on the air, so that was good.”

Mediate, who grew up in Greensburg, Pa., scored some good reviews for his candid stint as a television reporter but that’s all it was, a stint. He still wants to play Tour golf and guess what? He still can. He put up a 66 in the Nissan Open’s second round at Riviera, added a 68 in the final round and tied for ninth, his first top-10 finish since he tied for sixth at the 2005 U.S. Open. “I’m so excited, I can’t even tell you,” he said Sunday. “Nothing hurts right now, I couldn’t be happier.”

You’ve got to remember The Rock. He was actually tied for the lead in the 2006 Masters on the ninth tee on Sunday. Then his approach shot clanged off the flagstick, a terrible break. Then his patchwork back locked up. He almost didn’t make it up the hill from the ninth green to the 10th tee, that’s how bad it was. He made a 10 at the par-3 12th hole, that’s how bad it was, and fell back to a tie for 36th. His back was so painful, it took him three tries to hit a sand wedge over Rae’s Creek. “I didn’t think I was ever going to leave the drop area,” Mediate remembered.

Ten months and countless hours of work later, Mediate is ready to be a golfer again. The TV gig was something to do while getting his back healthy. The good news is, he was able to walk the course every day in Hawaii, wearing that TV backpack, with no problem. Apparently, this latest back episode, one of many since he endured major back surgery in 1994, will not end his career.

“Everyone thinks I’m done,” said Mediate, 44, “but I’m not.”

Mediate proved that last week at Riviera. He had some good moments on the course, a surprise since the Golf Channel job left him unable to work on his game much earlier this year.

“I found out that if you’re announcing golf, you don’t get to play much,” he said. “I played twice in 3- 1/2 weeks. When I got to Phoenix, I was like, ‘Now what’s the object of this game again?’ It took some time to get my feet under me.”

If only he could’ve felt this good that Sunday last April at Augusta. He was a real live Cinderella story until his back, which blew up on him on the 15th hole in the third round, did it again halfway through the final round. “It hurts me now just thinking about it,” Mediate said.

When his back went off in the third round at No. 15, Mediate faced a 102-yard, downhill shot to the par-5 green. He had to hit 9-iron. The next day on the back nine, it was worse. The only consolation was that CBS switched away from him after his tee shot found Rae’s Creek at the 12th and viewers weren’t treated to his 10 in all its glory. He tried an 8-iron off the tee. “I made a really good backswing but as soon as I pushed, my back locked down and it stood me up,” Mediate said. “I tried to recover and flip it over and couldn’t get to it. From the drop zone, I couldn’t even hit it. It was such searing pain, I didn’t even have any thoughts about the tournament. I didn’t want to walk in. I just wanted to finish.”

When he did finish, he graciously walked over to a group of waiting writers. “I said, ‘Yeah, OK, I made a 10 — what do you want to know?’ They —t their pants. What was I going to do, cry? It wasn’t my fault. If I was hitting shots all over the course because I was choking my guts out, yeah, I might’ve jumped in the lake. But I had no control over my back.”

He enjoyed a small moment on the 18th green. “Honest to god’s truth, walking up the 18th green I got a standing ovation,” Mediate recalled. “The fans saw me trying to walk up the fairway and knew what the hell happened, I guess. Miguel Jimenez looked at me like a little puppy dog and said, ‘I am so sorry for what has happened to you.’ It was just awesome. Yeah, the 10 sucked but I made only one or two more bogeys coming in, which was a miracle, so I knew there’s still something there. There’s still something in my basement.”

After talking it over with his wife, he decided to give the Tour one more try and spent the second half of the year working on his fitness — core work and leg work — in an effort to improve his muscle support for his ailing back. You can tell Mediate worked hard. He’s slim, trim and as toned as he’s ever been.

“If you come out here hurt and try to play, these guys on Tour are going to destroy you,” Mediate said. “They’ll beat you even if you’re 100 percent. I wanted to give it another shot and get in shape. I rested my back most of the summer and started to work in August. I’m going to keep playing as long as my body allows me and it seems like my body is going to allow me to do this. That’s a surprise because the last two years have been a nightmare.”

And so his comeback saga continues. “I’m calling this one Rocky VI,” he said.