GOLF: A Mediate miracle and the ‘little PGA Tour event that could’

Fans found a good seat at the 17th green where the short par-4

The little PGA Tour event that could ended a half hour ago, and
here was a throng of about 200 fans squeezed shoulder to shoulder,
beer bottle to wine glass, beneath a patio cover as the season’s
first significant rain poured around them and onto several hundred
other fans.
The little PGA Tour event that could ended a half hour ago, and here was a throng of about 200 fans squeezed shoulder to shoulder, beer bottle to wine glass, beneath a patio cover as the season’s first significant rain poured around them and onto several hundred other fans.

The door opened. Queen’s “We are the Champions” played over the loudspeaker, and the crowd welcomed with cheers and impromptu chants – “Who let the Roccos out!?” – the 47-year-old everyman who magically became the Frys.com Open champion and savior.

Rocco Mediate, the Sorcerer of San Martin, wanted to win just as badly as the tournament needed him to. Before Sunday, the Frys.com Open was one of the most underrated events on the PGA Tour, a superbly-run golf tournament undercut by postmajor scheduling. It has a noble reputation for making champions out of tomorrow’s big names, but what about today’s?

Fans live in the now. Fans come out for household names. Some of them bought all-week passes to the Frys.com Open in advance, while few were willing to shell out $35 for a single-day ticket.

That all changed by Friday, thanks in part to Mediate. The typical spike in attendance came a day earlier than usual.

“It’s guys like Rocco and (David) Duval and Daly that bring in big crowds,” Art Meade, a golf lover and fan, said Thursday after Mediate began his wire-to-wire title run with a third-hole ace, the first of four historical eagles in as many days. “They need Rocco to win.”

It made perfect sense. After all, who hasn’t rooted for Rocco Mediate at least once since his playoff loss to Tiger Woods, Mediate’s antithesis, in the 2008 U.S. Open? Who hasn’t designated the easy-going, paunchy, balding, lovable also-ran – you can’t say loser – their default favorite golfer after their first choice blows up?

Default favorite; it takes a certain guy to earn such honor. Mediate is that guy.

Watching his heroics this week was like watching the Cubs – OK, Giants – win the World Series. The gallery delighted, even shared, in his off-the-collar antics after each miracle shot. There was his hole-in-one with a 6-iron on the 191-yard No. 3 Thursday, his 7-iron for eagle from 160 yards out on No. 4 Friday, and his 111- and 116-yard chips that hit the green and made a beeline for the 15th and 17th holes Saturday and Sunday, respectively.

Mediate’s reaction after the latter two shots could barely be called celebration. He raised his arms out and mouthed, “What the hell is going on?”

Here is what was going on at the time of his eagle Sunday: Rookie sensation Alex Prugh and second-place Bo Van Pelt were marking their balls for eagle putts after driving to the green while Mediate laid up with a 5-iron.

Prugh, who became a fan favorite in tying Van Pelt at 14-under and barely missing a hole-in-one on No. 17 that would have earned him a brand-new Audi, seemed destined to become the tournament’s latest young winner.

Mediate entered the round with a three-stroke lead that was now down to one.

Moments before his chip, tournament director Ian Knight paced while watching the drama unfold on TV.

“I really hope Rocco holds on,” he said to his peers.

The crowd’s reaction to Mediate’s finish on No. 17 and his dead-on 5-foot putt to win at minus-15 felt like the 18th at Pebble Beach Golf Links in June, when Graeme McDowell, another regular guy, won the top prize in the U.S. Open.

Golf Channel commentators called Mediate’s round the most incredible they have seen. It was his first professional victory since 2002 and first in California.

General consensus: It couldn’t have happened to a better person.

“He’s awesome,” 21-year-old phenom Rickie Fowler said of Mediate Saturday. “I love being around Rocco.”

So did the fans, despite near-triple digit temperatures Thursday and Friday and a cold drizzle Sunday. People came.

Against all odds, the tournament was a success. It brought it millions of outside dollars and showcased on national television the natural beauty of South County with a remarkable golf event, starring remarkable players.

Fans enjoyed the unique laid-back atmosphere; the Michelob Ultra Tailgate Party between holes Nos. 13-18 and the birdies-for-beer program on the 17th were huge hits, much to the chagrin of course marshals. If you weren’t there, you missed out.

To a man, Knight was pleased with how the Frys.com Open turned out.

“We’ve had a phenomenal leaderboard with Rocco and a couple young guys stepping up, just like we always want,” he said. “The only unfortunate part is that winter showed up a day too early.”

Judging from conversations with tournament officials, it is safe to say Silicon Valley’s first PGA Tour event is here to stay. The Frys.com Open reportedly will be held at CordeValle the next two to three years before moving to The Institute Golf Course in Morgan Hill.

Chances are, you-know-who will be there, and so will fans.

“I hope we stay here,” Mediate said of the tournament. “I think there’s rumors we’re going somewhere else … (This win,) I’m glad it was here.”

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