Rocco? Is that really you?
The lovable underdog barely looks like the same guy who nearly upset Tiger Woods at the 2008 U.S. Open and competed in Omaha eight years ago. Why?
He’s 80 pounds lighter — about 165 pounds.
“I quit drinking four years ago,” said Mediate, who’s 8-over through three rounds. “That’s when it all started. Alcohol was 90% of the problem. It does bad things. I got rid of that.
"Then I started eating a little bit better. I don’t look at myself. I don’t weight myself. I don’t care. But I’m 33-34 waist now. I was 42.”
Everyone asks Mediate why he’s so thin. “I have a 6-year-old daughter. I want to be around longer. Alcohol was a habit, thank God, so it was easy to quit. If it’s a way of life, you got a problem.”
Mediate has more energy, he said. He’s stronger, too.
In place of drinking, he has developed one vice, though. Cigars. This week, a trail of stogie smoke follows Rocco wherever he goes.
“I have to do something bad. If I didn’t smoke a cigar, I’d be perfect. You don’t want me to be perfect, right?”
* * *
Nine more holes — or topics — from Senior Open Saturday …
1. Gene Sauers comes from Georgia. He lives in Florida. He’s experienced a few hurricanes. But tornadoes? No.
Which is why Sauers feared the worst early Saturday morning when the storm woke him up.
“The house was shaking," said Sauers, tied for ninth at even-par. "Unbelievable. I was so scared, I called my wife and said, ‘I don’t know if there’s a tornado coming or what.’ Then I heard the siren. … I looked outside, and it was just awful.
“There’s this big, old bush and it just looked like a mop (shaking). Just constant lightning. Ch ch ch ch ch. What the f— is going on? They always say a tornado is like a freight train. I could’ve sworn I heard a freight train.”
2. The three-hour delay Saturday morning, followed by another one Saturday afternoon, made for a long day at Omaha Country Club. What do pros do with that much time to kill?
“I went to the fitness trailer and laid on the physio bed and took a nap,” Tom Lehman said.
Said David Toms: “Sat up there talking to my wife and the Slumans telling stories. It’s part of what we do.”
The more introverted Vijay Singh channeled his inner teenager.
“I sat in the car and played with my phone,” Singh said.
3. Alex Cejka felt the storm Saturday overnight, too. Not from a hotel room or a guesthouse, but his RV in the OCC parking lot. The winds woke him up at midnight, and it took three hours to calm his dog and fall back asleep.
“Dogs don’t like thunder and lightning,” said Cejka, 2-over in 19th place.
Cejka has traveled the golf circuit via RV for about five years. But he’s leaving it in Omaha for two weeks when he leaves Sunday for Europe, where he’ll play the Senior Open Championship. An Omaha friend — who’s also his neighbor in Palm Springs — is keeping the RV in his garage.
Cejka will return and drive it west for three or four more PGA Tour Champions events. He wishes he would’ve adopted the RV life years ago.
“If you don’t push for time, it’s great."
4. Cejka’s championship hopes took a major hit at the fourth hole Saturday. He blocked his tee shot right into tall grass, necessitating an unplayable lie, which led to a double bogey.
As he came over the hill and saw volunteers combing through the fescue, the German Cejka invoked a little French.
“Ooh la la.”
5. Maybe they don’t make as many putts. Maybe they don’t smash 3-irons as crisply. But it’s remarkable how their idiosyncrasies don’t change.
Ernie Els’ remarkable tempo. Jeff Maggert’s shoulder turn and dead-still chin. Mike Weir’s preshot routine, the little half backswing. Toms’ chicken-wing follow through. Oh, and the way Fred Couples raises his arms to stretch.
The over-50 stars come from an era when every swing looked distinct. You could recognize them 200 yards away, even without a face.
For me, the most identifiable swing is Tom Lehman’s. In high school, I hit a low draw like Lehman, so I found his swing in a golf magazine — broken down frame by frame — and tried to replicate it. Unsuccessfully, of course.
In the 1990s, Lehman was arguably the world’s greatest iron player. At 62 now, he’s not quite as sharp.
“I’m making more than my share of birdies, but I’m just making tons of bogeys,” said Lehman, 3-over. “Very frustrating in that regard.”
Lehman is trying to play the ball back in his stance and drive it on OCC’s uphill approach shots, but he’s overdrawing too many.
“Typically, if you give me 160 from the middle of the fairway, I really like my chances. But boy, I’m just really erratic with those middle irons. Seven, six and five are all over the place. I can’t explain it.”
The magic is still there, though. On the par-3 seventh Friday, he threw a dart to 10 feet and rolled in the downhill putt.
“Nice birdie, Mr. Lehman,” a fan yelled as players exited the green. Lehman heard the remark 50 yards behind him, turned and waved.
6. Lehman’s caddie this week is his daughter, Rachael. She gets the call three or four times a year.
“She doesn’t know enough about golf to give me a hard time,” Lehman said. “I just love being around her, so she’s the perfect caddie for me.”
7. Here’s a fun debate for your Sunday afternoon. Which player in this year’s field owns the best career U.S. Open record?
The obvious choices are Retief Goosen, Els and Lee Janzen, each of whom won two trophies.
But don’t forget Lehman, who played his way into Sunday’s final group in four consecutive Opens (1995-98). That’s a record.
Or how about Colin Montgomerie, who finished top-three four times, including three runner-ups.
8. The Senior Open crowd sizes and enthusiasm hasn’t matched 2013. Not even close. But it’s not because of field quality.
2013 featured some big names not here this week: Tom Watson, Hale Irwin, Tom Kite, Scott Simpson, Steve Elkington and Mark Calcavecchia.
But 2021 has Els, Goosen, Singh, Jim Furyk, Janzen, Toms, Jose Maria Olazabal and Darren Clarke.
The 2013 field included 15 PGA Tour major champions. The 2021 field has 16.
9. More than the hills, greens or immaculate condition, it’s really Omaha Country Club’s century-old trees that make the course so grand. So when I saw the path of Saturday morning’s storm, I feared the worst. How many extraordinary specimens would be uprooted?
Only a few, thankfully.
Don’t expect the wildlife to notice the difference. Early Saturday afternoon, a deer scurried out of the woods next to 10 green, down the hill through No. 7 tees, in front of the 6th green and into the trees to the east.
It happened just as Cejka prepared to chip to the 6th green. The marshals on No. 7 tee didn’t know whether to alert him, so one settled for a humorous, half-hearted warning.