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GOLF / MAL FLORENCE : Mediate Earns While He Learns on Tour

There would seem to be a sense of urgency for any young player to get his first victory on the PGA Tour.

It wouldn’t necessarily establish him among the game’s best players, but at least a primary goal would have been gained.

Rocco Mediate, 28, in his sixth year on the tour, already has established himself as one of the game’s best young players.

He was in contention to win the Pebble Beach tournament last year and again earlier this month.

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Mediate also made a late charge in the Bob Hope Desert Classic two weeks ago after shooting a 76 in the first round. He finished a respectable 13th and even shot a course-record-tying 63 at La Quinta.

Mediate tied for third place in last year’s Nissan Los Angeles Open, and he finished tied for sixth here Sunday.

He’s still trying for that elusive first victory. Is anxiety gnawing at him? Hardly.

“I don’t think of it that way,” Mediate said. “I’m out here every week doing the best I can at every little single thing. If I’m prepared well enough, the rest of it takes care of itself.

“If I continue to work hard on all parts of my game and stay mentally sharp, it’s going to happen for me. I’m not pushing anything. If it takes a long time, it takes a long time. I’m having fun trying.”

It doesn’t bother him that Robert Gamez won at Tucson last year in his first official start on the tour, or that Phil Mickelson won the same tournament this year as an amateur.

Those players are more experienced than Mediate at a similar stage of development. Mediate didn’t pick up a golf club until he was 16 and didn’t have any success as an amateur.

“I never won anything. I can’t expect to come out here (on the tour) and win,” he said. “I’m doing my learning out here. And I’ve been fortunate enough to stay here.”

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Mediate said he wasn’t very good when he joined the tour. He lost his card in 1986 and had to requalify. He has moved up on the money list every year since, earning $240,625 in 1990.

Mediate said he has a different attitude about the game since his wife, Linda, gave birth to Rocco Vincent five months ago.

“It really makes the game easier to play, having him. Having someone else to take care of and depending on me means I don’t care about myself. I want to do it for them.

“Whenever I get in a bad stretch, I can go home and tell him and he won’t even care. He’ll just gurgle and laugh. I think about that a lot out there. Bogeys are meaningless compared to wishing your son is healthy, growing up to be big and strong. He doesn’t care whether I shoot 100 or 60.”

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Mediate has become a media favorite. Perhaps his name, Rocco, invites comparison to “Rocky,” everybody’s favorite underdog. Like Rocky in the movies, Mediate is from Pennsylvania.

Moreover, Mediate has a down-to-earth charisma. He’s humorous and candid and willingly discusses a round of 77 as well as 67.

In a game in which many players reveal little about themselves as they drone on about their birdies and bogeys, Mediate is refreshing. The PGA Tour needs a personality injection, and Mediate provides it.

Fifty-nine is a magic number in golf. That’s the record 18-hole score that Al Geiberger posted in 1977 at Memphis, Tenn., and it has endured.

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It seems that whenever a player is on the verge of tying or breaking the record, he becomes mindful of it--or someone in the gallery reminds him--and he falters.

Scott Hoch was nine under par after 12 holes on the La Quinta course in the recent Hope tournament. Then, he said, the figure 59 crept into his mind and he didn’t make any more birdies, settling for a 63.

Andrew Magee shot a 28 on the front nine at Riviera Country Club Thursday in the opening round of the L.A. Open.

Then, someone in the gallery shouted, “28-30,” and Magee began thinking about the record and responded with a 38 on the back nine.

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Despite the mental pressure of trying to shoot a low score, some players believe the record is obtainable--and soon.

Jack Nicklaus said he wouldn’t be surprised to see 60 broken several times in a season. “With the improvement in equipment--and most importantly--the enormous improvement in course maintenance, I expect 60 will be broken pretty soon,” Nicklaus said.

Eight players have recorded 60s, the most recent David Frost in last year’s Tucson Open. Like Hoch, Mediate shot a 63 at La Quinta, but he said he wasn’t under par quick enough to even consider the record.

“I think it (a 59) is going to happen soon, " Mediate said. “You’re not going to do it at Riviera or Doral. It will probably be done on a shorter course, such as Indian Wells, where you can reach the par-fives. Then, look again where Geiberger did it (at Colonial Country Club). That course is hard.”

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Fred Couples doesn’t believe Geiberger’s record is in jeopardy.

“Honestly, I don’t see it. It’s so much fun shooting eight or nine under par, I can’t imagine shooting five more under,” he said. “I don’t know where you get them (birdies).

“It’s only been done once, so I don’t see how it can be on anyone’s mind. Geiberger’s round is incredible.”

Golf Notes

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The Heather Farr Cancer Fund Golf tournament will be played on March 4 at Los Coyotes Country Club. Proceeds will go into a fund to help Farr, a member of the LPGA, in her treatment for cancer. One LPGA player will play with each foursome in an 18-hole scramble format.

Oregon’s Rich Brooks and Colorado State’s Earle Bruce were the opposing coaches in the Dec. 29 Freedom Bowl football game won by the Rams, 32-31. The coaches will compete against each other again in the third annual American Commerce National Bank Freedom Bowl Golf Challenge on March 4 at Alta Vista Country Club. The field will be divided to represent Oregon and Colorado State in a four-man scramble format.

Believe it or not: Michael Uwich, a 13-year-old Culver City High student, reportedly made three holes-in-one during the same round on Jan. 30 at the Rancho Park nine-hole course. Uwich was playing with his father, Nick Uwich, and Frank Hamilton. The aces came on the fourth, sixth and seventh holes, at distances ranging from 90 to 98 yards.


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