Everybody always worries about what to do when things head south in a round. Why? Because everybody knows that once it begins, the end is pretty much inevitable. You might as well fold your tent, take your medicine and limit the damage as best you can. For ego’s sake. Wouldn’t want to embarrass yourself any more than you already have. Lemme just try to stay out of everyone’s way. Is it over yet?
Rocco Mediate proved that conventional wisdom wrong at this week’s Buy.com Open at the CordeValle Golf Club in San Martin, California. But it didn’t look like that was going to happen after the very first hole.
Standing on the first tee Sunday morning he had the world by the tail and a 3-shot lead…until he bogeyed the first hole. But it was cool and rainy and as he said later, “The weather was slamming my old body.” At just short of 48, he’s far from old, but the game has taken a toll on his rickety back. He needed a nice, warm day like he had the first three days.
He steadied himself for four holes and then bogeyed 6…and then 9…and then 11…and then the par-5 12th. Bogeying a par 5 when you’re in contention is frequently fatal to your fortune. He lost his lead, his hopes gone. Drip, drip, drip…bogeys and rain.
But a funny thing happened on the way to oblivion. He birdied the par-3 16th to get back into a share of the lead. And that’s where things stood on the 17th tee.
The Tour had set the 17th up to be a driveable par 4 at just short of 300 yards, 289 to be precise. Rocco had the honors, knew he was incapable of reaching the green, so he hit a layup shot with an iron. The other two guys had to wait for the green to clear and then both hit fabulous shots to the green, Alex Prugh almost one-hopping it into the hole. His ball mark was inches short of the hole: 289 yards on the fly! (He ended up 2’ 10’’ behind the hole and ultimately made the putt for eagle.)
So Rocco arrives at his layup shot some 116 yards from the hole…goes through all of the shot preparation with his caddie…settles over the ball…hits the shot…and makes it…and goes on to make par on 18 to win by one, his sixth victory and first one since 2002.
Now normally, one would say, that such fortunate outcomes are just luck. Some argue that it’s Divine Providence. Perhaps God’s fans would win out on this one: Rocco’s hole out was the fourth one of the week. He had a hole-in-one on the par-3 3rd Thursday, holed out from 160 yards Friday on the par-4 4th, and holed out from 111 yards Saturday on the par-5 15th.
Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. I think I’m going to go with God on this one. Hole outs are the rarest of shots; hole-in-ones from the tee are more famous, of course, but the ones from the fairways are just as rare. Rocco had four of them in four days. Four shots that saved him eight shots against the field if he had ended up two-putting on each hole. He was on the verge of losing his card and had already signed up to go to Q-School.
Now he has a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour that will almost get him to the Champions Tour when he turns fifty, get him into to the Masters in April and the season-opening, winners-only SBS Championship in Maui in January. As he summed up, “Now I have a job next year.”
Rags to riches in one shot. Or perhaps four. Brandel Chamblee, the Golf Channel color commentator, said that it was the most exciting tournament he’d ever seen.
But what made the victory by that one shot possible was the fact that Rocco stayed in the moment and didn’t panic as he saw his tournament dripping away, bogey by bogey. Had he gone into resignation after the fifth bogey, who knows?
But he never let up and he never gave up. He stayed in the moment, even as he missed clutch, make-you-cringe putts down the stretch. Target, ball, club, body. No random, disparaging thoughts, no anger, no self-pity from the egoic mind. What’s happening to you is what’s happening to you. You aren’t the first and you won’t be the last. Deal with it and stay in the game. You never know what will happen next.
And that’s the lesson on what to do when things head south in a round. Thanks, Rocco.