COMMENTARY | I just happened to be in ritzy Boca Raton for the final nine holes of the Allianz Champions PGA Tour event a few weeks ago (don't you dare call them seniors).
I have been to enough of the Champions events nationwide to hope that they would wave me in without the $20 ticket fee. You see, I showed up just in time for only the final nine holes and these events are usually a little relaxed at the front gates.
No such luck. There went my beer money.
It turned out to be such a barn-burner down the stretch that it was well worth the cash. And even more so due to the smaller on-course crowds at the senior events, one can get very close to the players and really watch their routines, hear their banter with their caddies and other players, etc. In other words, I would have paid $50. It was a blast.
The final threesome of Rocco Mediate, Bernhard Langer and Tom Pernice, Jr. took it all the way to the last hole with Pernice standing over a putt for birdie that would have forced Rocco to make to avoid a playoff. Pernice missed. Rocco made. Rocco picked up the first-place check in his first effort since turning 50 and being eligible to play with his old comrades.
But don't expect it to happen again. At the next stop in Naples, the ACE Group Classic, Rocco finished a disappointing T5. The winner? Bernhard Langer. The machine at T3? Tom Pernice Jr.
It's become pretty obvious that the men on the Senior Circuit who cut the sort of dashing physical appearance that causes the "Golden Girls" set in South Florida to swoon and tip their Dior sunglasses down their noses for a better look are the new flat bellies of the Champions Tour.
And they win. A lot.
Watching the men in the final threesome walk toward me at the deserted tee box on 16, it was hard not to notice, much like the children's learning game, "one of these things is not like the other ..."
Rocco has always had a unique shape; perhaps an apple or pear? Langer and Pernice, in contrast, carry less body fat than a pound of lean turkey -- together. They walk with swagger and confidence and look as if those sturdy, lean frames could go all day.
Other Champions who seem to have avoided the typical middle-aged male waist expansion include the very sharply dressed Corey Pavin (who won at the Allianz in a playoff last year), John Cook (6 feet, 175 pounds), and Bob Tway (6-4, 195). The list goes on.
I'm not saying the Senior Circuit doesn't need or want Rocco Mediate, or that he is overweight or unhealthy. It does. And it does. And he isn't. He also has an infectious smile, great rapport with the fans and seems to be genuinely enjoying himself out there. He will put people in the stands, I have no doubt.
But like the Jr. Tour, the winners are no longer just superb golfers with incredible mental toughness.
They are the new flat bellies.
If Rocco can simply lay off the carbs, there is no telling what he can do on this tour.
Steven Stromberg owns a 4 handicap and is a two-time club champion in Minnesota. He played college golf in the third windiest city in the nation and collects and studies vintage golf equipment and memorabilia.
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- Rocco Mediate