Rocco Mediate’s caddie from 2008 U.S. Open reflects on an unforgettable week

Tiger Woods and Rocco Mediate put on an unforgettable show in the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

He had only begun caddying at the PGA Tour level for four months, but during the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines Matt Achatz was in for the loop of his life. That week had everything: a raucous Saturday with Tiger Woods’ two eagles, a putt for Rocco Mediate to win the U.S. Open Sunday, and an 18-hole Monday playoff and extra hole.

The 32-year-old Achatz had met Mediate in 2004 and was looping at the club level for different TV personalities in Naples when he ran into a TV producer who told the Detroit native if he ever wanted to come out to California and caddie at Sherwood Country Club, just let him know and he’d try to help Achatz get a job there.

Achatz eventually told himself it was worth the cross-country move and packed his car and drove out to L.A. not knowing a single soul out there. Sherwood proved a serendipitous spot for him as Woods’ Chevron World Challenge came through in December of 2007. Achatz decided to roll the dice and ask Mediate if he wanted a caddie for the pro-am. The two had a great loop and two months later, Mediate called Achatz from the Phoenix Open and said he just let his caddie go and needs him to drive to Phoenix to caddie that week, convenient proximity being the huge factor there.

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Too bad Achatz and Mediate’s week didn’t start as well at Torrey Pines in 2008. As was Mediate’s custom, he arrived on Saturday for two weekend practice rounds before taking Monday and Tuesday off and then coming back to Torrey for nine holes Wednesday. Only Mediate’s gamer driver was broken on his flight to Torrey and they tested out other drivers all week.

“He didn’t really like any of them but we picked one that was OK and he drove it pretty good that week,” Achatz said.

Mediate would miss the fairway left on the 18th in the Monday playoff and that helped open the door for Woods, who was one down at the time.

There are so many aspects of the week that we could cover here, but Achatz steps back and realizes now just how amazing the overall experience was for him with a front row seat to one of golf’s greatest majors.

“Now that I look back, I can’t really believe I was part of it. It was one of those things where people were calling me and texting me and saying that they were missing their flights and their work shut down and it was one of those incredible sports moments where it shut the world down a little bit because everybody wanted to see what was going on,” Achatz said of the epic 19-hole Monday playoff.

“I was lucky enough to be a part of it, and I always tell everybody that you’re never going to get rid of me because every year they’re gonna replay that U.S. Open so you’re going to have to deal with seeing me every single year.”

Before the playoff were some pretty amazing moments too, like for Achatz and Mediate to be standing in the fairway on 13 as Woods made his eagle from the back of the fringe on Saturday.

“We were 250 yards away and it was still one of the loudest roars I’ve ever heard in my life,” Achatz said. “From an opponent’s standpoint it wasn’t fun to watch, but from being a fan of Tiger Woods and of golf my whole life, it was one of the most awesome things and to see the big fist pump and the crowd reaction, it was crazy.”

The moment was also a ‘turning point’ as Mediate would go 4 over his next four holes and eventually Woods would play himself into Sunday’s final group with Lee Westwood and Mediate would settle for the penultimate group.

On Sunday, Mediate set himself up with a one-shot lead on the last and two-putted for par from 40 feet.

“At that moment, once we were done and we were in the hole we knew we had a one-shot lead, that’s when it finally kicked in that we might have just won the U.S. Open,” Achatz said. “Now we had to dodge two huge bullets in Lee Westwood and Tiger Woods. If one of them makes birdie then it’s a playoff.”

Of course, Woods made birdie just as Achatz was walking from the cart barn back to 18 because he wanted to see the putt live.

Achatz only got about three hours of sleep on Sunday night before the 18-hole playoff after returning his rental car and switching residences.

Monday’s playoff was epic for all to watch and Mediate eventually had to rally after falling three down through 10. Then he and Achatz had a conversation.

“The conversation was ‘give me the best eight holes you can play and let’s just execute to our game-plan and let’s just see what happens’,” Achatz said.

Mediate would make make three birdies in a row including a gutsy 20-footer on 15 with Woods inside of his mark.

“That putt to me was like Tiger’s putt on 13 on Saturday, you can’t make that putt,” Achatz said. “We could probably go back and drop a bucket of balls down and probably never make that putt again. That was absolutely incredible and that roar was deafening. That was just crazy. Probably one of the absolute greatest moments of my caddie career there.”

That gave Mediate a one-shot lead he would keep up until 18. On the par 5, Woods left himself 40 feet for eagle and Rocco had 15 feet for birdie.

Tiger hits runs it by five feet by,” Achatz said. Then Mediate had a putt to win the U.S. Open.

“Rocco got in there and hit a really good putt, just burned the edge of the cup and it just went left and ran about 4 1/2 feet by.

“Of course he’s Tiger Woods and he’s never going to miss his putt. He buries it in the middle, like he always does. Now, all of a sudden, we had gone into 18 with a one-shot lead, and now Rocco’s got to make a 4 1/2-footer just to tie. So it’s crazy how much the momentum just swung right there. He got in there like the champion he is and just buried it down the middle and then off to extra holes we go.”

The extra hole — No. 7 — had given Mediate fits all week. On Saturday’s practice round he hit 12 drives on seven and never hit the fairway. He would miss it Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday and twice on Monday.

“I hate the seventh hole at Torrey,” Achatz jokes.

Mediate found the fairway bunker and couldn’t get up and down to keep the playoff going on the 91st hole.

“It was a really bad feeling because it was like ‘that was it. It was all over’,” Achatz said.

“It was a really hard feeling to explain because you’re in this sudden-death playoff to win the U.S. Open and you’re riding so high. Then all of a sudden you’re like ‘OK, well let’s get out of here.’ But man, he played his heart out that week, just exceptional. But we just ran into the best golfer to ever play the game professionally.”

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