The silly season is dead, and its obituary was sounded on Oct. 24, when the Wendy's Three-Tour Challenge convened outside Las Vegas. Piercing the quiet of a cool, crisp desert morning, the starter at the Lake Las Vegas Resort announced, "Representing the PGA Tour, one of the most popular players in golf, Roooooccccooooo Mediate!" With those words, an era ended.
Born in 1983, with the first glitzy Skins Game, featuring Nicklaus, Palmer, Player and Watson, the Silly Season has always been a monument to excess, built on star power and fabulous riches. Only the most glamorous names were allowed past the velvet rope of these fall exhibitions, and a bottom-feeder like Mediate knew it. "My dad has watched these Silly Season events on TV," says Mediate, who has won but four tournaments in his 15 seasons on Tour and cracked the top 30 on the money list only twice. "He would be like, 'Why aren't you there?' I'd always say, 'Dad, because I shouldn't be there. I don't belong.' "
Mediate's high profile this off-season is emblematic of the changes rocking the golf world. With the official money season getting longer and ever more lucrative and Tour-sanctioned tournaments increasingly far-flung, the top players have, en masse, come to the same conclusion: Spending their limited time and energy competing in what now passes for the Silly Season is, well, silly. Apathy from big-name players has buried one unofficial money tournament, the Dunhill Cup, and the death knell is being sounded for a host of others.
After 16 years the $1.45 million Dunhill, an event matching three-man teams from 16 nations, was laid to rest two months ago at St. Andrews, and in its final incarnation the tournament was forced to accept a U.S. team that featured the likes of John Daly and Larry Mize. (The event should have more star power, if not star golfers, in 2001, when it unveils a pro-am format that will cater to the entertainment industry.) Two weeks ago the $1.5 million Franklin Templeton Shootout, a 54-hole team event, couldn't entice a single player in the Top 15 in the World Ranking, relying instead on Mediate and his ilk to fill out its 24-man field.
The Sun City Million Dollar Challenge, played this week, was so desperate to attract players that it made a lie out of its name, but even the new $2 million first prize generated little interest. The only Americans to make the long trip to South Africa were John Huston and David Toms. ( Jim Furyk had planned to play but is still recovering from a wrist injury.) Even the granddaddy of them all, the $1 million Skins Game, felt the effects of the Silly Season's withering. With no other takers, the Skins—which is about phony backslapping and corny joke-making as much as it is about golf—was forced to ask Vijay Singh, golf's version of the tragic mime, and Colin Montgomerie, not exactly a fan favorite in the U.S., to join Fred Couples and Sergio Garc�a at Landmark Golf Club in Indio, Calif. As a result the Skins generated a 2.3 overnight rating on Saturday and a 2.6 on Sunday—the lowest numbers in Skins history.
Mark McCormack, whose company, International Management Group, has lorded over the Silly Season since its inception, is among those ruing its demise. "The public wants to see the big names going for big prizes," he says. "There are five superstars in golf and 20 great stars. The rest should go and get real jobs."
Enter Mediate. "Oh, absolutely, it's meaningful for me to get invited to these deals," he says, with a nod not only to the Three-Tour Challenge and the Franklin Templeton Shootout but also to his spot in the $1.2 million Hyundai Team Matches on Dec. 16 and 17, which will showcase Duffy Waldorf, among others. "During Tour events they don't show guys like me on TV much. Now they have to because no one else is there."
Mediate is obviously an agreeable fellow, but his presence at the Three-Tour Challenge, along with that of Notah Begay, another player with an alarmingly low Q rating, was a black eye for the Tour. Both the Senior tour and the LPGA filled out their three-person teams with their marquee players—Hale Irwin, Tom Kite and Tom Watson for the old guys; Juli Inkster, Dottie Pepper and Karrie Webb for the women. PGA Tour glamour boy Phil Mickelson was on hand to compete for the piddling $800,000 purse, but only because the Three-Tour telecast was being produced by Gaylord Event Television, in which Mickelson, a client of Gaylord Sports Management, has equity. (Gaylord also represents Mediate, which explains why Mickelson chose him for his partner at the Hyundai, another show being produced by GET.)
The best part about having Mediate on hand at the Three-Tour Challenge was watching him try to navigate the tawdry trappings of his first made-for-TV spectacle. It's fitting that the Three-Tour was played near Las Vegas, the ancestral home of the Silly Season, because the whole production was as fake as a showgirl's smile. (After nine holes each of the players is compelled to change clothes so that the telecast, slated for Dec. 23 and 24, can pretend the action spanned two days.)
Mediate seemed flustered as he waited over shots while an army of cameramen got in position, and he continually fussed with the microphone unit that was stuffed into his back pocket like an oversized wallet. Among the nine players on hand he stood out as the only one grinding on every shot. "I felt a little pressure," he says. "I wanted to prove they didn't make a mistake by choosing me for the field."