Call him underrated or just unknown, but John Mallinger has the probable distinction of currently being the best U.S.-born player you've never heard of.
Don't believe it? Check the stats. In just over one full season on the PGA Tour, the 28-year-old California native has made the cut in 22 of 33 starts, including four third-place finishes. He ended last year's rookie campaign at 51st on the money list, earning runner-up status in the PGA Tour's rookie of the year race.
Not bad for a guy who was bouncing across the country on various tours just two years ago. Mallinger sat down on the Hot Seat to discuss his journey to the big leagues, interacting with Tiger Woods and the perks of being a full-timer.
Q: Dude -- and I feel like I can refer to any guy from Long Beach in his 20s as "dude" -- you had a really good rookie season last year.
A: Yeah, I did. It was pretty fun. It was a little overwhelming, though. I had some good finishes. I got off to a good start at Pebble [Beach] last year and it sort of kick-started my season.
Q: Do you feel like you flew under the radar for most of the season?
A: I think so, yeah. It was one of those deals where Brandt Snedeker [who was named rookie of the year] was having a great year, he had a win. I didn't have a win, but I had solid finishes. I'm OK with that, though. I'm looking forward to getting out there this year and getting my name on the leaderboard.
Q: Was there one "Welcome to the PGA Tour" moment?
A: A little bit, yeah. I think it was definitely at Pebble, after my first round. I had the first-round lead and I had to go do a bunch of interviews and it was definitely a shock. I've never been in front of that many cameras.
Q: What's the deal with you and Pebble Beach? Third-place finishes in each of the last two years?
A: I don't know, man. It's just a special place for me. I did a lot of state amateurs up there and my caddie is actually from there, he caddied there for about 10 years, so I think it's just kind of a bond that we have.
Q: If there's a place you're going to win, is it going to be Pebble?
A: I think so. I like the grass, I'm OK with the weather. A lot of guys have trouble on those greens, but I grew up in Southern California, so those poa annua greens don't bother me too much.
Q: No, but Perry appreciates you saying that. They each finished behind you on the 2007 money list. How does that make you feel?
A: It makes me feel pretty good. There's four guys on there who have won majors, so to put me in that kind of class is a pretty good feeling.
Q: You played on seven different tours in 2006 before earning your card through Q-school. Name 'em.
A: The Canadian Tour, the Golden State Tour, the Tarheel Tour, the Nationwide Tour, the PGA Tour, the Adams Tour and the Hooters Tour.
Q: Wow, impressive memory. What's the best thing about being a full-time member of the PGA Tour?
A: I'd probably say all the perks. You know, there are a lot of things that go on behind the scenes that people don't notice. Every week we get some type of deal in our locker. Last week we got BlackBerries; this week we got Wii systems. It's kind of cool, these little things that people don't get to see.
Q: Wii system? Very nice. You won't have to go to the course anymore, you can just play in your living room.
A: Unfortunately, it doesn't pay too well.
Q: Worst thing about being on the PGA Tour?
A: Nothing. It's something that I've always worked hard for. It's my dream and I can't say anything bad about the tour. I'm still learning a lot out there. There are guys who have kind of taken me under their wing and been pretty nice.
Q: Like who?
A: John Cook's been very good to me. He and my golf coach, Jamie Mulligan, really have a longtime relationship and Tommy Armour has been very good to me.
Q: What are some of your goals for this season?
A: I'd definitely like to get a victory. I think the main thing is just to kind of keep putting myself in the position where I can get a win. Overall, I'd like to get better each, whether it's money list or FedEx Cup, just keep playing as well as I can. Getting better every year is the biggest thing for me.
Q: Your PGA Tour media guide entry mentions that Mark O'Meara and Paul Goydos also played collegiate golf at Long Beach State. You guys must have had one hell of a team.
A: [Laughs] A little different era.
Q: I'm kidding, of course. But you did grow up playing a lot of golf with fellow pros John Merrick and Peter Tomasulo. What's the all-time toteboard look like between the three of you?
A: Oh, we've got a great little deal. It's me, Peter Tomasulo, John Merrick and Travis Johnson and we all work with the same golf coach in Long Beach. We've got a good little gig going down there. We're all very good friends and we're all real competitive. Anytime we're home, we always get good games, always egging each other on.
Q: Among your special interests you list "hanging out with friends." I'm going to call you on that one; I think it's a cop-out. I mean, who doesn't like hanging out with friends?
A: [Laughs] Yeah, I was kind of stuck. I didn't know what to say, but it's definitely something that I love doing. When I come home from golf and I've got a week off, from Monday through Wednesday I'm not doing anything with golf. I'm out with my buddies watching some games or we're going to have a couple of beers, something like that. I think it's something you have to get away from. You've got to take your mind off things. So we'll go to Lakers games or something like that.
Q: One of your friends is also your roommate and you're wearing his clothes. But it's not the way it sounds, right?
A: Not really, no. Travis Johnson is my roommate. He started a clothing apparel line which is called TRAVISMATHEW. It just came out this year. He's got some really good stuff coming out. It's kind of in between a European look and like Hugo Boss. It's got some style to it, so it's going to be a good line. It should be coming out by around April.
Q: Um, how many other guys on tour have roommates?
A: Probably not many. [Laughs] It's one of those things where everything happened so quickly last year, I tried not to change my lifestyle. You hear Tiger talk so much about routine, routine, routine. If I want to go buy a new house or something, it's going to change my routine and take away from my golf. It's something I'm not ready for.
Q: You mention Tiger. Have you gotten a chance to play with him yet?
A: I haven't played with Tiger, but I've got a chance to meet him probably six or seven times. John Cook is really good buddies with him, so he introduced me, took me over to Isleworth last year during Bay Hill. That was pretty cool, I got to spend the whole day with Tiger.
Q: And what was your impression of him?
A: He's just really down to earth. When you get him off the golf course, he likes to talk a little trash. But he's a great guy. He took the time to talk to me about my season and how it's going and get to know me. A lot of the older guys who have been out here for a long time kind of do their own thing, but he took the time to get to know me.
Q: I know you've only been out on tour for a year, but I want you to rate some of your peers. Prettiest swing?
A: I'd say Ernie Els.
Q: Best putter?
A: Brian Gay.
Q: Biggest partier?
A: I've got to say [John] Daly.
Q: Nicest guy?
A: Matt Kuchar.
Q: Biggest jerk?
A: [Laughs] I can't say that one!
Q: C'mon, I'm trying!
A: I'll say myself then. [Laughs]
Q: That's all I've got for you. John Mallinger, you are off the ESPN.com Hot Seat.
A: Thanks, Jason.
Jason Sobel is ESPN.com's golf editor. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com