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Rodgers Perseveres, Despite The Record

by Jim Nugent - September 9, 2013

It was a team full of big personalities and résumés, the 2011 Walker Cup team that fell to Great Britain and Ireland at Royal Aberdeen in Scotland.

There was Patrick Cantlay, who had spent the summer traveling the PGA Tour circus, making cuts and headlines. He was low amateur at the U.S. Open that summer, and he shot 60 one day in a PGA Tour event.

There was Peter Uihlein, who went 4-0-0 in the 2009 Walker Cup at Merion. There was Nathan Smith, the three-time U.S. Mid-Amateur champion. And Jordan Spieth, the two-time U.S. Junior champion who turned heads by contending on national television in a PGA Tour event in his hometown of Dallas. And there were Harris English and Russell Henley, both of whom had won as amateurs that year on the then-Nationwide Tour.

It was an accomplished and confident bunch, thought to perhaps be the strongest American Walker Cup team ever assembled. And it included a young, fresh-faced Patrick Rodgers, an Indiana native who arrived in Scotland as the youngest member of the team, a shy kid with arguably the thinnest résumé.

Rodgers was not, however, awed in the least. He began the year well off the radar screen, but he set aside junior golf to focus on the elite amateur game, with the goal of making the team. He had a strong spring season, in and out of school competition, and when he won the Porter Cup, his spot had been earned.

Rodgers would go 0-2-1 in the match won by GB&I in a shocker, 14-12. Like most of the U.S. team, he struggled with the winds of Aberdeen. While thrilled with the learning experience, Rodgers was very disappointed with the outcome and determined to get another shot at it.

Rodgers showed his resilience immediately after that Walker Cup match. Instead of slipping into a post-match funk, he posted his first collegiate win one week later at Chicago’s Olympia Fields, taking the individual title by five shots. By the time of his second Walker Cup appearance at the National Golf Links, the two-time collegiate All-American had risen to No. 5 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking.

Rodgers arrived on Long Island last week as one of two veterans of that 2011 team with a score to settle. He came well motivated, more confident, more mature, and a smarter player. He knew that he could play on the big stage, and his résumé has filled out considerably in the past two years. In captain Jim Holtgrieve’s mind, Rodgers would be the team leader, and anchorman if needed.

He got off to a good start, teaming with Justin Thomas to win their Saturday morning foursomes match, 2 and 1, over Irishmen Gavin Moynihan and Kevin Phelan. However, he lost his afternoon singles match to Moynihan, 2 down. After birdieing the first hole, Rodgers would card just one more birdie in the round. Moynihan birdied three of the last five to once again deprive Rodgers of a singles point. Rodgers had played well, just not well enough.

Sunday morning brought more frustration. Rodgers and Jordan Niebrugge were 4 up after seven holes against the same Irish duo. However, they would stand by and watch helplessly as the Irishmen birdied six of the next 11 holes on the way to a 2-up win. You can’t play defense in golf.

Rodgers was not needed for anchor services, the match having been settled while he was on the 12th hole. He nonetheless ground out a 1-up singles victory against Moynihan, which he characterized as “very hard to do.” He hit a brilliant chip shot to three feet from behind the 18th green, and after Moynihan’s fifth shot from off the green grazed the hole and ran by, the putt was conceded and Rodgers had his first and only Walker Cup singles point.

Rodgers’ career Walker Cup ledger will show 2-4-1, but he played better than that record suggests. Such is match play. Such is golf.

Afterward, he talked about how close this team was, how they came together in way that the Aberdeen team didn’t.

“This was a unique group; we all know each other so well, and we blended together easily,” Rodgers said, and talked about how important it was to win for Holtgrieve. “He was a great captain for me for two years; he deserved to win this.”

Rodgers is committed to Stanford for the entire academic year, forsaking the Tour qualifying process to play the college game; after that, he’ll join many of his 2011 Walker Cup teammates in the pro game. He looks like he has all the tools for success, including a great work ethic and a determination to succeed.

He’ll look back fondly on his Walker Cup years, and the experience, both good and bad, will serve him well as his pro career develops.

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