April 11, 2013
STANFORD, Calif. - Patrick Rodgers is playing a famous Alister MacKenzie golf course this week during the Masters, just not the one he's dreamed about.
The Stanford sophomore will defend his title at the 67th Western Intercollegiate at Pasatiempo Golf Club in Santa Cruz. It's a long way from Augusta National Golf Club, but Rodgers isn't complaining.
"It's kind of cool to be playing this week on a classic MacKenzie design during the Masters," he said. "That's every amateur's dream to be playing in the Masters. I'm not too far off. You just have to play well at the right time."
Rodgers has had opportunities to play Augusta National, but has politely declined. A win or runner-up finish in the U.S. Amateur would clinch a spot, but he lost in the second round of match play last year.
"I don't want to play it until I play in the Masters," said Rodgers. "I want to know that I'm going to be playing it in competition. That's a goal for me going forward."
An attainable goal, according to Conrad Ray, The Knowles Family Director of Men's Golf.
"He knows that if he keeps chipping away at it, he's going to have some neat opportunities," Ray said. "To me, he has the game. But, more importantly, he has the mental prowess and approach. He likes it when the heat is turned up."
Last month, Rodgers won the fifth tournament of his career, at the Southern Highlands Collegiate Masters in Las Vegas. He birdied the final hole to earn a spot in a four-way playoff, then birdied it again to win. Rodgers followed up with a second-place finish at the U.S. Intercollegiate at Stanford Golf Course last week, as the Cardinal secured its first team victory of the season, and he was named the Southern California Golf Association Amateur of the Month.
"Just based on pure numbers, he's one of the best we've had," said Ray, now in his ninth season on the Farm. "It's hard to believe he's just a sophomore because he's done so much in such a short period of time here. He's the first Walker Cupper I've coached."
The slender-but-powerful 6-foot-2 Rodgers hails from Avon, Ind., and is ranked No. 8 in the Scratch Players World Ranking of amateurs. In nine tournaments this season, he has three wins, five Top 10 finishes, and averages a team-best 69.55 per round, sixth-best in the country.
Although Rodgers' major is sociology, it could be professional golf.
"It's amazing how meticulous he is with his goal-setting, statistical analysis and approach to practice," said Ray, a former Cardinal golfer who played on the same team with Tiger Woods. "He's very much committed to having a long-term career out on tour playing golf. We've just tried to help him with his desire to get as good as he can today and hopefully someday get that carrot."
Playing on the eighth-ranked team in the country is also a motivator for Rodgers. "He's on a really good team and is around peers who push him every day," Ray said. "He's a smart kid and wants to be great."
According to Ray, what separates Rodgers him from other top college players is his mind.
"It's easy to look at the physical stuff," Ray said. "He's a big, strong kid and hits the ball really, really well. I would put that in second place to his mental approach."
"I don't want to play Augusta National until I play in the Masters. I want to know that I'm going to be playing it in competition."
Rodgers admits to occasional daydreaming in class, the sign of a true golf junkie. He is passionate about the game and leaves nothing to chance.
"I came here because I thought it was the best golf opportunity for me in the country," said Rodgers, who last year was named Pac-12 Conference Freshman of the Year and a Ping All-American. "It's an unbelievable academic institution. It's always been my dream to play professional golf. That's what drives me day-in and day-out to practice hard. It's what drives me to get better."
Each calendar year, Rodgers sets personal and process goals. Of the two, he considers the latter most important.
"It might be something like: prepare for each tournament to the best of my ability; be consistent with my workout routine; or my nutrition," he said. "Things, that if I do on a daily basis, will help me reach those outcome goals."
Ray considers his team a dedicated, hard-working group. But Rodgers takes it to another level.
"He keeps his own book of stats," said Ray. "I've never seen a kid in my time keep such an analytical approach to his performance. He's got that inner-fire that you can't teach. He could play and practice all day long, then go home and watch the Golf Channel. He can't get enough of it."
Rodgers said Stanford has taught him many valuable life lessons. Like how to manage his time, focus, travel, interact with people, be on his own, and work through tough times.
"The most important thing is just the experience I've gained," he said. "I've really learned how to manage the ups-and-downs of golf, because its' going to happen over a career of hopefully playing for a living. College golf is the perfect testing ground for learning how to deal with all that stuff."
Rodgers recently met former Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck.
"He offered a lot of good advice about Stanford and everything, which is really cool," said Rodgers. "Hopefully, this summer we can connect in Indianapolis. Maybe I can give him a lesson or help him acclimate to life in the Midwest."
Growing up, Rodgers was an all-around athlete, but began concentrating on golf when he was 12. He learned quickly that little things make a big difference in winning tournaments, even before you hit a shot.
"I pride myself on hard work and dedication," Rodgers said. "That gives me confidence, feeling like I've out-prepared people and some of my homework may be better than some other people. I feel like it's helped me accomplish a lot of good things."
So were some early words of advice from his father, Charlie.
"I pride myself on hard work and dedication. That gives me confidence, feeling like I've out-prepared people."
"Dad would always tell me, `Golf is a marathon, not a sprint,' " he said. "It's really easy to get wrapped up in the daily results. He still emphasizes today how much of a process it is."
Rodgers considered attending qualifying school for the PGA Tour last year, but decided against it. Teammate Andrew Yun did, but failed to earn his card and returned to school.
"I just didn't feel like I was quite ready to take the next step," said Rodgers. He will play a full schedule of big amateur tournaments this summer and weigh his options.
"I think he kind of got over a hurdle this year," Ray said. "I think he learned a life lesson that if he wants to have a career in golf, the more he thinks about stuff out of his control, the worse he plays. He knows that pro golf is a real possibility at some point. He just doesn't know when.
"We're supporting him in whatever he decides. We just want him to make good decisions. I think he puts a lot of stock in getting a Stanford degree. He wouldn't have picked our program in the beginning if that wasn't the case."
Added Rodgers, "To think that far ahead is kind of tough. It's a process. I'm just focusing on the end of the year."
Of more immediate concern is helping the Cardinal play well this weekend and ultimately challenge for an NCAA title.
"We have all the pieces," said Rodgers. "Hopefully I can help the team make a run at the national championship."
* * *
Last week's 24th Annual Shultz Cup, hosted by George Shultz, was a big success. Proceeds benefit the men's and women's golf programs.
Shultz was particularly impressed by Stanford freshman Mariah Stackhouse, who shot an NCAA-record 61 in February at Stanford Golf Course in the Peg Barnard Invitational.
Said Shultz: "I don't know what you're going to be doing (next year), but if you'd like to join our foursome ... ''
Shultz, who captivated the crowd with a talk on world affairs, offered this nugget about golf: "I think that's why people love golf. It has relentless accountability."
Kudos to former Cardinal golf team member Kevin Blue ('05), now Associate Athletic Director - Business Development at Stanford, for shooting a bogey-free 7-under-par 64.
-- By Mark Soltau, Stanford Athletics
* * *
Palo Alto native Mark Soltau has spent his whole life and much of his career around Stanford sports. A sportswriter for 35 years, Soltau spent 16 (1981-97) at the San Francisco Examiner, where he covered not only the Cardinal, but all five 49ers Super Bowl-championship teams. Golf always has been his passion and Soltau served as the sport's beat writer for the Examiner, national golf writer for CBS Sportsline, contributing editor to Golf Digest, and since 1997 has been the editor of tigerwoods.com.