By Mark Soltau
Patrick Rodgers knew he had game. The two-time first-team All-American golfer from Stanford just wasn't sure how he stacked up against the best players in the world. So in July, he accepted a sponsor's invite to play in the PGA Tour's John Deere Classic and tied for 15th. In the third round, he birdied seven of the first 12 holes and saw his name rise to the top of the leaderboard.
"I felt really comfortable," said Rodgers, who won two high school state championships in his home state of Indiana. "I made my first cut on the PGA Tour, which is great. I kind of got a feel for what it's like to be in the mix on Saturday and Sunday."
Playing professional golf has been a life-long goal, and Rodgers gave serious thought to leaving Stanford this year to pursue his dream. After much discussion with his family and Conrad Ray, The Knowles Family Director of Men's Golf, Rodgers has decided to return to The Farm for his junior year to try and help the Cardinal with an NCAA Championship.
"I signed my letter-of-intent and committed to Stanford with full intentions of being at Stanford for four years," the 20-year-old Rodgers told GoStanford.com this week from Southampton, N.Y., where he is representing the U.S. for the second time against Great Britain and Ireland in the 44th Walker Cup at National Golf Links on Saturday and Sunday.
"The whole process caught me off guard a little bit -- the opportunities that are presented out there on the professional level. I figure each year it's only fitting for me to make a really educated decision to kind of use the opportunities out there on the professional level as well as the opportunities at Stanford and just really weigh the pros and cons. Obviously, I really value my relationship with Stanford, coach and my teammates. I felt like the best place for me to continue to get better and be ready for the professional ranks was back at Stanford."
Ray couldn't be happier.
"On the personal front, he's a great kid and it's been really enjoyable to coach him and help him piece together his life," Ray said. "On the coaching front, we have a good team. Any time you can rally around a guy like Patrick, I think it only makes your team better."
Ray said the 6-foot-2 Rodgers mentally prepares himself for tournaments better than any player he has ever coached.
"He's a big kid and hits the ball far," he said. "He also has a great work ethic and love of the game. At the end of the day, what sets him apart is his emphasis on preparation."
With that in mind, he knew Rodgers would gather all the facts and make the best decision for himself.
"I think it took some time to work through," said Ray. "When he's been successful, it's been on his terms. He's very keen to have a great career on the PGA Tour, and he wants to be prepared as best he can. I think he knows Stanford provides an unbelievable environment for personal and professional growth."
Rodgers has already been elected team captain by his teammates, a significant honor for a junior.
"I take great pride and great responsibility to be captain of the Stanford golf team," he said. "I know it's a position so many players would like to be in. I definitely don't take the title lightly. I felt an incredible responsibility to make sure that I was here for my teammates this year. I feel like we have a talented group of guys and hopefully I can lead them to the best of my ability."
Asked what he would have missed most about Stanford, Rodgers said, "The people. I've developed such a good relationship with coach Ray and coach (Phillip) Rowe (The Enlight Foundation Assistant Coach). Coach Ray is almost like a father to me. I feel I can talk to him about anything. He's been so supportive of whichever decision I was going to make and has my best interests in mind. That's pretty unique for a college coach.
"I feel like I have a really good relationship with my teammates. They're my best friends at school and I spend so much time with them. I'm excited to make a run with them. That was a huge pull for me coming back."
Last year, Rodgers won three tournaments and posted six top-10 finishes. He remains the school's career-leader in stroke average at 70.77. Tiger Woods averaged 71.1 in 1994-96.
"The numbers speak for themselves," Ray said of Rodgers. "He's one of the best college golfers we've ever had."
Rodgers grew up a Woods' fan and credits him for much of his success. Unlike Woods, the No. 1-ranked player in the world, Rodgers has yet to win an NCAA individual title, but is looking to raise his game this season. He joins Woods as the only other player in Stanford history to play on two Walker Cup teams.
"All the things he accomplished at Stanford, to be mentioned in the same breath is such an honor for me," said Rodgers. "He's completely inspired me to be a golfer and to work so hard and achieve as much as I can achieve. He's been a huge motivating force in my career. I understand that I'm my own person, so I'm just going to go out and try to get better each day and hopefully set the bar high for future Stanford golfers who are aspiring to play great and set records."