By Dan Reardon
Five years ago Jim Holtgrieve took a squad of young American amateurs to Aberdeen, Scotland for the biennial Walker Cup matches. On paper the Americans were strong favorites over the team from Great Britain and Ireland. On grass the GBI team pulled off the upset, defeating the U.S. team 14-12.
A half a decade later a look at those teams suggests the win may have been even more surprising than it was thought to be at the time. Of the 10 players from GBI only one, Andy Sullivan, has navigated successfully into a professional career with three wins in Europe in 2015.
On the American side, Captain Holtgrieve’s team could be viewed as one the strongest teams ever if you can set aside the loss. Seven of the nine players who turned professional have made it to a major golf tour. Harris English and Russell Henley have won more than once on the PGA Tour. Patrick Cantlay had a breakout start on Tour but is now trying to regain status on a medical exemption after a lengthy absence. Peter Uihlein has a win in Europe. Kelly Kraft is emerging on the PGA Tour. And there is the youngest player from that team, a kid from Texas you may have heard of as well, Jordan Spieth.
One other name from that list is Patrick Rodgers, who Holtgrieve described as, like Spieth, the most thoroughly prepared young player he had ever dealt with in 40+ years in the game.
Rodgers turned professional out of Stanford midway through the 2014 season. Using sponsor exemptions, he split time between the Tour and the Web.com Tour the following year. In May of ‘15, he posted a T2 at Wells Fargo and came back in August for a solo third at the Barracuda Championship. He used seven events in 2015 on the Web.com Tour to collect a win and place in the top 25, setting him up for 2016 on the regular tour.
Now fully exempt, Rodgers has shown his youth with 10 missed cuts but demonstrated his talent with a tie for third a week ago at Travelers. On the year he has three top 10s, eight top 25s and, at 66th in the FedEx standings, he’s assured of playing in golf’s postseason.
Rodgers is very much a part of the Class of 2011 who look at the Tour as opportunity to be taken not worried about. “I just watched Jordan Spieth win the Masters,” he said at Wells Fargo last year, “and make it look pretty easy. That gives me a ton of confidence, and then Justin Thomas, my roommate, seen him towards the final group every week.
I play with him everyday now at The Bear’s Club. Definitely young guys I feel like are really ready to come out here and win. I feel no different. I feel really prepared. That’s why I turned professional.”
His numbers also match what you might expect of a first-year player on Tour these days — plenty of power but the need for refinement. He ranks outside the top 100 in approaches to the greens, and his putting stats are even worse. But his explosiveness shows up with a top-50 ranking in birdies and fourth on Tour in eagles in 2016.
In the mix heading into the final round at Travelers, Rodgers was somewhat prescient about a final round that featured Jim Furyk’s 58 and Thomas’s 62.
“Everyone is just within six shots of the lead going into today, that’s kind of crazy. So everybody still had a great chance, and I knew you’re going to have to go out and shoot a great round in order to stay in the mix. I know I’m going to have to do that again tomorrow and just from the very get-go, go pedal to the metal.”
The kind of thoroughness Holtgrieve saw in the Stanford amateur in his Walker Cup preparations is now a part of Rodgers’ plan to realize his ambitions in his professional career.
“I have incredibly high expectations for myself, so it’s been a little bit disappointing in some regards. But I think some of the struggles that I’ve been through this year have led to some really positive changes. I’m working with a new coach, and I’m really excited about what I’m working on. It’s allowed me to kind of take some time and reflect on the things that are important for me to play my best golf. I think I’m on the right track now, and I think I will be for a long time, so it’s exciting.”
Dan Reardon has covered golf for radio station KMOX in St. Louis for 32 years. In that time, he has covered more than 100 events, including majors and other PGA, LPGA and Champions Tour tournaments. During his broadcast career, Reardon conducted one-on-one interviews with three dozen members of the World Golf of Fame. He has contributed to many publications over the years and co-authored the book Golf’s Greatest Eighteen from Random House. Reardon served as Director of Media relations for LPGA events in both St. Louis and Chicago for 10 years.