CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Surprised that 22-year-old sponsor exemption Patrick Rodgers is hanging around the top of the leaderboard and in contention for the weekend at one of the PGA Tour’s longest, toughest tracks?
Don’t be. Rest assured, Rodgers isn’t surprised in the least to be right there at the midway point of the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow, trailing leaders Robert Streb and Webb Simpson by two heading into moving day.
Friday, despite a bogey at his final hole (the par-4 ninth), Rodgers posted a second consecutive 4-under 68, and at 8-under 136, he will head to the weekend a shot ahead of a fellow member of his new home club down in Jupiter, Fla. – World No. 1 Rory McIlroy.
Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Daniel Berger have joined Patrick Reed in establishing themselves as really young twentysomethings to watch this season on Tour, and Rodgers is confident that, given the opportunity, he’ll join them very soon. Who knows? It might be as soon as this weekend. It’s not the first time he’s been here. In the summer of 2013, when Rodgers was a rising college junior, he jumped into the lead on Saturday afternoon at the John Deere Classic.
Rodgers, a terrific ballstriker whose high, right-to-left ball flight suits Quail Hollow perfectly, simply gave the others a head start when he headed back to Stanford in the fall of 2013, returning for his junior season, where he pursued – and equaled – Tiger Woods’ school mark for career victories (11). He was named winner of last spring’s Nicklaus Award as the most outstanding player in Div. I college golf en route to also collecting the 2014 Fred Haskins and Ben Hogan awards.
“There’s not many things to dislike about Patrick’s game,” Thomas said. “He really does everything well. He drives it so long and straight – I really like how he drives the ball. He’s getting better with his wedge game. We’ll always have wedge contests when we’re home. So his short game is pretty good. It’s cool to have him here this week, for sure.”
Rodgers lives with Thomas (Thomas is the one with PGA Tour status, but Rodgers won the coin flip to move into the master bedroom). Thomas was in contention at The Players deep into the final round on Sunday, and Rodgers has watched other young peers taste success on the biggest stage … so why not take a turn himself?
“I just watched Jordan Spieth win the Masters and make it look pretty easy,” Rodgers said. “That gives me a ton of confidence, and then Justin, my roommate, (I’ve) seen him towards the final group every week. I play with him every day 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. I’m excited to get in the mix this weekend.”
Rodgers has been competing mostly on the Web.com Tour this season. He is third in earnings and sewed up his status for next season by winning the Colombia Championship in his second start of the season. Competing in golf’s minor leagues has been both eye-opening and rewarding, and he said earlier this week he’s enjoyed the experience. His goal is to finish No. 1, which would earn a full-exempt PGA Tour card for 2015-16 (and entry into The Players). But with his talents, there’s obviously somewhere else he’d like to ply his trade, and if he were to secure special temporary status on the PGA Tour with a high finish in Charlotte, he’d have an interesting decision to make.
Rodgers is scheduled to play three of the next four weeks on the PGA Tour. His exemption into Wells Fargo this week was an unexpected bonus; he thought he’d already committed to his seven allotted exemptions. However, his spot at The Memorial in a few weeks won’t count as an exemption because the Nicklaus Award winner is now a listed category in the tournament’s invitational field.
So Rodgers will play Wells Fargo, Colonial, and Memorial. If he top-10s this week in Charlotte, he’d be eligible to play the Tour’s next open event, the AT&T Byron Nelson Championship in Dallas, which sits between Colonial and Memorial on the schedule.
Options, options, options. That’s what he’s gunning to attain this weekend.
“You see all your buddies have success, and you spend time with them and you see they’re not that different. You’re working on the same things,” Rodgers said. “It gives you confidence to have so many peers who are playing well at a young age. It’s a lot of fun, it gets very competitive, and it helps you feel good about yourself when you’re coming down the stretch.”
A year ago at this time, Rodgers and teammate Cameron Wilson were leading Stanford into the NCAA Championship at Prairie Dunes in Kansas. And one year later, he’s in position to earn his way onto the PGA Tour. Every bit of experience helps, and though he’s no longer in the classroom, the education of a young pro never stops.
“I learned I don’t have to do anything special, that my golf is good enough to compete and contend out here,” he said. “I think at times throughout my professional career I’ve tried to do something extra special or force the issue a little bit and I just realized that I have the game to come out here and compete, and I don’t have to do anything out of the ordinary. Just play good, simple golf and (that) gets it done.”