Junior diary: Rodgers takes second at ToC

What an exciting two weeks of golf and what a great way to start my busy summer schedule! These last two weeks are the reason I love tournament golf. I love being in the hunt, and playing when the entire tournament is on the line.

The 93rd Western Junior Championship was certainly one to remember for me. As soon as I saw Blue Mound Country Club in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, I knew that it suited my game very well. The greens were the toughest I had ever seen with extremely severe undulations and they were running at about a 13 on the stimpmeter. Even though the course was only 6,700 yards, it was a tough test throughout the entire week simply because of the greens. I have never played a course where you have to play conservativelyfrom 100 yards. It was frustrating at times but looking back on the event, it was great experience.

I struggled the first day with a little bit of everything, but chipped-in for eagle on the last hole to shoot 72. I was 2-over-par and seven shots off the lead, but I knew there was still a lot of golf to be played. The 48-hour break due to rain between my first and second rounds turned out to be a blessing, as I was able to work on my game a little bit and feel better going into the second round. I got off to a miserable start in round 2 and started with two bogeys, but played well throughout the rest of the round and shot a 69. Although I still didn’t play my best, I had put myself only four shots off the lead with 36 holes to play. I knew that I had a good chance.

Junior diary

Patrick Rodgers, 17, will file a diary each week this summer as he plays some of the premier junior events in the country.

Rodgers, a second-team AJGA All-American, is No. 7 in the Golfweek Junior Rankings.

We played 36 holes on the last day and we didn’t re-pair, so I played the entire tournament with Wyndham Clark. He is a very good player and I was very impressed with his game. I felt comfortable playing with him and he kept me focused and driven throughout the final day. I finally played well the last day and shot 69-65 to finish the tournament. I knew where I stood with six holes to go when I was told that I had a one-shot lead. I played well after hearing the news and was able to win by three shots. It was the biggest win of my career and I was so excited that I wasn’t even nervous for the speech I had to give afterwards.

After driving home that Friday night, we had one day to get turned around because we were headed to Arkansas for the Rolex Tournament of Champions the next day. I was excited to play in an AJGA Invitational again because they are always first-class events.

As soon as I saw the golf course, I knew I better hit it straight, and be very patient. The Blessings Golf Club is the toughest course I have ever played and I think that the scores throughout the week proved that. I was still feeling good about my game but you never know what could happen on that golf course. Every fairway was lined with tall grass and brush and if a ball ventured in, it would likely never be found. The elevation changes were the most severe I had ever seen and the greens were undulatin. It seemed at times like there was nowhere to miss.

The first two rounds went well. I felt like I left a few shots out there, but my 71-74 score was nothing to complain about. However, I was questioning myself on the difficulty of the golf course when I was 10 shots off the lead of Sam Straka, who fired a brilliant score of 69-66 in the first two rounds. It is hard to describe how incredible those rounds were, especially after not playing a practice round! I was still in sixth place so I knew that even though I was so far behind the lead, I still had a good chance to win.

The third day I just tried to stay patient and let the leaders come back to me. I still believed in the difficulty of the course and thought that an even-par round would move me up in the tournament. I played great in the third round and shot a 3-under 69. I only made one bogey and I had to get up-and-down from the sand to save it. I was finally making putts and felt great about my game. My score was good enough to take a one-shot lead into the final round over Anthony Paolucci, who has played brilliantly over the last few months. I was very surprised that I had picked up so many shots, but the golf course was so difficult that something like that could happen in a matter of a few holes.

I wasn’t nervous headed into the final round because I had been in many final groups at invitationals. I played in the final group at the Ping Invitational and the Junior Players Championship and didn’t fare well, so I was ready to convert on this opportunity. The golf course helped me stay in the present and stay focused on my game.

After the first nine holes, Anthony and I were both playing well and tied for the tournament at 2-under-par. We had separated ourselves from the field, so the back nine was a head-to-head battle. After three pars to start the back nine, we were tied with six holes to play. On No. 13, I hit what I thought was a good drive only to find myself in knee-deep fescue. I tried to advance the ball about 50 yards to leave myself an easy pitch into the green, but I hit my shot thin, and my ball rocketed through the fairway into an unplayable lie. I made a double bogey on the hole, but I knew I could still win.

When Anthony birdied the next hole – one of the toughest on the course I might add – I found myself three shots behind with four to play. When we got to No. 16, I was still three behind and knew I had to make something happen. I took and aggressive line off the tee, attempting to carry a valley that was 290 yards away. I hit my drive through the fairway into a deep fairway bunker, 180 yards from the pin. Anthony smartly laid up, but I had to go for it. Even though the green was surrounded by trouble, I had no other choice. I hit it right next to the green, made birdie and cut his lead to two.

The 268-yard par 3 17th was next to play and I had to force the issue again. I made a bogey on the hole that ended my chances and I lost to a player that played a great round. Anthony played wonderfully, and he really deserved to win. He is a great player and I look forward to more battles with him on the back nine in the final round.

All in all, it was a successful two weeks. I am disappointed not to win the Rolex, but I’m excited about how I’m playing. I am very tired and ready for a week of rest. I hope everyone had a good holiday weekend spending time with family and friends. Have a great week and I look forward to writing again next week.

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