Phil Rodgers, gifted player and instructor, dies at 80

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Phil Rodgers, gifted player and instructor, dies at 80

Professional

Phil Rodgers, gifted player and instructor, dies at 80

Phil Rodgers, a five-time PGA Tour winner and later a respected instructor, died Tuesday at age 80 after a 15-year battle with leukemia.

Rodgers, born in 1938 in San Diego, was a standout junior golfer – taught by golf legend Paul Runyan – before joining the golf team at the University of Houston. He won the 1958 NCAA Championship before leaving school to join the Marine Corps.

He turned pro in 1961 and went on to win five times on the PGA Tour, including the 1962 Los Angeles Open by nine shots over Bob Goalby and Fred Hawkins. He lost a 36-hole playoff to Bob Charles at the 1963 British Open.

A year before that Rodgers finished T-3 at the U.S. Open, two shots back despite making a quadruple bogey at the par-4 17th in the first round after refusing to take a drop out of a pine tree.

After injuries cut his playing career short, Rodgers became an instructor. He was known for his short-game work and in Spring 1980 he spent two weeks with Jack Nicklaus working on Nicklaus’ struggling chipping.

Nicklaus went on to win the U.S. Open and PGA Championship that year, and he credited Rodgers, who was a contemporary of Nicklaus – they shared the Crow’s Nest as amateurs at the 1960 Masters.

“My heart hurts today after the passing of dear friend, Phil Rodgers,” Nicklaus tweeted Tuesday. “I knew Phil for almost 65 years. Terrific ball-striker and great short game, he became a gifted teacher. Phil reinvented my short game in 1980 and I won two majors that year. Miss him already.”

Rodgers was known for his loud and confident personality. He was put on the cover of Sports Illustrated in January 1963 along with the headline, “The Brashest Man in Golf.”

But he also was known for his kindness and loyalty.

“I could have showed up at his house yesterday asking for swing help and he would have crawled outside to help me,” Pete Coe, former head pro at La Jolla Country Club, told the San Diego Union Tribune.

Rodgers died at his home in University City, Calif., with his wife of 33 years, Karen, by his side.

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