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Nick Chadbourne | | May 25, 2014

Chadbourne: Following famous footsteps

  Patrick Rodgers is the world's top-ranked amateur, a Hogan award winner and he is breaking Woods' records.

HUTCHINGSON, Kan. -- For Stanford junior Patrick Rodgers, being a star golfer at Stanford has its perks. The good thing about going to Tiger Woods' alma mater is that Woods will send a text congratulating the team on punching a ticket to match-play at the NCAA championships.

But when you're the world's top-ranked amateur, a Hogan award winner, and all the school records you're breaking or tying were held by Tiger, comparisons to the legend are constant and inescapable.

Rodgers doesn't seem to mind it, though. He said Woods has been his biggest influence since he picked up golf. This week, he doesn't want to disappoint his idol, and perhaps his most famous fan.

“It's cool to know he's back there following,” he said. “Hopefully we can get a national championship for him to watch."

Along with a team championship on the line this week at Prairie Dunes, there's a significant individual record he can break. He's currently tied with Woods for most wins in school history, at 11 each. With a win this week, he can chalk up another Tiger record from Stanford that didn't last through Rodgers' reign with the Cardinal.

No pressure, right? Well, yeah, at least for Rodgers.

He grew up in small-town Avon, Indiana, but he keeps it California cool when “those” comparisons are tossed around. He hears them, but doesn't feel any pressure to measure up to Woods. The only pressure he feels is that which he puts on himself.

“I know the best way I can help my team is to win, so that's all the pressure I need -- on myself,” he said.

Growing up in Indiana, he naturally thought he'd be chasing the NBA, not the PGA, dream. This was magnified by the fact his father was a college basketball player.

“Basketball was my definitely my first love,” he said. “But for whatever reason, golf stuck.”

Rodgers' short-lived basketball career came to an early end in high school. Rodgers said his freshman year measurables didn't stack up: 5-foot-4 and 105 pounds. He was already leaning towards golf at the time, which made the decision to cut loose from basketball to focus on golf all the easier.

“I was caught up with the golf bug,” he said.

His summer days as a youth were spent with his friends at his local country club. Some of his golfing compadres from those years are here at the tournament, he said. Rodgers couldn't beat them when he was younger. These summer days were the beginning of Rodgers building himself into the player that he is today.

“The competitive part of me wanted to shoot the lowest score I could, and shooting in the 80s wasn't very fun,” he said.

Despite the limitations of his body frame at the time, he focused on improving what he could. He was frustrated on the course because he didn't have the size to drive shots as long as he wanted, he said. He had to learn how to play the game without a booming drive, which benefitted him in the long run.

“It was a blessing because I had to hit it really straight and have a great short game,” he said. Both of which are strengths of his current game, he added.

His swing coach in high school told him to stay patient about his height. Rodgers' family genetics didn't point toward a permanently short and skinny offspring.

He described his father as a “big, tall guy,” so it wasn't a surprise when he grew 10 inches in high school, he said. With the art of scoring techniques down, he focused on developing a powerful drive to supplement his short game.

“I hit the ball a long ways now," he said with a smile.

Rodgers has refined his game to the point where he's ready to make the next step. He announced his intentions to turn professional early last month. The announcement was made to avoid distractions from Stanford's championship chase, according to the released statement.

That wouldn't remove the potential distractions for long. The Cardinal's win at last week's Oregon regional tied him with Woods' school record for wins. Days later, he won the Ben Hogan Award as the year's top collegiate golfer in the nation.

With a future destined to bring him success on the professional circuit, it'd be easy to overlook his last collegiate tournament. He said he's not going to let anything past today distract him from putting everything he has on the course.

“This is a team-focused championship and our goal is to get into the final eight and play well in match play,” he said.

The ending of stroke-play for the Cardinal on Saturday means the start of head-to-head match-play Monday. Regardless of what happens, Rodgers' collegiate career is already one of the best in NCAA golf history -- just like his idol's.

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