In the weeks and months preceding March 3, the soundtrack to Stanford golfer Patrick Rodgers’s life could have easily been The Clash’s classic hit “Should I Stay or Should I Go.” Should he stay at the Farm, finish out his remaining collegiate eligibility and have another shot an NCAA team or individual title? Or should he go and turn his attention to the professional ranks and take the next step towards a coveted spot on the PGA Tour?
With speculation ramping up after his successful start to the spring season, the junior dispelled all of the suppositions and rumors that day, announcing his intention to forego his final year at Stanford to pursue his inevitable pro career. Although it was admittedly a difficult back-and-forth mental battle, Rodgers hasn’t let doubt or guilt creep in, and is at peace with his decision — one that will truly impact the rest of his life.
“It’s played out really nicely,” Rodgers said of his announcement. “Credit to everybody around Stanford — I felt like it was a very well-executed game plan. It followed my intention to put the focus right back on the team, and our team has played great since then.”
That they have. Since March 3, the Card have won three out of the four events they’ve entered, including the Pac-12 Championships this past weekend — the program’s first conference title since 1994, when current head coach Conrad Ray ‘97 was a player. Not only has the team been on a roll, so has its leader: Since the decision, Rodgers has won three out of his four starts, punctuated by his first and only individual conference title on Sunday. A former Pac-12 Freshman of the Year and the current top-ranked amateur golfer in the world, Rodgers has truly validated his decision to take his game to the next level by playing arguably the best golf of his life.
“It was great, like a small weight lifted off my shoulders,” remarked the well-spoken junior after making his intentions known. “And I think it’s really showed with the way I’ve played. I was able to focus on playing my best golf and helping my team win. I’ve been really comfortable and at peace with the decision.”
Nobody would’ve blamed him if he wasn’t. Though Rodgers knew that ultimately he had to do what was best for him, he also realized that his departure, coupled with the graduation of senior Cameron Wilson, would leave the program with a serious talent and experience loss. But to his credit, the Avon, Indiana native never let those thoughts take substantial root within a golfer’s strongest weapon: the psyche. In fact, despite the imminent roster turnover, he’s confident as ever in the program he helped remake into a national championship contender.
“We have so much young talent on our team. It looks so promising for the future that I’m not concerned about how the guys will do down the road,” Rodgers beamed. “There’s three great freshmen that are competing hard this year, I’ve gotten to know the sophomores and juniors so well — everybody’s improving and really excited about where the program is headed under the guidance of Coach Ray.”
Of all the voices Rodgers heard in the process of making his decision — mom, dad and Andrew Luck to name a few — it was perhaps the one of his coach that stood out among the cacophony. Ray, a former professional golfer himself, knew that he was in a position of influence; he could have easily told his player that he just wasn’t ready yet, that he needed another year for the simple purpose of retaining a superb golfer. But, according to Rodgers, Ray took a backseat in the shaping of the eventual decision, yet was still a prominent figure in the conversation.
“We’ve had a tremendous amount of conversation surrounding his decision,” Ray said of his superstar. “He’s been considering his plan of attack since last summer when he was really playing well and moving up the rankings. He represented the USA in the Walker Cup Matches and had success. Over the last 12 months, he’s really done a great job of separating himself from his peers as the guy to beat.”
“Obviously, [Ray] has a program to maintain and a team to build, but he’s always looked after my best interests,” Rodgers added.
The bottom line is that those interests, from the beginning, always involved professional golf. Rodgers said that he considered leaving after his freshman and sophomore years, naïvely thinking he had it all figured out. Competing on the PGA Tour during the past two summers gave him a taste of his destined profession. He was tantalizingly close to realizing his dream, but he also felt he had a score to settle in the collegiate ranks first.
“I entertained the idea of turning pro and not coming back for my junior year, but I really felt like Stanford was the best place for me to continue to grow and get better,” Rodgers said. “After this year I felt like I was really ready to play at that level, and I felt like we had a great team that had the opportunity to do some really neat things. I felt like I owed it to Coach Ray and my teammates here to not leave any unfinished business.”
Indeed, after watching his squad finish T-19th at the NCAA Championships his freshman year and then not even qualifying for the national tournament last season, it easy to see why Rodgers believes “we’ve underachieved a little bit” in his time at Stanford. He’s out to change that, and a dominating victory in the desert to capture the elusive Pac-12 crown is certainly the first step on what he hopes is a long journey culminating in trophy hoisting in Hutchinson, Kansas.
“We’re one of the teams that could be in the mix at NCAAs,” Rodgers commented. “All my focus is on the team golf, but I’m really excited about how everything happened, and I’m really happy to have the support of Coach Ray and the Stanford Athletics family. It’s been an awesome experience.”
And it’s not over yet.
Contact Cameron Miller at cmiller6 ‘at’ stanford.edu.