You know me, as a quintessential underdog, I always root for the underdog. And there’s a really good one in the field this week at the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte.
Patrick Rodgers, who played at Stanford for three years, received a sponsor’s exemption and is making the most of it. After 36 holes, he’s two shots out of the lead (T3 with Martin Flores) behind Robert Streb and Webb Simpson who are at 10-under. As impressive as that is, he’s one shot ahead of Rory, Phil and Will MacKenzie, an underdog of sorts himself.
He began his media session expressing his gratitude:
Obviously huge to get a sponsor’s exemption here especially with the reputation of this tournament. It’s an event I’ve been watching for a long time and excited to be a part of it. Very, very thankful.
The season so far, it’s been good. Starting on the Web.com, it’s been a good experience. Lot of travel to start the year [almost all of it in Central America, South America and Mexico]. Good to get a win under my belt in the second event. Set me up for the rest of the season, which is nice.
Allows me to comfortably spend some time out here [on the PGA Tour] and take advantage of some opportunities and gives me a lot of confidence going forward. Good start to the year on the Web and hopefully carry that through to a few starts out here on the PGA Tour.
There’s been a lot of talk about how the young guys on the Tour are feeding off each other’s success and Rodgers explained how that worked:
It obviously gives me a ton of confidence. I just watched Jordan Spieth win the Masters and make it look pretty easy. That gives me a ton of confidence. And then Justin Thomas, my roommate, seen him towards the final group every week.
I play with him everyday 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.
One of the things that chronically stunted my progress in trying to qualify to play on the Champions Tour was this constant sense that it was going to take some heroic golf. You know, confront Monday’s obstacle and rise to the occasion! Rodgers says he discovered that that’s not how it works:
I learned I don’t have to do anything special, that my golf is good enough to compete and contend out here. 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 gets it done.
Now he tells me.
To forward the action on my efforts, I moved to Scottsdale, Arizona, home to a lot of Tour pros. Rodgers chose Jupiter, Florida, for the same reason:
The weather is really nice down in South Florida. That’s been good. And, more than that, there’s a ton of good players that are close to my age down there so there’s always a fun game and I’ve always been a firm believer I want to be around the best players I can be around.
I feel like it’s going to push me to be the best player I can be. That’s why I went to college to Stanford and moving down to Jupiter kind of a similar decision. Cool seeing Rory and Luke Donald and Keegan Bradley and Ernie Els get to work everyday at the Bear’s Club. Be able to compete against my peers is a lot of fun.
And he gets the stimulus that he was seeking:
I play a lot with Justin and just kind of whoever. Good friends with Morgan Hoffmann. So many guys down there. It’s a lot of fun. There’s no shortages of games and they’re always really competitive. Anytime you’re measuring yourself against some of the best players in the world that’s really, really positive.
And now he finds himself a shot ahead of Rory, but he’s never had a chance to play with him at home:
I haven’t. Practiced with him a few times. Haven’t played with him. Hopefully we’ll get paired together over the weekend. Be a lot of fun.
What a great attitude to be looking forward to that challenge instead of shying away from it. It would be one thing to come from well down the leaderboard on Sunday to win, quite another to do it within the clutches of Rory McIlroy.
He explained how he and Justin Thomas ended up living together:
We’ve been really good friends for a long time, with him growing up in Louisville and me in Indianapolis [just 100 miles north on I-65]. We’ve known each other really well throughout Junior Golf and college golf.
We’ve been good friends since I can remember, really, and it’s been a lot of fun to be able to practice with him and just compete on a daily basis.
And finally, an amusing exchange on their actual living arrangements:
Q. Who owns the house?
We’re renting it (laughter).
Q. Is he a messy roommate?
He’s probably the cleanest one. I do have the master bedroom. I got one up on him.
Q. How did that happen?
Flip a coin.
So here you have Justin Thomas, winner of $1.2 million in this, his rookie year, relegated to sleeping in the small bedroom by the toss of a coin. Boys will be boys.
They’ll long remember these as the good old days.