It requires patience to understand Philamon Webster Rodgers, or Phil Rodgers-Perdido Bay, as The Professional Golfers' Association lists him. Rodgers (see cover) is 24, with crew-cut blond hair, a face full of freckles and a stomach that gently overlaps his belt. He looks a lot like Jack Nicklaus, so much so that people are always coming up to him and saying, "Hi, Jack." This bugs him. He believes it should be the other way around—but Phil Rodgers would think that, for he is the brashest, loudest, cockiest man in golf.
Rodgers has spent only one full year on the pro tour, but he wouldn't hesitate to tell Arnold Palmer what is wrong with his swing. "I have a mental picture of everyone's swing," he says. "I can tell when a guy is off." Rodgers offers such pronouncements in the kind of booming voice usually reserved for shouting "Fore!" When he says "Good morning" it sounds more like a challenge than a greeting. He has an unsettling habit of interrupting people in mid-sentence with "huh?" or "what?" and his language has made many a gallery blush.
As for his golf game, it is good and he doesn't mind saying so. On the final day of the 1962 Los Angeles Open someone asked one of the pros if he thought Rodgers, who was leading the tournament, might feel the pressure. "Heck, no," said the pro. "He won't feel a thing because he thinks he's three times better than he really is." Rodgers, as if to prove the point, shot a record-breaking 62 to win.
What annoys some pros most of all is that this year Phil Rodgers may be every bit as good as he thinks he is. In 1962 he earned $32,000, 11th best on the circuit. He won tournaments in Los Angeles and Tucson, and finished third in both the British Open—where the press was highly critical of his bumptious behavior—and the U.S. Open. He might very well have won the U.S. Open, where he was only two strokes back, had his tee shot on the 17th hole in the first round not landed in a spruce tree. The ball was stuck in a branch about waist-high and Rodgers, rather than take a two-stroke penalty, elected to swing at it with his sand iron. Three swings later the ball was still nestled in the branch. On the fourth swing it fell, and Rodgers finished the hole with an 8. Now, months later, he can laugh about the incident. He even considered sending Christmas cards showing a golf ball wedged in the branches of a Christmas tree.
A vicious game
Though Jack Nicklaus won the U.S. Open, members of the PGA are divided as to which of the two, Rodgers or Nicklaus, was the best rookie on the pro tour. "Rodgers has more shots," says Bob Goalby. "And he's got confidence you can't believe."
"I've never seen a player with more innate ability," says Paul Runyan, a former PGA champion. Runyan, who teaches at the La Jolla ( Calif.) Country Club, is one of the few people whose advice Rodgers will follow. "You play best when you're vicious, Philip," Runyan said to him recently. "If you must wear your cockiness on your sleeve to play well, then do it."
Rodgers is not a big hitter like Nicklaus or Palmer, but he is straight, and long enough. It is his short game, however, that makes him a winner. "That little man can knock down a chip shot or one of those tough putts as well as anybody," says Howie Johnson, a touring pro. "He hasn't been out here long, but he's learned real quick."
Learn he has, but not through any great camaraderie with his fellows. He has few close friends, and when he is on the tour he usually rooms by himself. "I'm the Lone Ranger," he says. "I like to stay in my room, watch television and go to sleep when I want to. I even order dinner in my room."
Food is important to Rodgers, and he eats with intensity. "He's an absolute glutton," says Paul Runyan. "His weight is the only thing that could keep him from being a great golfer." Rodgers is only 5 feet 8—"I'm really 5 feet 7�," he says, "but 5 feet 8 sounds a lot taller"—and he weighs between 180 and 200 pounds. A typical Rodgers breakfast is juice, fried eggs, a steak, hashed brown potatoes and toast. When he has finished, he will pat his stomach and say, "Agh! I feel like a blimp, fat and sassy."