Texarkana is half in East Texas, half in West Arkansas—the state line bisects the post office building—and not all that far from Louisiana in miles or culture. Crayfish are considered as much of a delicacy as biscuits and cream gravy. Rogers lives on the Texas side of this quiet, wooded, easygoing, good-old-boy town where a pair of clean Levi's with a crease in them and a new hunting jacket are considered almost formal attire.
Rogers was born in Waco, Texas, but from the age of 11 he was raised in Texarkana, as were his brothers, Rick, a lawyer in town, and Dex, an Air Force officer stationed in Oklahoma. Their father is a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, which is why Rogers has dim childhood memories of living in West Germany, Morocco and Alabama before arriving in Texarkana. Today Rogers' father is also retired from the insurance business and has become a full-time golf fan, and if you ask him why he chose Texarkana as his home, he will point to a clump of tall pine trees and mention a good nearby fishing stream and say, "Anybody's crazy not to live in East Texas."
Curiously, many of Bill Rogers' deeds in 1981 went largely unnoticed and uncelebrated outside of Texarkana, where he is the leading sports figure in the community. Whenever he and his wife, Beth, are in town, the Union Jack is flown above the Northridge Country Club in honor of his British Open victory. Northridge is the club where Rogers grew up and learned his craft. He still hangs out at the club when he's home, practices there, is kept honest around the grillroom by his old friends, most of whom are older than he is; and it is to the club that he goes to seek advice about his game from the longtime pro, Jerry Robison, who taught him much of what he knows about golf.
Robison is the only man who knows there's a weakness in Rogers' golf game. "Chipping," Robison said not long ago after giving the question some thought. "Hell, he hits so many greens, he don't get a chance to practice it," he said, cackling at the joke he had made.
Although it is the oldest professional tournament in the world, the British Open has never created quite the stir here that it should. Beth Rogers wasn't even at Royal St. George's to watch her husband's heroics. "I didn't know the British Open was a big deal," Beth said not long ago. "I do now."
It had started becoming a big deal for the Rogerses after the second and third rounds, in which Bill fired a 66 and a 67 and leaped into a five-stroke lead. It became less of a big deal in the early stages of the final round. Through the first seven holes at Sandwich, Rogers' game was shaky and his lead shriveled to one shot. It was at precisely this point that ABC's telecast came on live in the States. Hearts sank all over East Texas and southwest Arkansas.
In Texarkana, $300 also started to sprout wings, suddenly. That was the amount of money that Robison had collected from members and employees at the Northridge Country Club and given to Rogers to bet on himself—on their behalf—at the 25-to-l odds the legal bookmakers in England were offering.
"After he shot that 66 in the second round, a couple of waitresses in the grill room wanted to know if they could put in another dollar," Robison says. "When the TV came on, they said things you can't print."
When Rogers staggered off the seventh green at Royal St. George's after making a double bogey, he was hardly thinking about the bet. But he steadied himself and birdied the 9th, 10th and 12th holes, and struck beautiful shots from there in. Eventually he was able to win by four shots and take that triumphant stroll up the last fairway, which, at the British Open, is like walking through a roaring tunnel of love. He had simply played too superbly to lose.
"Right then, on the last hole. I decided I could afford to grin," he says. "That's the only time I thought about the $300 and how happy my friends and folks back home must have been."