Two of the best-kept secrets in the golfing world are finally about to break through the cashmere curtain at the country club gates and become part of the public consciousness. One of them is that a slender 30-year-old Texan named Bill (Buck/Panther) Rogers has the most enviable bag of shots on the pro tour, and the other is that Rogers may be the nicest and most unassuming athlete who ever overlapped an all-weather grip. This last fact obviously goes a long way toward explaining why the British Open trophy, which Rogers brought home last summer, is sitting in the lobby of the Twin City Bank in Texarkana, Texas, next door to a Whataburger.
Bill Rogers' fellow competitors have been aware of his ability to hit artistic golf shots, all kinds, for the past three or four years. Nearly all of them agree that if you had to whap your drive in the heart of a narrow fairway, or if you had to sculpt a high fade with a two-iron, or if you had to land a five-iron on the preferred level of a green that had humps and swales in it, ideally you would want Bill Rogers to provide these services for you.
Asked recently if he was cognizant of the fact that his tee-to-green game was held in such lofty esteem by his contemporaries, Rogers grinned with a look of embarrassment and said, "What? You are trickin' me, son."
Sorry, Bill. To put it in the language of a folksy touring pro, you are the kind of golfer who at any time is apt to haul off and open up a 10-pound can of Hogan.
"That's strong," said Rogers, blushing again. "That's big strong."
Despite his locker-room reputation for being able to hit all those talent shots, however, it wasn't until 1981, Rogers' seventh year on the tour, that he began to believe in himself as something besides another pedestrian among the game's top 60 players.
What Rogers did last year was win seven tournaments and more than $500,000 on four different continents and get himself named the Golfer of the Year by a panel of his peers and by the PGA.
It was only the second time that a pro had collected more than half a million dollars, globally, in a calendar year. Tom Watson had done it in 1980. And only Severiano Ballesteros and Gary Player had ever won on four different continents in the course of a single season. Rogers' victories were achieved on the landscapes of North America, Europe, Asia and Australia.
In order, Rogers won the Sea Pines Heritage Classic on Hilton Head Island, S.C. in March, the British Open at Sandwich on the coast of Kent in July, the World Series of Golf at Akron in August, the Suntory Open near Tokyo in September, the Texas Open at San Antonio in October and the New South Wales Open at Sydney and the Australian Open at Melbourne in November.
His closing stretch might have ignited a grass fire. He won five of the last seven stroke-play tournaments he entered, and he was second and fourth in the other two, which were in Japan and New Zealand. And between the two events he won in Australia, Rogers got on a plane and flew home to Texarkana for several days. That's 25 hours one way. You can't get the chicken-fried steak out of Bill Rogers.