HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — Patrick Rodgers heads to wind-swept Prairie Dunes this weekend in the rarest of company.
He’s intent on joining a club entirely of his own.
With a victory at the NCAA championships, Rodgers can break a tie with Tiger Woods for the most wins in Stanford history. The junior earned the 11th of his decorated career during regional qualifying, giving the world’s top-ranked amateur five wins in his last six events.
“I’ve talked to him and seen him throughout this spring, and I’m telling you, he’s going to try to put this team on his back to ride them to a national championship,” said Steve Burkowski, who will help cover the championships for the Golf Channel.
It won’t be easy for Rodgers or the Cardinal.
The tournament features one of the deepest fields in years in both the individual and team races. Top-ranked Alabama will try to defend its title against the likes of Oklahoma, Georgia Tech, California and Georgia, while Rodgers will contend with a host of challengers — including teammate Cameron Wilson — for individual medalist honors.
Then there’s the fact that they’ll be competing at venerable Prairie Dunes, the Perry Maxwell-designed masterpiece regarded as one of the world’s best courses.
The tournament begins Friday with teams playing 54 holes of stroke play to qualify for the eight-team championship playoff, which will be conducted in a match-play format. Those eight will be whittle down Tuesday to two teams playing for the title Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the individual title will be decided Monday after 72 holes of stroke play.
“I think it’s going to be a more exciting golf course for match play than it is stroke play, especially given that these kids all hit it so far,” said Lanny Wadkins, who played Prairie Dunes during the 2006 U.S. Senior Open. “I think that if a kid gets down early, he might want to take some chances, and we might see some exciting matches because of that.”
While a handful of schools are considered the front-runners, led by Alabama after its 22-stroke victory at regionals, there are some intriguing stories deeper in the field.
Houston, which has a record 16 team championships, has qualified for the first time in 13 years, while Iowa State is in the field for the first time since 1953.
“It’s pretty emotional and really special,” Iowa State coach Andrew Tank said. “It’s something as a team was our goal at the beginning of the season. We knew we could do it. But you never know how you react once you actually achieve your goal. It’s a great feeling.”
In the individual race, the Stanford duo of Rodgers and Wilson will be pushed by the Alabama trio of Robby Shelton, Cory Whitsett and Trey Mullinax. Shelton is ranked second to Rodgers in the latest Golfweek/Sagarin collegiate rankings.
“This is a special group that really likes to compete,” Crimson Tide coach Jay Seawell said last week. “They’re great players, obviously, but they have a special bond and chemistry and work so well together. That is really what makes them special.”
Other individuals to watch include Georgia Tech’s Ollie Schniederjans, Joey Garber and Lee McCoy of Georgia, and Wyndham Clark from Oklahoma State.
“All the teams have talent and the ones at the top are especially deep,” said Georgia coach Chris Haack, whose team will be seeking its third national title. “The player who claims medalist honors and the team that survives stroke play and match play definitely will have earned it. We’ve got a shot to be successful but we know we have to be at our best.”