Houston Mourns Passing of Phil Rodgers

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Phil Rodgers, who captured the second NCAA individual championship in Houston Men’s Golf history and finished second in the 1963 The Open Championship, passed away Tuesday following a lengthy battle with leukemia. He was 80 years old.

Rodgers, who hailed from San Diego, joined the Cougars under legendary Head Coach Dave Williams for only one year during the 1957-58 season. He posted a score of 215 to earn 1958 Missouri Valley Conference Championship medalist honors at Wichita County Club in Wichita, Kan., and continued that success at the nation’s elite collegiate event.

With a score of 139 at Taconic Golf Club in Williamstown, Mass., he helped lead the Cougars to the NCAA team championship and joined Rex Baxter as the first two NCAA individual national champions in program history.

For his impressive performance, he was named to the 1958 All-America First Team, the first such honor in program history.

“Phil was a special man. His accomplishments as a player and as a coach are remarkable,” Director of Golf Jonathan Dismuke said. “I am very grateful for the time I was able to spend with Phil and so appreciative of his willingness to share his experiences with me. I will miss him greatly.”

After his collegiate career, he served for two years in the Marines before beginning his professional career. He won five times on the PGA Tour and earned Top-7 finishes at each of the major championships. In 1963, he lost to Bob Charles in a 36-hole playoff at The Open Championship for the best finish of his career in a major event.

Following a stint on the Senior PGA Tour, Rodgers became a respected teacher of golf, specializing in the short game. In 1980, golf great Jack Nicklaus won the U.S. Open at the age of 40 and credited Rodgers’ instruction on wedge play as a major reason for his success.

In 2016, Rodgers received the Athletics Department’s highest honor when he was named to the Hall of Honor. He became the 14th Houston Men’s Golfer to earn that accolade.

Rodgers is survived by his wife of 33 years, Karen.

He got suspended from the Southern California Junior Golf Association for taking $39 from another kid in a junior tournament, but mostly he played big-money games. I remember him telling me about winning $8,000 in one match with Dr. John Moler, later the president of Aldila. “Doc was about a 5-handicap. He shot 71, and I shot 65 to beat him by one. I honestly can’t remember ever losing a match for big money,” Rodgers said. “I’d go around telling everybody how great I was. They’d get so mad they couldn’t get out of their own way. That’s how I won the NCAA [in 1958]. I threw my money clip down on the first tee and said, ‘You guys can’t beat me. Nobody can.’ ”

The strategy continued to work at the University of Houston and then in the Marines, where he won nearly every college and military tournament he entered until the 1960 U.S. Amateur—his first head-to-head match against Nicklaus.

Jack was the defending champion, but Rodgers bragged all week that he couldn’t wait to play him, that he would “bury Nicklaus.” When they met in the third round, Rodgers was one under par through 13 holes and out of the tournament. Nicklaus was seven under. “It was my first experience at being humbled,” said Rodgers. Jack later admitted that he spent all his energies on Phil and lost his next match, 5 and 3.