TODAY I WAS WATCHING highlights of the 1982 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, that Tom Watson caper where he stole Jack Nicklaus’s fifth Open title. Poor Jack. Tom had his number.
Anyway, I saw a name on a caddie bib flash across the screen: B. ROGERS. B. Rogers. Anybody remember Bill Rogers? You would have to be a certain age, or a student of golf history.
Bill Rogers played with Watson that Sunday at Pebble in 1982. In fact, Rogers led on the final day before falling into a tie for third. No one would have been shocked had he won, for Bill Rogers was the reigning British Open champion. He captured the title at Royal St. George’s at the age of 29. He went on to win four titles in 1981 and was awarded player of the year honors. And he was a member of the 1981 U.S. Ryder Cup team that trounced the Europeans 18½ to 9½, the most lopsided defeat in Cup history.
Everyone expected more big things from Rogers. From 1979 to 1982, he had three near misses at the U.S. Open: a second, a third and a fourth. He won the 1982 PGA Grand Slam of Golf. Then it was over. Beginning in 1983, he slowly vanished. After only making three cuts and winning a scant $5,000, 36-year-old Bill Rogers left the tour in 1988.
Burnout preceded a loss of confidence. Rogers lost his desire. According to Lanny Wadkins, Rogers never liked the rigors of tour travel and missed his family back home in Texas. His rise in the golf world was steep and relatively fast. So was his fall.
“Starting in ’86,” Rogers told The Independent in 1993, “I hardly ever played a round of golf that I didn’t wish I was doing something else. That’s a miserable existence.”
Rogers took a job as director of golf at San Antonio Country Club. “Selling sweaters and giving lessons,” as The Independent called it, suited the former golf star. Rogers was content again. Since turning 50 in 2001, he has played in more than 50 events on the Champions Tour. He never regretted his decision to leave the tour, telling Art Stricklin, “I don’t think I was ever meant to be a lifer on the PGA Tour. I think I outsmarted the system by leaving when I did.”
−The Armchair Golfer