Feb. 10, 2012
BY JOHN PAINTER
It's been nearly a year since Brandon Rodgers last walked a golf course in an official collegiate varsity tournament. And October 2010 was the last time the Knoxville native cracked the Tennessee lineup.
Both of those streaks are about to end.
"That's what everyone wants to do is contribute to the team," Rodgers said. "My confidence is up, so I'm definitely looking forward to the tournament out in California and the rest of the season."
Rodgers and the Vols tee it up Monday at the San Diego Intercollegiate, Presented by Lamkin Grips and TaylorMade Golf. The first of UT's five regular-season spring tournaments takes place at historic San Diego Country Club in Chula Vista, Calif.
Tennessee and the host school, San Diego State, join 13 other squads for the two-day, 54-hole event on the 7,033-yard layout (par 72) that opened in 1921. The Vols enter spring play ranked 45th nationally in the latest Golfweek/Sagarin ratings and 48th by Golfstat.com.
Playing for his hometown university, Rodgers was in the lineup for his very first college tournament back in fall 2010 and fared well — tying for 30th at the Carpet Capital Collegiate. Rodgers opened with an 80 but then posted consecutive 71s and tied for the second-best showing by a Vols golfer that weekend.
Two more turns in the lineup followed quickly, but his next best finish was a solo 74th at the Isleworth Collegiate Invitational in late October. Rodgers' last UT event came a year ago this month when he competed as an individual at the John Hayt Collegiate Invitational and tied for 78th.
Those 71s from the 2010 Carpet Capital remain his collegiate low score and are his only rounds under par in a Tennessee uniform. But Rodgers looks back at the initial sparks of success as a plus for his career development as a golfer.
"Something we've been talking about a lot among the guys and the coaches is failure, and how you come back from failure and how to get better," Rodgers said. "Basically, what I've learned is the early success was great, it was fun.
"But what's more gratifying is the struggles I've had last spring and earlier this fall — just to know that I've been working my butt off really to get back in the lineup, and I've been playing a lot better."
"It was one of those weeks where you couldn't miss any putts," Rodgers said. "I got lucky and played pretty well down there. Casey (VanDamme, Vols director of instruction) and I worked a lot in the off-season and it definitely showed down in Florida. My ball-striking was better, my whole game was better."
Rodgers credits VanDamme with completely turning around one part of his game that used to be a hindrance.
"Driving has definitely become a strength of my game," Rodgers said. "It used to be one of my biggest weaknesses, but along with the swing changes Casey and I have been working on, driving the ball has definitely become one of the strengths of my game.
"And putting has always been a big strength of my game."
And this time, Rodgers hopes his return to the lineup is for keeps.
"When we got back from Mexico, we had a good team meeting. How you come back from failure shows your true personality and we've all been working on that. I've definitely seen everyone out here working a lot harder than we were in the fall, so we're looking forward to the spring season."