Central Catholic junior Brent Rodgers won the WPIAL Class AAA individual golf title Oct. 3, but he was in danger of not even competing in the tournament.
Rodgers shot a nine on his first hole of the Section 3-AAA tournament after he hit two drives out of bounds to the right.
At that point, Rodgers, a Cranberry resident, could only afford to be a few strokes over par the rest of the round if he wanted to advance to the WPIAL semifinals.
"I was just thinking if I could get one or two birdies, I'd be fine," Rodgers said. "The course wasn't the toughest and played the way I wanted it to."
Rodgers was able to recover for a 7-over 79, finishing in a tie for fifth at sectionals at Pheasant Ridge Golf Course in Middlesex and qualifying for the WPIAL semifinals.
Rodgers didn't have that one bad hole in the semifinals at the par-70 Cranberry Highlands course, but the final results were basically the same. He shot an 8-over 78 and finished in eighth place, good enough to qualify for the WPIAL finals.
After surviving the first two rounds of the postseason, Rodgers left no doubt at WPIALs that he would qualify for the PIAA regionals.
Rodgers shot an even-par 70 at the Fox Chapel Golf Club, beating Indiana's Matt Holuta by one shot to win the WPIAL Class AAA title.
"It was a thrill for me," Rodgers said.
The course and wet conditions set up well for Rodgers, who could already drive it more than 300 yards as a freshman. He can drive it so far off the tee that he was able to hit wedges to the greens when his opponents were hitting longer irons.
"The course played great to his game," Cental Catholic coach Corey O'Connor said. "The wetter surface helped, especially with how far he can carry the ball. He was able to fly the ball past the trouble.
"His length also helps on narrow fairways. He can hit a 7-iron off the tee when everyone else is hitting a 4-iron. And obviously it's easier to hit a 7-iron than a 4-iron."
Although his length is his main asset, it's the improvement in the rest of his game that has elevated his play to WPIAL championship level. He showed off his improved short game at the WPIAL tournament when he saved par with a chip-in on No. 13.
"The rest of my game has developed 10 times since my freshman year," Rodgers said. "My short game is so much better. I can get up-and-down well. I also feel like I now put myself in better positions to get birdies."
Rodgers will head to the PIAA West Regional Monday at Tom's Run Golf Course at Chesnut Ridge Golf Resort in Blairsville. He had never played the course before playing a few practice rounds this week, but O'Connor said the course will play to his strength.
Rodgers said he just wants to play well, and knows to do that he will have to be accurate with his drives and approach shots. His length off the tees -- he has hit drives far past the 300-yard mark throughout this season -- can be intimidating to other competitors.
"I'll be successful if I'm hitting fairways and greens," Rodgers said. "I'm comfortable with my putting right now.
"I need to put the ball in spots that give me a chance to make birdies."