Varsity Xtra: Central Catholic senior can shorten almost any golf course


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Brent Rodgers always goes deep. That's why when it comes to hitting golf balls, no one on the high school level resides in Mr. Rodgers neighborhood.

Rodgers is a senior on the Central Catholic golf team and is the defending WPIAL Class AAA champion. But it's not that championship that makes him stand out, and it's not the bright yellow shorts he wears as part of the Central Catholic uniform for matches. It's how far he hits the ball that makes him one of the most memorable high school golfers in the WPIAL the past few decades -- and ever.

It's not uncommon for Rodgers to hit a drive close to 400 yards in a match. A 5-foot-10, 230-pounder, Rodgers last year won the regional title in the open age division of the RE/MAX World Long Drive event to become the youngest ever to qualify for the World finals in Mesquite, Nev. He didn't go because it would've interfered with Central Catholic's PIAA playoff match.

Then this summer, Rodgers won the local qualifier for the RE/MAX championships. His winning drive? Try 429 yards. He hit five others more than 415 yards.

Rodgers, a Cranberry resident, is stocky with calves that look like the bottom of a bowling pin. Seeing is believing with his drives. That's if you can see his drives.

"He hits it from here to China," said Dede Rittman, who has coached North Allegheny's golf team since the 1970s.

In a recent match against North Allegheny at Edgewood Country Club, Rodgers used his driver on three holes and hit one bad shot with the driver. His average distance was still 324.7 yards. To put that in perspective, consider that Luke List, Nicholas Colsaerts, Dustin Johnson, Gary Woodland and Bubba Watson lead the PGA Tour in driving distance this year at an average of anywhere from 303 to 306 yards. Tiger Woods' average driving distance this year is 293 yards.

To give the layman golfer some perspective on Rodgers' power, the 18th hole at North Park Golf Course is a 402-yard par 4 where the green is not visible from the tees. Rodgers has driven the green before.

Hitting long drives runs in his family. His father, Dick, said he has been to the national long drive national finals 11 times and world finals 12 times.

But Brent Rodgers is more than a big hitter. Besides his WPIAL title last year, he also won the West Penn Junior title this summer. Rodgers won't be able to go after a second WPIAL crown, though. He had a bad day at the Section 3 championships Tuesday, shooting an 83 at Hiland Golf Course in Butler, failing to advance to next week's semifinals.

Central Catholic, though, still might qualify for the WPIAL team playoffs.

To give an idea of how far Rodgers hit shots, the Post-Gazette followed him in last Tuesday's match against North Allegheny at Edgewood:

NO. 1

368-yard par 4

Tee shot: 266 yards with 5 iron to the right side of the fairway. Placement is key on this opening hole with bunkers on the left side of the fairway and trees to the right.

Rest of hole: Rodgers hit a pitching wedge onto the green. He hit his first putt short and ended up three putting.

Score: 5

Rodgers: I hit an iron off tees just to be in play. I'm longer than everyone already, for the most part. I'd rather hit an iron 260 or 270 down the middle than hit a drive that maybe three out of five times is just in the fairway or is in the rough.

NO. 2

421-yard par 4

Tee shot: 338 yards with driver, just in the left rough before a sand trap. This was his second shot from the tee. He hooked his first shot out of bounds after being startled a little by a photographer who was snapping pictures in his backswing.

Rest of hole: After taking a penalty stroke, Rodgers' drive was at least 60 yards or so past any of the other players in the group. He hit a little chip to 15 feet from the pin and two-putted.

Score: 6 (total of 11)

Rodgers: If I don't hit a drive well, I'm usually just too quick with the thing, that's all. As soon as I hit one bad, I can usually fix it. My dad taught me if you do something wrong, know what you have to do to fix it.

NO. 3

159-yard par 3

Tee shot: Pitching wedge pin high just a yard off the green.

Rest of hole: Already three over par for the round, Rodgers came through and made the putt for a birdie.

Score: 2 (total of 13)

Rodgers:. Most people think I'm just a big hitter who just tries to hit it as hard as he can every time. But I don't want to be known as a kid who can just hit it a mile. I'd also like to be known for my short game. That's what I'm working toward.NO. 4

430-yard par 4

Tee shot: 258 yards with a 3 iron.

Rest of hole: Before he teed off, Rodgers looked at Central Catholic coach Corey O'Connor and asked, "Driver or 3 iron?" Rodgers went with a 3 iron and pulled his first shot near out of bounds markers on the right. He hit a provisional drive a little straighter, but he ended up finding his first shot.

Rodgers' first shot was about a yard from a fence that protected a back yard of a house. He was 172 yards away with a bad lie and an awkward stance. Standing against the fence, he didn't have a full swing, but he hit a pitching wedge 20 feet from the pin and two-putted for par.

Score: 4 (total of 17)

Rodgers: When I play in matches I use a Titleist 913 driver with a 7.5 [degree] loft. For the long driving competitions, I use whatever my dad has lying around. We have a variety of drivers. My dad and I build our own clubs.

NO. 5

164-yard par 3

Tee shot: Pitching wedge 7 feet from pin.

Rest of the hole: On an uphill hole, Rodgers hit an excellent tee shot just to the right of the pin. He sank the putt for his second birdie of the round.

Score: 2 (total of 19)

Rodgers: How far can I hit my pitching wedge? With my normal swing or if I go hard at it? My average swing, I probably hit it 165. If I go at it hard, probably around 185.

NO. 6

400-yard par 4

Tee shot: 253 yards with a 3 iron, over a sand trap but to the right of the fairway.

Rest of hole: Rodgers had a tree right in front of him for his second shot. He had 147 yards to the green but had to hit a low iron under the tree. He came up 12 yards short of the green. He then showed excellent touch with a chip to 8 feet from the hole. But he two-putted.

Score: 5 (total of 24)

Rodgers: It varies on how much I use my driver. It depends on the course. Like if we're playing at Edgewood, I might use my driver only two or three times a round, just because I'm just trying to put the ball in play with some tight holes. But we played Pheasant Ridge last Friday, so I might use driver a little more. If I'm playing well, I might have some fun and hit my driver more.

NO. 7

409-yard par 4

Tee shot: 355 yards with a driver

Rest of hole: Rodgers' tee shot was in the right rough but it was 86 yards past the nearest drive of 269 yards by North Allegheny's Martin Lazzaro. Rodgers then ran a nice low chip shot to 12 feet from the hole and two-putted.

Score: 4 (total of 28)

Rodgers: Where do I get my power? I really don't know that answer. I want to say it's mostly through the hips, the core and the legs. I think I have some power from playing baseball and having a baseball swing. I don't want to say it's just genetics. My dad was always a big guy so I think I do get some strength from him. My mom used to play racquetball and had really good hand-eye coordination so maybe I get that from her.

NO. 8

533-yard par 5

Tee shot: It was one of Rodgers' worst. He hit the ground behind the ball, but get this: It still traveled 281 yards.

Rest of hole: As the golfers were walking up the fairway, Lazzaro spotted his ball past Rodgers' and joked at a newspaper reporter. "Is it official? I outdrove Brent Rodgers," Lazzaro said.

"After he hit the ground behind the ball," the reporter said.

"That doesn't have to be part of the story," Lazzaro joked.

Rodgers hit his second shot into a sand trap just short of the green. He hit a tremendous sand shot to 3 feet, where he putted for a birdie.

Score: 4 (total of 32)

Rodgers: It's my goal to play in college, but I really haven't gotten myself ouf there with any of these recruiting organizations. Right now, my parents and I are contemplating me going to a national junior golf academy in Hilton Head next year, where I would take classes at the University of South Carolina two times a week and then get coached at the golf academy the rest of the time.

NO. 9

299-yard par 4

Tee shot: 200 yards with an 8 iron.

Rest of hole: This is a short par 4 where placement -- and not length -- is important on the tee shot. Rodgers pulled his 8 iron a little and got a bad bounce into fescue on a hill. He didn't have a clear path to the ball, so he took a penalty stroke, dropped the ball and hit a wedge to the fringe, 30 feet from the hole. As he walked to the green, his father stood near it and said to his son, "Don't ever hit an an iron on that hole again. Just hit a 3 wood onto the green."

Brent Rodgers two-putted for a bogey.

Score: 5 (total of 37)

Rodgers: The farthest I ever hit a ball is one time I hit one 448 or 450 yards. It was on No. 10 at Pittsburgh North. We were playing the back tees and I just went at it.

Lake Fong/Post-Gazette

mobilehome - golf - hsother

For more on high school sports, go to Varsity Blog at www.post-gazette.com/varsityblog. Mike White: mwhite@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1975 and Twitter @whiteburgh. First Published September 20, 2013 4:00 AM


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