By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Making the final eight of the prestigious San Francisco amateur is quite a season opener for Nick Rogers, and the returning Empire Golfer of the Year is playing to win.
After weekends of qualifying and match play, the Montgomery High junior returns today to Harding Park, a notoriously challenging course. While one of the lowest ranked players remaining, Rogers is playing smart and confident.
“I really just have been not making too many mistakes. I’ve been a lot more consistent,” Rogers said. “I’ve had some really good matches.”
Tested by a tough field, Rogers made the round of 32 advancing from some 150 golfers who played a pair of qualifying rounds. Then he defeated two University of California players in successive, tight match play pairings.
Rogers has advanced farther than his previous two turns in the San Francisco amateur. Adding a solid 15 yards on drives and a steadier short game, Rogers is playing scratch golf — a zero handicap.
“I’ve been putting more time into everything and it’s really shown,” he said.
Playing a strong stretch of golf in his first tournament since the fall Northern California juniors circuit may not surprise Rogers. Yet he is doing it in the nation’s oldest municipal event.
The San Francisco City Golf Championship began in 1917. Northern California’s top amateurs take on the short, hilly Lincoln Park course, and the typically windswept Harding layout.
Lined with often thick stands of tall trees, the courses place a premium on keeping balls in play. Rogers said he peers up at tree tops to gauge winds.
Since his first year in high school, Rogers has kick-started his season in the San Francisco amateur.
“It’s probably my favorite tournament. There’s always a really good field,” Rogers said.
In qualifying Rogers opened with a 77 on a cold, windy day at Harding. He followed with a 71 at Lincoln the next day. His combined score moved Rogers into the round of 32.
Last weekend, Rogers had a two-hole advantage with two holes remaining, but he couldn’t close out Andrew Morgan until the first playoff hole. Rogers saved his best for last.
Facing a chip shot to stay alive, Rogers knocked the ball in off the flag stick. Morgan missed a long putt and Rogers had the match.
“I knew it would be tough. I was just trying to tie,” Rogers said. “Luckily, it hit the center of the flag stick and just dropped right in.”
Morgan is a freshman on the University of California team, the top-ranked squad in NCAA Division I men’s golf. A teammate is Cal freshman Cameron Shaw — Rogers’ opponent in the round of 16.
In less dramatic fashion, Rogers won leading by two shots with a hole to play. He was never behind by more than a shot, minimizing mistakes against more seasoned players.
“I’m just playing really more consistent and giving myself more opportunities for birdies,” Rogers said.
Head-to-head play against top amateurs is fun for Rogers. Today’s match play features a youth movement. Most of the final eight are teenagers.
To stay sharp, Rogers practiced with the Montgomery team this week and helped lead the Vikings to a win in the North Bay League’s opening match.
Should he win again today, Rogers will play another 18 holes in the afternoon semifinals. Playing two rounds in a day is demanding, so Rogers is bringing a golf-playing friend to carry his bag of clubs.
“It really is a good test of my skills,” Rogers said. “Thankfully, I’m going to have a caddie.”
You can reach Staff Writer
Mike Coit at 526-5470 or email@example.com.