Before striking his first golf club at 6 years old and forging a path to the PGA Tour, Patrick Rodgers became enamored with racing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
When he reaches into his golf bag today, his new putter appropriately bears the name “Indianapolis” with an art deco 1920s race car logo on the bottom of the flange.
The 24-year-old pro from Avon, Indiana, is the grandson of the late Jack Rodgers, a racing team partner with Tony Bettenhausen Jr. for about two decades through 1999. So Rodgers’ new Toulon Design high-MOI mallet, which incorporates racing technology, is more than just a putter. It’s a source of inspiration and pride.
(To learn the background of the Indianapolis putter's development, click here.)
And it works. His debut with “Indianapolis” resulted in a tie for fourth in January’s Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course South in San Diego. It’s the fourth time he’s finished in the top four in 53 starts since becoming a tour regular in 2015.
“I was like, ‘Wow, this is a perfect fit,’” Rodgers said in a phone interview after winning $252,590 at Torrey Pines. “I had never putted with a mallet, but I was open to trying it just because of the story and the way it was designed, based on racing technology. As proud as I’ve always been to be from Indianapolis, there’s not many of us on tour, I knew that it was something I wanted to try.
“(Designer Sean Toulon) gave me the final prototype a week before Torrey Pines and I tested it on some of the putting technology to see how my stroke was with it, and it improved, so I gave it a real strong try and liked it a lot and put it in the bag. Just performance-wise, it was a really good switch for me. It made my stroke better, the face was more stable, I was able to start more putts on line and hopefully it will lead to a lot more made putts in big moments.”
Toulon, who with sons Tony and Joe founded the Toulon Design company purchased by Callaway Golf last year, has been intrigued by how race teams perfected cars with weight balance and downforce material. He consulted with Chip Ganassi Racing engineers in recent years to develop a better understanding of how those principles could be applied to club design.
Rodgers had started out with Nike equipment, but when that company ceased its club production last year, he signed with Callaway Golf. That brought Toulon and Rodgers together. Toulon, now senior vice president at Callaway Golf and general manager of Odyssey Golf, had no idea of Rodgers’ passionate connection to racing.
“He’s just a very well-mannered, intelligent, reserved guy,” Toulon said of Rodgers, “but when he turned the putter over, I could tell it meant a lot.”
As long as he can remember, Rodgers recalls joining his grandfather, “Papa Jack,” and family for trips to Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“I know I went out there almost every year from the age of 2,” said Rodgers, competing this weekend in the Genesis Open at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, California. “My first memory was going to practice when I was maybe 3 or 4, maybe it’s a little clearer because I’ve seen pictures. I just remember the whole month of May, being out at the track with my grandpa, whether it was hanging out back in the garage or going up to the suite and sitting and watching the cars go around.
“I just thought that was what every kid got to do. It was definitely a spoiled upbringing, but it made me have a great appreciation for racing and for sure the month of May and Indianapolis.”
Because of his grandfather’s integral involvement with Bettenhausen Motorsports, Rodgers met team members and drivers. One particular memory that stands out came at a family cookout in 2000, when Rodgers played a racing video game against driver Michel Jourdain Jr.
“I was driving as him,” Rodgers said of Jourdain. “I remember racing against him on the computer game, thinking that was so cool. I just thought that’s what every kid got to do.”
Rodgers was close to Jack, who often took his oldest grandchild to school. When Jack died in 2002, Rodgers played the piano at his grandfather’s funeral.
“My dad was just a big sports fan,” said Rodgers’ father, Charlie, 52. “I think my son’s first recollection of my dad was him watching sports on TV.
“My son knew all the drivers. His favorite driver was always whomever drove for Bettenhausen Motorsports.”
Rodgers’ parents, Charlie and Judy, have lived in Avon for 27 years. Since 1969, the only time Charlie has missed the Indianapolis 500 was in 2014, when Patrick was competing in the NCAA Tournament in Hutchinson, Kansas. That day’s round was delayed by rain, so father and son watched the Indy 500 in a hotel room.
“It’s been a part of our history,” Charlie said. “Patrick still has fond memories of my dad. The legacy he passed on still lives pretty large today.”
Each May, Patrick keeps Memorial Day weekend open from a tour commitment so he can attend the Indy 500. It’s tradition.
“I’ve always been really proud to be from Indianapolis,” Patrick said. “Every time I’m announced on the first tee, I’m announced from Avon, Indiana, and that will never change. I’m very honored to represent the Hoosier state and to have this little tidbit (the putter) to make that representation a little closer is really cool.”