San Diego — Former Buick Open champion Phil Rodgers, a five-time winner on the PGA Tour who became one of golf’s top instructors, died after a long battle with leukemia. He was 80.
Rodgers died Tuesday morning at his home near San Diego.
Rodgers developed into one of top young players in the 1950s under Paul Runyan at La Jolla Country Club, winning an NCAA title at Houston. He won the 1962 Los Angeles Open for his first PGA Tour title, closing with a 62 for a nine-shot victory.
That also was the pro debut of Jack Nicklaus. They were rivals and friends, and Nicklaus later leaned on Rodgers for help with his short game. Nicklaus gave Rodgers credit for his U.S. Open and PGA Championship victories in 1980.
“We lost one of golf’s greats, one of its most colorful individuals, and one of my dearest friends in Phil Rodgers,” Nicklaus said in an Instagram post.
Rodgers won all five of his PGA Tour events in his 20s, and that included two close calls in the majors. He was at 2-under par with six holes to play in the 1962 U.S. Open at Oakmont and made three bogeys to finish two shots out of a playoff, which Nicklaus won over Arnold Palmer.
A year later, Rodgers lost in a playoff to Bob Charles in the 1963 British Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.
His final victory on the PGA Tour was the 1966 Buick Open in Grand Blanc. He finished 4 under, for a two-stroke victory over Johnny Pott and Kermit Zarley
Rodgers played his last full season in 1977, and then became an instructor and was listed annually in golf magazines as among the best in the country. Nicklaus recalled how Rodgers got his game back on track.
“At the end of 1979, my game – particularly my short game – was awful,” Nicklaus said. “I called Phil and we worked together in Los Angeles at the start of 1980. He taught me his famous “Figure 8” method and I went on to win two majors that year, thanks to Phil.”
Nicklaus said he last saw Rodgers at a PGA Tour Champions event in Houston this spring.
“He was struggling greatly, but it meant the world to me to see him, even if it was briefly,” Nicklaus said. “I will miss him dearly, just as the game will miss this very special man.”