Written by: Kate Reilly
Carnegie Mellon University sophomore Jason Li and head men's and women's golf coach Dan Rodgers both competed in the 114th West Penn Open during July of 2018 at the distinguished Oakmont Country Club. The tournament which hosts both amateur and professional golfers allowed Li the unique opportunity to play in the same tournament as his coach. Li and Rodgers' experience as competitors on the notoriously challenging course launched their successful fall season as both coach and as player.
Rodgers often competes against his players regularly both in tournament level competition and practice. "I think it's important for me to compete against my players, it helps me be relevant to them," said Rodgers who has been coaching the Tartans since 2014 as an assistant coach prior to taking over as the head coach in 2016. Rodgers added, "They understand that I can play the game at a higher level and it's important to understand those feelings in golf. They understand that my coaching advice comes from a competitor's lens."
Going into the final day of the tournament, Li was leading Rodgers by five strokes. In the final round, Rodgers went one-under par to finish sixth overall and second among the professional field with a 54-hole score of 218 (75-74-69), while Li ended the open 19th overall and 12th in the amateur field after carding a 223 (74-70-79). "I was disappointed with the result as I'd played well prior to the final day, but it was just really good to get that experience playing with a high level of competition," said Li. "It was calming to have familiar faces around," said Li of Rodgers and teammate, sophomore Ben Huber, who carried Li's bag. "I was able to get feedback from them about the previous day during the tournament which was definitely helpful."
"Jason had a really good freshman year and was ranked in the top 20 for most of the year. After a strong fall season, we hit a wall as a team and slipped in the rankings," said Rodgers. Li is now ranked 12th individually in the Division III national rankings, while the team is ranked 14th going into the spring season. "The team has more of a hunger to make nationals following last year drop off," said Rodgers. The fall season created momentum as the team prepares for the spring with both the men's and women's teams contending to qualify for the national tournament.
Li's competitive summer training and fall play have set him up well for this coming spring. In addition to preparing for the golf season, Li interned full-time as a UI/UX designer at Travelwits located in the Shadyside area of Pittsburgh this past summer. Li was able to balance a demanding internship schedule along with the week-long West Penn Open. "The tournament was a good way to stay in touch with my coach and ensure him and myself that I was prepared for the fall season," said Li. "While Coach takes notes for the team to prepare us for tournaments, seeing how he used his own notes at the West Penn Open was extremely helpful. His advice now is even more valuable because I have a better understanding of the advice he's giving."
The team will begin their 2019 spring season with the University Athletic Association (UAA) Championships on March 9 in Palm Coast, Florida. "I'm pretty excited to get back out there and play again. This fall season, similar to my freshman fall, created momentum going into the spring that I want to capture this year. I'd like to play even better and get the bid to nationals," said Li.
Following the UAA Championships, the Tartans will play at the Jekyll Island Invitational, Wynlakes Intercollegiate, The Hershey Cup and at the Strimer Memorial. All of these tournaments will have a high impact on working to secure a bid to the NCAA tournament in May.