BEMENT — Small school. Big dreams. Big stage.
Zach Rogers will experience all of that this weekend at the Class 1A boys’ golf state tournament. Bement High School boasts just 100 students, but the Piatt County school will have Rogers representing the Bulldogs today and Saturday at Bloomington’s Prairie Vista Golf Course, where 111 other golfers will tee off.
And without the Rogers’ family, well, Bement doesn’t have a golf team.
The entire Bulldogs outfit consists of Zach and his twin brother, Luke, both juniors at Bement. The team’s coach? It’s their dad, Kraig. The 52-year-old elder Rogers is why his sons first became interested in the sport.
Kraig vied for spots in various events associated with the Nike Tour, now known as the Korn Ferry Tour and seen as a sort of PGA developmental stage.
Kraig’s brother, Kurt, played on the Nike Tour and its predecessor, the Ben Hogan Tour. Kurt commonly goes by “Turtle” because of his deliberate pace of play on the links.
Zach was gripping a club by age 3 or 4 as a result.
“When they were little, we were at the golf course hitting balls on the range,” Kraig said. “Hickory Point (Golf Course) has a little six-hole course for kids in Forsyth. ... It was just a case where I would go practice a lot of nights, and I would just take them with me.”
Even with highly capable influences surrounding him, Zach “wasn’t all about” the sport from the outset.
That changed between sixth and seventh grade, when he suffered lower-body injuries playing travel baseball. A full-time shift to golf soon followed.
“I guess I just sort of fell in love with it,” Zach said, “just started to practice a bunch (and) got pretty good pretty fast.”
Kraig said he really started to see Zach’s golf passion shine through just before Zach entered high school, when he was “pretty much all day long” spending time at Decatur’s Red Tail Run Golf Course — sometimes staying as late as 9:30 p.m.
With course ties to Decatur and Forsyth, though, how did Zach and Luke wind up competing under the Bement High banner?
Kraig is a longtime P.E. and drivers’ ed teacher at the school, resulting in the ability to acquire a waiver to get his children into Bement even though they live closer to Decatur schools.
It’s a 40-minute drive, in fact, from the Rogers house to where Kraig works and his sons attend classes.
With that settled, Zach said, “it was kind of a given” he and his brother would golf as Bulldogs — even if there was no active team.
“It got to a point where we didn’t have numbers, and we just kind of ended the program,” said Kraig, who has worked at Bement more than 20 years. Superintendent Sheila Greenwood said, “They can be the golf team, and you can take them.”
Kraig arranges tournament scheduling and travel, and the Rogers family treks across the state decked out in Bement purple and white.
“We never take any bus or anything,” Zach said. “It’s really stressful, actually. I’m always running late for stuff. It kind of stresses them out. ... But I don’t think I’d trade it for anything.”
Especially if the experience leads to some state hardware.
Zach, a state qualifier last year as well, spent Thursday relearning Prairie Vista’s ins and outs ahead of today’s 10:18 a.m. tee time. He tied for 29th at last year’s state tournament, shortened to a single round because of poor weather.
He advanced this year by notching a share of second place in the 1A El Paso-Gridley Sectional this past Monday, producing a 5-over-par 76.
Zach isn’t pulling any punches on what he believes he can accomplish this weekend.
“I think I can win, honestly speaking,” he said. “My game’s finally starting to come back, so I think I could totally win.”
Regardless of what score he cards at Prairie Vista, Zach knows his family will have his back.
“I like it because it feels like I did something big, and I did something kind of cool,” Zach said. “It’s nice to show that people support me.”
There’s also the fact that neither Kraig nor Kurt ever won a high school state golf tournament. Zach admits he wouldn’t mind talking some smack if he can get one up on his family.
“That would be such a great accomplishment,” Kraig said. “I would be on cloud nine.”