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Saturday, August 8, 2020

Cody Roth: A man of and fore the people

By Andrew McClain

Dolphins glide through water, eagles soar through the air and horses gallop majestically over rolling hills. Like those animals, senior co-captain of the Western men’s golf team Cody Roth is a creature in his element when he’s on the golf course.

“I’ve been golfing ever since I could walk,” Roth said as he limbered up to hit the practice greens.

It shows.

Every action is smooth and executed with confidence. There are no stutters in Roth’s movements, no hesitations derived from uncertainty. When he stops to make an adjustment to his swing or stance, it’s done with a kind of precision that indicates an innate understanding of the complex calculus of golf only born from countless hours of practice.

Roth said thanks to his parents, Craig and Jodi Roth, he began to rack up those hours early in life.

Roth’s father Craig played collegiate golf for Iowa State University, which is where he met Roth’s  mother, and the two fell in love. Eventually, Roth was born.

Roth photographed during his freshman year of high school on the school golf team. // Photo courtesy of Greg and Jodi Roth

Craig’s love of golf meant it wasn’t long before they had Roth out on the course. Jodi recalls their outings with a then two-year-old Roth in Houston, Texas with fondness.

“He couldn’t wait to get Cody on the golf course,” Jodi said with a laugh.

It didn’t take long for Roth to show promise as a young golfer. By age seven, Roth was acting as his father’s caddy in what Craig described as “big amateur tournaments.”

At age 13, Roth beat his father on the course for the first time, a bittersweet event that his mother laughs about because of the effect it had on Craig.

“Cody rushed in all excited and said, ‘Mom, I beat dad!’ When his dad walked in, I expected him to be just as excited, but he was so mad,” Jodi said, unable to contain her laughter. “He was mad for days!”

Craig endured the story in good natured silence. “I hate losing,” he said simply, but couldn’t hide the note of pride in his voice as he said it.

Despite those early successes in golf, Roth said his first love was actually hockey.

“I used to want to be an NHL player when I was growing up,” Roth said wistfully of his days playing the center and right wing position for the Whatcom Warriors.

His mother said the potential for injury in hockey is likely what drove him to choose golf as his main sport instead. There was one particular conversation that Craig and Jodi said probably steered him away from hockey for good.

They described a scene from when Roth was about 14 and they were driving home after he took a couple of big shots on the ice.

“He asked us, ‘Do you guys think I could really get hurt playing hockey?’” Jodi said.

After some sideways glances at one another, his parents said that they admitted it was a possibility, especially being a little undersized compared to his older competition.

“Do you think I could get hurt so bad I could never play golf again?” he pressed.

“Well, yeah,” Craig and Jodi said, trying to be sensitive, but needing to be honest with him too.

Jodi and Craig both admitted to breathing a sigh of relief when Roth said that he decided to stick with golf.

“He was so fearless [playing hockey] and he was really good,” Jodi said. “But he was small too and we just didn’t want to see him get hurt.”

Roth’s time on the ice certainly wasn’t wasted, though. In fact, Roth credits the natural right-to-left draw on his drives directly to his hockey days. He demonstrated a one-handed swing that emphasized the specific turning movement of the club head that gives his drive its distinctive leftward drift.

“It’s a lot of the same mechanics,” he said of his golf swing in reference to his old slap-shot form.

According to spectators like his parents and swing coach Craig Welty who watched Roth’s game evolve over the years, his drive was never his most dangerous weapon.

“Chipping and putting, now that’s my bread and butter,” Roth said. “It’s always been my strong point.”

Welty, a Western Hall of Fame golfer who has coached PGA pros, has been watching Roth’s progress since he was just a child. His assessment of Roth’s early playing was much the same and he credited Roth’s knack for the short game with being able to compete against the “big boys.”

Welty said the two first started working together when Roth was only 9 years old. They parted ways when Roth was about 14, but after what he characterized as a lackluster freshman college season, Roth said he chose to seek Welty out again to resume their training.

Welty acknowledged that Roth’s continued physical development throughout his collegiate career has definitely been a boon to his playing. Especially in relation to the amount of power he can get behind his swing. Roth credited the significant gains on his driving distances to generally getting bigger and stronger.

“My freshman year, I carried the ball about 240 yards, and now it’s about 260-270 yards,” he said. “But I have focused on trying to swing it harder as well, it definitely makes the game easier if you can hit it a little farther.”

Welty said his confidence in Roth’s abilities has only increased with the added strength behind his shots.

“Now that he’s on level playing ground [physically] with [the other athletes], there’s not really a weakness in his game,” Welty said. “He knows his swing and his abilities, and now it’s about putting it together for a score.”

That’s something Roth has done well this year, culminating in back-to-back Great Northwest Athletic Conference Golfer of the Week accolades to start the season.

Roth hitting a line drive down the fairway at Bellingham Golf and Country Club.
Roth hitting a line drive down the fairway at Bellingham Golf and Country Club. // Andrew McClain

Welty talked about the mental strength it takes to play through bad breaks and adversity, something he said he thinks Roth does well, and attributed his confidence in Roth’s mental toughness to some of his innately mature characteristics.

“He’s got adult qualities that a lot of college kids don’t have,” Welty said. It’s a sentiment Roth’s parents share, calling him “a bit of an old soul.”

Certainly not a grumpy soul, though. As Roth made his way through the golf course nearly everyone in sight gave him a wave or shout. He’d take a moment to smile and glad-hand, chiming in on conversations with club members he said he’s known since before he was old enough to drive a car.

“He’s got a love of the game and an infectious attitude,” Welty said about Roth’s popularity on the course. “And he’s really level headed. Attributes you’d want not just in a golfer, but in an employee or friend, too.”

However, that friendly exterior belies the heart of a fierce competitor, expressed by Roth’s aspirations for this season with Western. Riding on multiple top-10 finishes that have helped his team take first place in every tournament they’ve played, Roth was optimistic about the season.

“The goal isn’t to make it to nationals. The goal is to win nationals,” Roth said with confidence. “We feel like we’ve got what it takes as a team to win it this year.”

Roth said the bulk of his focus is on the present as he does his best to help put his team in contention to make some noise nationally, however he did admit to casting an eye to the future.

“Absolutely,” Roth said when asked if he’d thought about pursuing golf after his collegiate career has ended. “If I still love it, and I believe I can do it, I’ll go for it.”

Welty didn’t seem surprised by Roth’s decision to potentially continue golfing competitively, though he did have some words of wisdom.

“You have to have a love of the game if you want to want to play at the highest levels,” Welty said. “You have to love the competition, the failures and the adversity. You have to love it all.”

Roth’s father said he shows glimpses of that love already. As his self-proclaimed number one fans, Roth’s parents travel to every tournament they can. Craig described one scene in particular from Roth’s outing at the 2018 Concordia Invitational where Roth took ninth place with a 5-over-par final score. Despite Roth’s own disappointment at his performance, he still wholeheartedly supported his teammates, including fellow Viking Jordan Lee who took first place in the tournament.

“As he was walking back to us, I could see it in his eyes that he was a little disappointed with his performance,” Craig said. “But when he saw Jordan, his face lit up and he was all smiles. It choked me up a little bit.”

Craig knows firsthand the kind of teammate that Roth can be. The duo are three-time Washington State Golf Association Parent-Child Champions, having won the competition in 2012, 2016 and 2018.

The pair will continue their golf partnership as they’re already qualified for the 2019 US Amateur Four-Ball tournament. The new event will be holding its fourth annual competition on May 25-29.

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