Quinn Riley realizing a lifelong dream at John Deere Classic
June 28, 2022
By Helen Ross , PGATOUR.COM
Quinn Riley prepares for PGA TOUR debut at John Deere
Granted, it was fun giving his good buddy Zion Williamson a golf lesson.
But posting up on the practice range with the 6-foot-6, 284-pound power forward – as cool as it was to watch the big man try to hit that little white ball – can’t compare with what Quinn Riley is doing this week.
Just like Williamson did when he was drafted by the New Orleans Pelicans, Riley is realizing a lifelong dream by making his PGA TOUR debut at the John Deere Classic.
The recent Duke graduate was playing in the NCAA regional just last month in Columbus, Ohio when he got the call. Clair Peterson, the tournament director at the John Deere Classic, wanted to offer him a sponsor’s exemption.
Riley hung up the phone and leaned back in his chair, trying to digest the moment.
“I was like, holy (cow),” the 22-year-old recalls.
Fast forward – we do mean fast – a mere six weeks and Riley is at TPC Deere Run getting ready for his 2 p.m. tee time with Austin Smotherman and Andrew Novak on Thursday. He played in a Korn Ferry Tour event, too, his hometown Rex Hospital Open in Raleigh, North Carolina, earlier this month and came within a shot of making the weekend.
“It’s something that I've been working for and dreaming about and having opportunities like the Rex Hospital Open and then the John Deere make kind of doing that even more special,” Riley says. “Because it's like you're playing in those venues and those giant tournaments that you only dream of and kind of see on TV. It's pretty awesome.”
Riley had targeted the John Deere Classic because of its history of giving young golfers a chance to experience competition on the game’s biggest stage. The letter he wrote to Peterson asking for the invitation detailed his growth as a First Tee golfer to playing at the Division I level, as well as his desire to be a role model for young people like his little brother, Morgan.
“I've just seen a lot of young guys kind of make their PGA TOUR debut there,” Riley says. “And it's something that kind of resonates with me. Like I just growing up watching Jordan Speith, Jason Day and a couple other guys kind of just kick things off there.
“It made it kind of like my first choice.”
Riley gained the exemption into the Rex Hospital Open – which he first attended as an 11-year-old – by virtue of finishing No. 1 in the APGA Collegiate Rankings. He is exempt into the APGA Tour’s Farmers Insurance Invitational at Torrey Pines next year, as well.
In addition, Riley and the others in the top five in the rankings receive entry into all of the APGA’s full-field events through May 2023. His travel costs to APGA events through the end of this year are also covered, as is his entry into the Korn Ferry Tour Qualifying Tournament.
“The opportunities the APGA and this program presents are huge for the next step of my golf career,” Riley said earlier this year.
PGA TOUR – The CUT
Get to know: Quinn Riley
Riley paved the way for those opportunities with a solid senior season at Duke. He delighted family and friends when he won for the first time at the Stitch Intercollegiate, played on the Lonnie Poole Golf Course at N.C. State where Riley takes lessons from Chase Duncan. His scoring average for the season was 72.38.
A heartbreaking finish at the Rex Hospital Open gave way to a dose of perspective for Riley. He was inside the cut line by two strokes when he played his second to last hole on Friday only to make triple bogey and miss playing the weekend by a shot.
“I learned that I can compete on the Korn Ferry Tour,” Riley says. “… I learned how to deal with just the heartbreak and knowing that there's going to be more rounds of golf after that and how to kind of move forward and find the positives.
“But from that moment, I kind of learned that you can always slow down during a high-pressure situation. You can always slow it down more than you think … and think through things a little bit more.”
Riley was born in Minneapolis, but moved to Raleigh “before I could walk,” he says. His parents divorced when he was 10, and Riley became more than just an older brother to Morgan, who was 3 at the time and is now an accomplished golfer in his own right.
“I guess that was something that spurred a little bit of having to grow up earlier,” Riley says. “I was just always trying to be a good example for my little brother and kind of help … raise him and keep track of him and babysit him and stuff -- kind of just holding that on my shoulders all the way through until now.”
Riley played golf for the first time with his uncle when they were overseas on a business trip with his mother. He liked the fact that he could play the game with an older figure in his life. On one of those trips, the three even visited St. Andrews.
“When got back from those trips, I would go and hit balls at a driving range just for fun, like every so often,” Riley says. “And then it kind of turned into a habit and a hobby and eventually kind of an obsession.”
Riley soon found his way to First Tee -- Triangle where he got his first informal golf instruction. He developed a peer group of other golfers and gained self-confidence, as well as learned to be polite and how to treat others with respect.
“I think that did a lot for just developing me as a young man,” he says.
Interestingly, Riley is one of five players playing in the John Deere Classic with First Tee ties, including Smotherman, who is in his group for the first two rounds. Smotherman met with John Deere Power for Good contest winners on Tuesday while fellow First Tee Greater Sacramento alum Cameron Champ hosted a clinic on Wednesday. In addition, Patrick Flavin and Nick Hardy, ambassadors for First Tee-Greater Chicago, are donating money to that chapter for the birdies and eagles they make.
In 2015, Riley was selected to play in what is now called the Pure Insurance Championship, where he teamed with Corey Pavin, on PGA TOUR Champions. The experience, which pairs First Tee golfers with Champions Tour pros at Pebble Beach and Spyglass Hill, proved pivotal.
“It was awesome,” Riley says. “I still remember it -- just my takeaway from it was like, these are the greats of the game, but I was able to play with them and kind of hang with them. So, I think that gave me a lot of confidence moving forward with golf, just knowing that's where I want to be. That's the kind of experiences that I want to have. I want to compete on these really awesome golf courses.
“So that kind of drove me to take golf more seriously.”
So seriously, he’s playing on the PGA TOUR this week – and working hard to get there on a full-time basis in the future.