Monday qualifier Chris Naegel in early John Deere Classic contention
June 30, 2022
By Craig DeVrieze , PGATOUR.COM
- June 30, 2022
Chris Naegel makes birdie on No. 16 at John Deere
In the opening round of the 2022 John Deere Classic, Chris Naegel makes birdie on the par-3 16th hole.
SILVIS, Ill. — Chris Naegel describes himself as “just a guy playing golf here and there when I can.”
Which would make him … one-in-a-million?
Fourth-year PGA TOUR veteran and 2019 The American Express winner Adam Long has seen what separates Naegel from the many who dream of a career on TOUR and the rare few with game enough to crack the code.
“I haven’t played with him in a few years, but there was a time where he was one of the best players without status,” said Long, who came up in St. Louis golf a few years behind Naegel. “He’s consistent. Hits it far. He’s got good hands around the greens and can go low, which is key. You have to go low obviously to qualify for some of these events, but he can go low on courses like this and keep the pedal down. I don’t think he’s scared of the bright lights.”
Thursday morning, Naegel put his name in lights on scoreboards across TPC Deere Run, posting an opening-round, 5-under 66 at the John Deere Classic. After playing his way into the field through open qualifying on Monday, the 39-year-old Naegel will start the second round four shots back of leader J.T. Poston.
Three more go-low rounds could make the journeyman grinder one-in-six by joining the quintet of players who have won a tournament on the all-exempt PGA TOUR after earning a spot through open qualifying. The last of those was Corey Conners at the 2019 Valero Texas Open.
Naegel’s star-crossed career includes two years of full status on the Korn Ferry Tour, with a total of 73 Korn Ferry Tour starts and three top-10 finishes. He’s played in six PGA TOUR events, three of those at Deere Run. Twice, in 2018 and earlier this month at The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts, Naegel posted T56 finishes at the U.S. Open.
“Sure,” Naegel said when asked if his recent Open success was a confidence builder, “I was a little disappointed because I didn’t feel like I hit it that well, but I managed it well enough to play all four days.”
He did likewise in 2015 at Deere Run, finishing in a tie for 50th.
Even with a wife and three children reaching the ages where soccer and other youth sports fill the schedule, Naegel hasn’t yet reached the point of reconsidering his dream to play on TOUR.
“I don’t know if there is an end of the trail in golf,” he said. “You can play it forever. If I can play, I’ll keep playing. I mean, it works in our family, so I’ll keep playing.”
Long said Naegel’s occasional success speaks to how hard it is to reach the PGA TOUR.
“It’s hard to get out here and even harder to stay out here,” Long said. “He just keeps finding ways to hang on, and keep doing enough to prove that he can do it. He keeps doing enough to keep him hungry. He’s so close. Hopefully he can take advantage of this opportunity.”
Thursday, Naegel took advantage of an eagle chip-in at the par-5 10th hole, his first, added a birdie at the 13th, and made the turn at 6-under after making three straight birdies to conclude his first nine. His two-birdie, three-bogey closing nine holes were more of a battle but, all in all, a good start.
“I mean, it’s great,” he said of finding himself in early contention. “Obviously, playing pretty well, so just try to put one foot in front of the other and see what happens at the end of the week.”
Clearly, Naegel is beyond the millions who “play golf here and there.” Or even the many who have game enough to play professionally but lack that critical something else to succeed at the highest level, his friend Long said.
“The difference maybe is he’s done it, he’s seen it, he’s been there, he’s really, really tasted it,” Long said. “There are a lot of guys who can play well at their own club, but they get in tournament play and it doesn’t transfer. His game travels. That’s a big part of professional golf, being able to tee it up on different courses, different grasses, and different climates. Being able to perform when you need it.”