Quick look at the John Deere Classic
July 11, 2018
By Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM
Bryson DeChambeau charges down the stretch to win at John Deere
Bryson DeChambeau was one of about 50 players – amateurs and pros -- sending letters to the John Deere Classic office in hopes of seeking a sponsor’s exemption back in 2015. Then a junior at SMU, DeChambeau continued the correspondence with emails to tournament director Clair Peterson, who was so impressed by the writing that he re-read the emails out loud during board meetings.
“So well-thought out, so respectful, thoroughly explained what his round was like that day or what the tournament was like, explain the kinds of things he was going to need to work on to get better,” Peterson said. “Oh, by the way, I would really appreciate a spot in the John Deere Classic. It would mean that much to me. And it was so sincere.”
After DeChambeau won the individual NCAA Championship in early June, it was fairly evident that the tournament would extend the invite. “You still don’t know,” DeChambeau recalled. “I mean, there’s definitely other options that people can make.”
But once he got the call …
“It meant the world to me,” DeChambeau said. “It meant everything to me because this is where I wanted to be. I wanted to be out here.”
Two years later, DeChambeau rewarded the faith that Peterson and the John Deere team had in him, winning his first PGA TOUR title.
It’s not an uncommon occurrence for former sponsor’s exemptions to win at TPC Deere Run. Zach Johnson (2002-03) and Jordan Spieth (2012) are, like DeChambeau, former invites turned John Deere champions. Johnson won in 2012 and currently has a streak of 37 consecutive rounds of par or better. Spieth won the John Deere in 2013 and 2015.
“I love coming back to a tournament that means so much to me, a tournament that gave me some nice fresh starts when I didn't necessarily earn them,” said Johnson, who is now part of the tournament board. “I had sponsor exemptions and wasn't on TOUR yet, so now being, you know, a small piece of the puzzle here with the tournament staff, with Clair and his people, it's special.”
The tournament has a knack for identifying young players who go on to big things, such as Matt Kuchar (2001), Jason Day (2008 in his pro debut), Webb Simpson (2008), Patrick Reed (2012, same year as Spieth), Justin Thomas (2013), DeChambeau and Joh Rahm (2016). That same year as Rahm, Aaron Wise also received an invite; this season, he’s a leading Rookie of the Year contender after winning the AT&T Byron Nelson in May.
“We think we've got a pretty good track record over the years of introducing our fans to young athletes that they are going to enjoy watching now, and hopefully enjoy watching accomplish great things over the course of their careers,” Peterson told the Quad Cities Times newspaper.
“I think they represent what we try to do, and do historically, to develop relationships with players we feel are really good people and will represent us well. They are athletes of significance. You look at what some of them have accomplished already and had success on TOUR and will be there for a long time. We hope the long-term relationships bring them back to the John Deere Classic often.”
Among this year’s sponsor’s invites are Doug Ghim, Nick Hardy, Dylan Meyer and Norman Xiong, each of whom recently turned pro.
“Incredibly special,” said Ghim, who grew up in the Chicago area. “It’s a blessing to be able to have these opportunities on the PGA TOUR, the grandest stage. And to have it so early in my career close to home means a lot to me.”
Broc Everett, meanwhile, is making his TOUR debut this week just weeks after taking NCAA individual medalist honors for Augusta University. It didn’t take long for Peterson to offer him a spot in the field.
“I didn't even realize it would be on the table that quickly, but he reached out really quickly and I'm really thankful he got me into the event so fast,” said Everett, an Iowa native who’ll play in front of his home fans. “I think I was the last sponsor's exemption. So it's very really cool.”
The young players are realistic about their chances this week; Ghim and Hardy both said they are just hoping to get into a contending position on the weekend. Just one player has won the year of his sponsor’s invite at TPC Deere Run – David Gossett in 2001.
But as Johnson, Spieth and DeChambeau have shown, getting an early look and feel for the course can pay dividends in future years. DeChambeau is reminded of it at his home when he sees the distinctive John Deere Classic trophy.
“Right in my room on my mantel,” DeChambeau said. “I wake up every morning and I see it right in front of me.”
THREE PLAYERS TO PONDER
If he has another PGA TOUR win in him, you’ve got to figure it’ll be at TPC Deere Run, where he’s won three times.
His game is trending up, and he’s always steady in his “fifth” major.
Ranks sixth in the FedExCup standings – doubt it’s all because of the compass.
The 476-yard par-4 18th has been one of the more difficult closing holes on the PGA TOUR in recent years. It ranked as the eighth hardest last season, playing to a stroke average of 4.197, and was inside the toughest top 20 the previous three years. “It is a hard hole,” said Steve Stricker. “It's an awkward tee ball. You know, if you hit it through the fairway on the left you're in that bunker. If you try to cut the corner a little bit you can hit those overhanging oak trees on the corner and the ball knocks down to some thick rough.” Here’s a flyover of the hole.
TPC Deere Run - Hole No. 18
The par-4 14th is short enough to tempt players to try driving the green; in fact, when the tee box was moved up last year in the third round to 313 yards, nearly 85 percent of the field that day tried to drive the green. It was the easiest hole on the back nine a year ago, playing to a stroke average of 3.602. Here’s a look at where all tee shots landed in 2017.
From PGA TOUR meteorologist Brad Nelson: “Hot and humid conditions will build across the Quad Cities area through the week, with high temperatures heating up into the lower 90s Thursday and Friday. The weather becomes more active later in the week. Isolated thunderstorms will be possible on Friday, but currently thinking most of this activity holds off until Friday night. Scattered thunderstorms will be possible over the weekend as a frontal boundary drops south and stalls near the area. Winds pick up to 10-16 mph for the first round on Thursday, dropping Friday and Saturday, and increase again by Sunday.”
For the latest weather news from Silvis, Illinois, check out PGATOUR.COM’s Weather Hub.
SOUND CHECKHumbled beyond words.It's a work in progress.
BY THE NUMBERS
31,847 – Total birdies made at TPC Deere Run from 2000-17. That’s the most of any course on the PGA TOUR in that span.
4,084 – Total birdies made at the par-5 second hole, the most of any hole on the course in that same span.
27 – Birdies made by Wesley Bryan in 2017, most of any player in the field that week.
Steve Stricker, a former University of Illinois standout, on Nick Hardy and Dylan Meyer, two recent Illini stars-turned-pro who are also in the field this week: “Two different games, two different personalities, but both very good players.”
After winning his first TOUR event at the Quicken Loans National two weeks ago, Francesco Molinari returned to his London home because it was his son’s final week of the school year. He spent the rest of the week relaxing before returning to the U.S. to prepare for his first John Deere start. He’ll return to the UK for next week’s Open Championship – and given his current form, you can’t discount his chances. “I feel this time of the season obviously we play a lot,” Molinari said. “There is not a need to do a lot of work. It's more about the quality of what you do. I feel prepared and ready to go this week.”
Joaquin Niemann is making his first start since sealing his TOUR membership for next season with a T-5 finish on Sunday at the Greenbrier. “I think I still haven't figured out what I have done,” said the 19-year-old from Chile. “But, yeah, I mean, it's like a dream come true being out here playing on the PGA TOUR. It's a dream.”