By Dave Shedloski
This year marks the 20th anniversary of John Deere’s sponsorship of the PGA TOUR stop in Silvis, Illinois, in what is known as the Quad Cities area, and for the 19th time, the John Deere Classic will be contested on the popular and player-friendly TPC Deere Run.
John Deere now owns the third-longest title sponsorship arrangement on the TOUR, and in 2016, the John Deere Classic was named the PGA TOUR Tournament of the Year. It also received awards for Most Engaged Community and Best Social Media Activation. All that support has helped raise more than $80 million for charity. It has made a huge impact.
It also has made players happy. Birdies tend to fly around TPC Deere Run. Since 2000, no course has given up more birdies than the par-71 layout measuring 7,268 yards. And in 2010, when conditions were favorable and he was dialed in, Paul Goydos carded the fourth 59 in PGA TOUR history.
The defending champion is Ryan Moore, who kicked off his run to the TOUR Championship and a berth on the U.S. Ryder Cup team here. He is joined by five other past winners: Brian Harman (2014), Zach Johnson (2012), Steve Stricker (2009-2011), Jonathan Byrd (2007) and Sean O’Hair (2005). Harman is also one of seven PGA TOUR winners from this year in the field. The others: Wesley Bryan, Cody Gribble, D.A. Points, Kevin Kisner and Daniel Berger, who makes his debut at TPC Deere Run and is on a roll.
For added intrigue, there’s the usual tournament within the tournament to watch. The final berth in next week’s Open Championship at Royal Birkdale goes to highest top-five finisher who isn’t already exempt.
>>WATCH: John Deere Classic Live Stream
CBS Sports on-course reporter Dottie Pepper breaks down the storylines at TPC Deere Run.
This seems like a sneaky-good field, with a lot of familiar names and good young players.
There’s a lot of depth in this field. It’s not always the spot on the schedule. This is not a bad place to build some confidence. And there’s a bump to the event because of that last spot in The Open. We saw Jordan Spieth get in at Muirfield because of it, so that adds another intriguing element to what’s happening down the stretch.
We’ve seen some low scores at this venue, and more birdies have been made at TPC Deere Run since 2000 than at any other venue. But it’s not as easy as the guys make it out to be. Why are scores usually low?
If you look at it last year, ball was in hand for a couple of rounds (lift, clean and place). Traditionally they have gotten a pretty soft golf course. And as we have seen at other tournaments this year, give them soft conditions, and they go after the course. To me it has the flavor of TPC River Highlands in Hartford, where you do have a good number of birdie holes. But you also have some down the stretch that can bite you in the backside if you’re not careful.
>>MORE: Favorite Course: TPC Deere Run
Steve Stricker recently turned 50 but is playing more often as he serves as U.S. Presidents Cup captain this year. Is it accurate to think this is a place where he can still win?
How do you not look at him and think he has a shot? He’s like 50 going on 40. He still chips and pitches it really well, and he’s obviously comfortable playing the course. It’s very much a precision course and not a bomber’s course. It would not surprise me in the least to see him there at the end.
You mention bombers, and two-time Masters winner Bubba Watson is an intriguing entry, making his fifth start at TPC Deere Run but first since 2010. He hasn’t won since 2016 at Riviera and has only five top-10 finishes since, while missing the cut at the Masters, Players and U.S. Open. How does TPC Deere Run set up for his game?
If he wasn’t going through some equipment issues, he could do well on this golf course, because he has all the shots. It definitely seems like there might be an issue with his ball, and, you know, players go through equipment struggles all the time. It’s not a new thing. He has such a great short game, but I don’t care how good you are around the greens if you’re constantly under pressure. It’s hard to stand over a shot and not know how it’s going to come off.
The John Deere Classic was named PGA TOUR Tournament of the Year in 2016. John Deere’s sponsorship has reached its 20th year. The community is really engaged. Can you talk about the tremendous support of this event?
There’s another parallel to Hartford. People know how much the tournament helps the community all year long, and they are excited by watching great golfers. It’s pretty clear the tournament organizers want you to have a good time. You have all that big John Deere equipment there on display, which is one of the many neat features of the tournament. They do all the fun things. It’s like minor league baseball. It’s what’s going on in town, except, obviously, it’s a lot bigger than minor league baseball.
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Give us a few favorites and dark horses.
We’re going to see Jamie Lovemark break through, [perhaps] another first-time winner. He played very well last Sunday, and he just didn’t finish it off. Brian Harman is back. Good on him. I expect him to play well. Danny Lee is playing much better. For dark horses, I’d start with Bryson DeChambeau. He is starting to get his game back together, and he looks good. The putter is starting to work for him. I guess he would sit on both sides of the argument (favorite and dark horse). Geoff Ogilvy has showed signs of coming around. He’s definitely playing better, and he’s on a run of events.
Journalist and author David Shedloski of Columbus, Ohio, has been covering golf since 1986, first as a daily newspaper reporter and later as a freelance writer for various magazines and Internet outlets. A winner of 23 national writing awards, including 20 for golf coverage, Shedloski is currently a contributing writer for Golf World and GolfDigest.com and serves as editorial director for The Memorial, the official magazine of the Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio. He is the author of three books and has contributed to three others, including the second edition of “Golf For Dummies,” with Gary McCord. He’s a fan of all Cleveland professional sports teams, the poor fellow.