By Dan Reardon
In the PGA TOUR’s family of tournaments, the John Deere Classic has always been the ‘little engine that could.” For all of its 47 years, the tournament has been held in one of the smallest markets on TOUR. And in recent years it’s faced the additional challenge of attracting a representative field while residing on the calendar near the Open Championship, which takes place seven time zones away.
But the Deere has not only soldiered on, it has prospered. Celebrating 25 years under the John Deere corporate banner, the tournament now provides a private charter to players wanting to compete in the Quad Cities and still vie for the year’s third major. No greater compliment could have been paid than when Jordan Spieth, halfway through a run at the Grand Slam in 2015, honored his commitment to the event that hosted his first PGA TOUR win. He won the tournament again and chased to the wire the following week at St. Andrews.
The tournament has a remarkable eye for young talent, with sponsor’s exemptions extended over the years to Jordan Spieth, Zach Johnson, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm and last year’s champion, Bryson DeChambeau.
CBS Sports reporter Amanda Balionis will be staffing her usual interview duties on the telecast and as Stuart Cink recently quipped, players always look forward to talking to Amanda because it means you must have done something good that day.
>>WATCH: The John Deere Classic Live Stream
This tournament has a unique quality about it because of the small-time feel and sense of community experienced by the players. (Last year, the John Deere Classic won the PGA TOUR Tournament Award for “Most Engaged Community” for the second consecutive year.) What have you seen in this unique relationship between the field and the community?
A lot of players really love coming to this event, because it is a small town, it’s a beautiful town, and the community really rallies around it. We see that at various events. The Travelers Championship in Cromwell, Connecticut is another one that really sticks out. It’s fun to see. Every day so many fans are out following so many different groups, which is really cool.
And then, obviously, the success that the middle-American guys like Zach Johnson and Steve Stricker have had here, it’s like a home course. They both call it their fifth major. That just solidifies this event as a hometown favorite.
I expect to see a huge crowd following Bryson DeChambeau after his win last year, which was so great. He was so emotional and so appreciative, and this is one of those events where the fans are watching that. The more a player appreciates the event, the more fans appreciates him.
Let’s talk about the three players you mentioned, starting with Bryson DeChambeau.
He’s just such an interesting player; everyone is fascinated by him. He does things differently than anybody else we have ever seen. He’s constantly grinding. He’s constantly trying to figure out something, a new advantage, a new way to do things that will simplify his swing to maximize his performance. He’s just a really fascinating player. So, for him to break through the way he did last year was proof that his methods — even though they are certainly unconventional — do work.
Bryson can be a bit of a challenging interview.
He is really, really smart. He also knows how to simplify things, so the rest of us know what he is talking about. It’s just that he studies things in such a different way. You talk to him, and you walk away feeling like you have truly learned something every time, which is absolutely awesome.
Along with Bryson, all these great young players not only can get the job done on the golf course, but they all seem to be really comfortable with the media. They actually seem to answer questions. What is your take on them as they deal with the media?
They are great. You have to keep in mind all of these players grew up really watching their idols talk to the media. They started off in the social media era. Information — instant information — is really important to them, and it always has been.
That’s very different from all those veteran players, who came of age when the demands were very different. The way that media and interviews and news were consumed was really different as well. You might do an interview with me on CBS fifteen years ago, and if you didn’t catch it on live television, it’s pretty much gone.
Now, the minute we do an interview, it’s getting put up on social media. On Instagram. On Facebook. On Twitter. It’s going everywhere. And these [young] players really understand that this is a really great way to reach their fans pretty quickly. Rickie Fowler spearheaded a lot of this. He did things in such a unique way, but they were things that were true and genuine to him. And that really resonated with a lot of fans. He built this amazing fanbase worldwide that still exists today.
It’s fun to be a part of it and watch as these players make names for themselves.
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What about Stricker and Johnson?
Steve Stricker is a three-time winner here. He is always in the mix, which is so much fun to watch, because he is such a hometown local favorite. And Zach Johnson, his record here is just insane. He has a victory. He has three runner-up finishes, a couple of thirds. He’s out of control when he comes to TPC Deere Run. So that’s really fun to watch too.
Give us a rising name from the field this week.
Joaquin Niemann has impressed us so much with his composure, in the way that he goes about things. He was tied for fifth at Greenbrier last week, and that was his fourth top-10 in eight starts as a professional, which is absolutely insane. His Sunday performances have really stood out. He seems to finish even stronger every single week.
He’s so young. He’s so inexperienced. But none of that shows on the golf course. The way that he has earned his full PGA TOUR membership is so impressive. Already his season is a success.
His time is coming very soon. He’s a really hard worker. There is absolutely no doubt about that. He has the exact personality you need to be successful out there. He’s definitely an impressive kid all the way around.
Dan Reardon has covered golf for radio station KMOX in St. Louis for 33 years. In that time, he has covered more than 100 events, including majors and other PGA, LPGA and Champions Tour tournaments. During his broadcast career, Reardon conducted one-on-one interviews with three dozen members of the World Golf of Fame. He has contributed to many publications over the years and co-authored the book Golf’s Greatest Eighteen from Random House. Reardon served as Director of Media relations for LPGA events in both St. Louis and Chicago for 10 years.