Andrew Loupe, a grinder in search of gold

After 7 straight missed-cuts, he's 1st-round co-leader of John Deere Classic

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SILVIS, Ill. — In the John Deere Classic of yesteryear, nobodies came from nowhere to permanently become known as a PGA Tour-winner.

Michael Clark II, David Gossett and Mark Hensby won here in this millennium. And never won again.

But then this event evolved into something in which world-class players came, saw, and conquered. Fourteen-time Tour-winner Kenny Perry won here in 2008. Steve Stricker won each year from 2009 to 2011. Zach Johnson won in 2012, and Jordan Spieth did so in 2013 and 2015.

In those years, the JDC made golf headlines beyond the Quad Cities. Spieth came back here last year in the week before he was to go to the British Open to attempt to win a third-straight major tournament. That gave the tourney its biggest jolt of gravitas since its birth in 1971.

But on Thursday/Friday, it was a trip back in time as someone named Andrew Loupe had his name atop the leaderboard. He had a 7-under-par 64 to share the first-round lead with Tom Gillis.

Loupe, who like Clark, Gossett and Hensby before him, could have walked through a Moline mall during tournament week and been recognized by no one.

Loupe is 27, from Baton Rouge, La., and LSU. He came to the JDC with a streak of seven consecutive missed 36-hole cuts. He has finishes of third and fourth place this season, but is ranked just 111th in the Tour’s FedExCup standings.

They call missing the cut “trunk-slamming” out here. You put the golf clubs in the trunk on Friday, and drive away with no paycheck to show for your visit. Loupe’s trunk has been slammed on the last seven Fridays in which he has competed.

“You just keep moving forward,” he said after playing the final four holes of his first round, which was halted by darkness on Thursday. “Golf is hard.”

Here’s what else is hard: Feeling so good about things after going 8-under for 14 holes, but having to stop playing because of darkness and having an 8-foot par putt on the 15th green to think about for 16 hours.

However, Loupe made that putt after play resumed here at noon Friday. But he bogeyed No. 17, and closed the round at 7-under and in search of a quick lunch before starting his second round about 40 minutes later.

So many holes were left to be played here, and Loupe knew it. He shot a 63 for the first round of the Tour’s event at Pebble Beach two years ago, but went 73-76-73 after that and tied for 27th. He had the first-round lead two years ago at the Texas Open, but tied for fourth.

What he’s more familiar with is missing cuts. He played on the weekend in only 25 of his previous 62 Tour events.

While Loupe signed his first-round score card, his caddie answered a couple of questions while taking bites out of sandwich.

“We just grind, man,” said Wayne Birch. “Golf is a hard game. The ball’s going to bounce your way sometimes, and sometimes the bounces go against you. You just dust it off and tee it back up.”

You hear the word “grind” used so often by athletes these days. But what Loupe has done, that’s grinding. Stories like his are plentiful in pro golf. Maybe he or one of his struggling brothers will be the one holding the trophy and getting his career changed late Sunday afternoon.

Maybe. But golf is hard.

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