SPORTS

Olympics cast tractor-sized shadow over John Deere Classic

No Spieth, August date, and butting against Rio Games

Zach Johnson talks with his caddie, Damon Green (left), after just missing a putt to tie for the lead on the 18th hole during the final round of the 2015 John Deere Classic at TPC Deere Run in Silvis, Ill., last July 12. Johnson tied for 3rd in the tournament that Jordan Spieth won. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Zach Johnson talks with his caddie, Damon Green (left), after just missing a putt to tie for the lead on the 18th hole during the final round of the 2015 John Deere Classic at TPC Deere Run in Silvis, Ill., last July 12. Johnson tied for 3rd in the tournament that Jordan Spieth won. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

SILVIS, Ill. — The Summer Olympics have golf as an event for the first time since 1904, and the 72-hole men’s Olympics tournament begins in Rio de Janeiro Thursday morning.

Which means the John Deere Classic is an afterthought in the golf world. Which is largely because defending champion Jordan Spieth isn’t present.

Spieth earned one of the four Olympic spots slotted for American men, but declined to participate.

“I don’t think it would be an appropriate move to play that week,” Spieth said last month. “I don’t think it would be appropriate given our decision on the Olympics.”

In fact, few of the world’s current top players are at TPC Deere Run Thursday for the first round of the JDC. The Olympics forced a one-year change in the PGA Tour’s schedule, and the PGA Championship was moved up a month from its August slot. The JDC was bumped back to August.

Zach Johnson and Kevin Na are the only players in the top 50 of the World Golf Rankings who will play here. Johnson, the 2012 JDC champion, finished a shot from joining Spieth and Tom Gillis in a sudden-death playoff here a year ago. Spieth went on to earn his second JDC victory.

This week on Dan Dakich’s Indianapolis radio show, Johnson was asked if he would have gone to Rio had he qualified for one of the four U.S. spots in the 60-player Olympic tourney.

“No,” he said. “A long list of reasons. I don’t need to sit here on a pedestal and preach. For the most part, I don’t think we belong there. That’s the main reason.

“We’re relevant 365 (days a year). We’ve got Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day — all of whom aren’t playing in the (Olympics) tournament, by the way — who are relevant all the time. And you’re going down there to an arena with all those athletes who train essentially for this one opportunity in a four-year stretch."

Johnson said the Olympics “should be for the athletes who strive for the Olympics and crave it. I crave to watch it.”

“To those who want to represent our country (Rickie Fowler, Matt Kuchar, Patrick Reed and Bubba Watson are the Americans in the men’s golf event), oh my gosh, I get it. Do it.”

Johnson said he considers the Ryder Cup golf’s Olympics. “I’d rather be on that team more than anything in my career at this point,” he said.

Johnson has played on four U.S. Ryder Cup teams. He is sixth in points for the 2016 squad. The top eight on the night of Aug. 28 automatically make the team. Team captain Davis Love III will add four at-large picks for the Sept. 30-Oct. 2 event at Hazeltine National in Chaska, Minn.

Johnson can add to his Ryder Cup status this week with a good result. He and 155 other players are pursuing an $864,000 first-place check. Among the competitors are former University of Iowa players and fledgling pros Brian Bullington and Steven Ihm.

It isn’t as if the field is shy of extremely accomplished players. As of Wednesday, the players here had a combined 214 PGA Tour wins and 13 major-championships. The majors-winners include Keegan Bradley, Geoff Ogilvy, and former Masters and U.S. Open-champion Angel Cabrera.

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Johnson is partnered with three-time JDC champion Steve Stricker and 2014 JDC winner Brian Harman here. They start play Thursday at 8:20 a.m. Golf Channel will telecast play on tape-delay at 4 p.m. Thursday and Friday.

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