116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
SILVIS, Ill. — Not yet a PGA Tour player, Zach Johnson got a sponsor’s exemption to the John Deere Classic in 2002 and 2003. He missed the 36-hole cut in both, but it served him well long-term.
“The knowledge and the wisdom that I gained just Monday through Sunday certainly, and on the golf course, the specifics of putting and just getting the golf course down, I'm probably in debt.”
After that, Johnson went where Alex Schaake wants to go. Johnson advanced to the Tour, won a tourney there in 2004, and proceeded to build a body of work that will take him to the World Golf Hall of Fame sometime this decade.
Schaake, a little more than a month from finishing his fabulous college golf career at Iowa, is here at this year’s JDC on a sponsor’s exemption. He shot a 1-over-par 72 Thursday.
Whether he makes the cut or not Friday, though, what he absorbs from this week in a PGA Tour field will serve him well as he strives to reach the Tour as a member one day.
“Just getting any of the experience that I can get from these guys out here,” 23-year-old Schaake said.
“The guys out here shoot really good scores, and just seeing how they do that and how they handle themselves on the golf course when adversity hits is something that I've been paying attention to a lot, certainly this week.”
Schaake is the only Hawkeye to be the Big Ten Golfer of the Year twice. He shared that honor this year. He ended with a rank of 13th among university players, so he qualified for membership on the PGA Tour’s Forme Tour, an eight-tourney series for young players that is a path to the Korn Ferry Tour, which is a path to the PGA Tour.
“I can’t wait till he’s my age and has that experience,” said Carson Schaake, Alex’s 26-year-old brother and also a former Hawkeye. Carson is a pro who qualified for last month’s U.S. Open, and had Alex caddy for him there.
Though Carson missed the cut, their shared experience among golf’s elite could only have helped both.
Alex had been 3-over Thursday, but made three birdies in a four-hole stretch, capped by a 35-foot birdie putt on No. 17. He bogeyed the final hole.
“I honestly really wasn't that nervous on the first tee,” he said. “I was going about my round, made a couple great pars and made an early birdie and just kind of followed it up with a quick double, so that broke the momentum a little bit.
“I'm really happy with how I finished. Just got to go out there tomorrow and shoot a good score.
“Tomorrow is going to be a blast.”
Was it really 18 years ago when Johnson was where Schaake is today? He’s 45, he’s won 12 times on the Tour including two majors, he’s been there and done that when it comes to everything in golf. He shot a 68 Thursday in his “home” tourney, one in which he has a championship and seven top-five finishes.
But is he still hungry?
“I’m starving right now, actually,” Johnson said, semi-joking.
He hasn’t won since the 2015 Open Championship. That year, he had 10 top 10s and finished sixth in FedExCup points. This season he has three top 10s, two more than he had in either 2019 or 2020.
“I still feel like I can play some of the best golf I've ever played,” Johnson said. “It's getting harder because, one, the Tour is getting better, and two, I'm not getting younger. I realize what I'm up against, but again, that's also motivating.
“If my body is willing, my mind is there. Between the ears, thankfully I don't have to question it.
“I don't feel like I'm getting out of bed at 23 years old anymore. That part stinks. Any time you put a golf club in somebody's hands for 36 years, it's going to take a toll at some point, and that's why I use the gym.”
Johnson will wake up Friday with a red 3 beside his name, meaning he’s 3-under. He did the same here on a Friday morning nine years ago and won the tournament. He is 195-under par here in his career and wants to get well beyond 200-under this weekend.
“Motivation is not a struggle.” he said. “I mean, I'm hungry. I want to win. I want to win every week.”
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