116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
It defied the odds that the John Deere Classic became an adolescent, let alone middle-aged.
Yet, the 50th edition of the Quad Cities’ PGA Tour event starts Thursday at TPC Deere Run, and continues to be the Little Tournament That Could. It’s not that little with a $6.2 million purse and a weekend slot on CBS’ schedule, but it remains a pup compared to many of the Tour’s other events.
The JDC doesn’t have the most star-studded field of players, primarily because it’s the week before the Open Championship (British Open, to some). Which is what the tournament not only understands, but embraces.
“It’s a disadvantaged date which gets them on the Tour for less cost than they would have to justify to shareholders,” Craig DeVrieze said. “The people who have always been involved with the tournament knew that as much as the Open Championship was a bit of a shackle, it was also a lifeline.”
DeVrieze has written a book called “Magic Happened: 50 Years of the John Deere Classic.” It will be for sale at the tournament this week.
He covered the tournament and its changes in sponsorships and venues during a sports writing career at the Moline Dispatch and Quad City Times before moving on to St. Ambrose University, where he is the director of communications.
The idea for the book was his, and the tournament immediately warmed to it.
“It’s not so much about the John Deere Classic,” DeVrieze said, “but about Quad Citians. I think the John Deere Classic is an ultimate Quad Cities story.”
Deane Beman won the first JDC, then the Quad Cities Open, in 1971. He took home $5,000 of the $25,000 purse. Beman won the 1972 edition, as well. Maybe that was the first of what DeVrieze calls “a series of pivotal moments” that kept the tourney alive, because Beman went on to become the PGA’s transformational commissioner for 20 years and perhaps kept a spot in his heart for the Quad Cities.
There were several times when the tourney seemed perilously close to extinction. Perhaps the most-critical point was in 1996. John Deere, headquartered in Moline, Ill., had become a presenting sponsor the year before, but no other corporations were stepping up to join Deere. The prospects for continuing the tournament weren’t good.
Tour executive Duke Butler suggested to Deere that it build a Tournament Players Club course on Deere property in the Quad Cities, and that Deere and the Tour make a licensing deal in which Deere’s golf and turf equipment line division could manage all the TPC courses in the world.
Both things happened, to the betterment of the tourney, the Quad Cities, Deere and the Tour.
“I didn’t have the thought when I went into the room (with JDC tournament Kym Hougham and tourney representatives)” Butler told DeVrieze. “They stimulated it. It was a little bit creative and courageous, you might say.”
TPC Deere Run was built in Silvis, Ill., and it’s been a terrific venue for players and spectators for over two decades. Deere went all-in with its sponsorship, and has kept it to this day.
Fourteen of the 25 players who have been ranked No. 1 in the world in men’s golf have played in the JDC at some point, including Tiger Woods. But No. 1 in the event’s heart, DeVrieze said, is Cedar Rapids native Zach Johnson, who wrote the foreword for “Magic Happened.”
“Zach has meant so much to this tournament and the fact he has never stopped coming back to the Quad Cities shows a lot of loyalty for getting sponsor’s exemptions in 2002 and 2003 when he had no status.” DeVrieze said.
“He came after winning the Masters. He came after winning the Open Championship.”
A “Holy Trinity” with Johnson, DeVrieze said, are Jordan Spieth and Steve Stricker. Spieth played the JDC the week before the 2015 Open Championship, DeVrieze said, “with two majors in his pocket and the British Open looming and the chance to join Ben Hogan as the only guy to win the first three legs of the modern Grand Slam.”
Spieth won that JDC in a playoff over Tom Gillis. Johnson was third, one shot behind, and left for St. Andrews disappointed. Eight days later, however, Johnson won the Open in a three-man playoff, and Spieth tied for fourth, one shot out of the lead.
Stricker, this year’s U.S. Ryder Cup captain, won three JDCs in a row from 2009 to 2011. He is playing this week in the Quad Cities rather than pursuing a U.S. Senior Open title.
Stricker is a Wisconsin native who played at the University of Illinois. Johnson is an Iowan to the core. This is their tournament.
Johnson has been on the tourney’s board of directors for over a decade. It wouldn’t be a JDC without him.
“We were both underdogs once,” Johnson wrote for the book. “But we also were bulldogs. We both fought and worked and believed in ourselves and relied on our community to help us become success stories in this great game of golf.”
It’s a tournament Johnson has used for counsel in operating his Zach Johnson Foundation that has meant so much for Cedar Rapids. The JDC, incredibly, has raised $133 million since 1993 in its Birdies For Charity program, spread over 450 Quad Cities charities.
“It’s not just the Quad Cities’ tournament,” DeVrieze said. “It’s Illinoians. It’s Iowa Nice. This is Iowa Nice personified, I think.”
Comments: (319) 398-8440; email@example.com