SILVIS, Ill. — It won’t be chilly at the John Deere Classic that starts Thursday, but it could be Chile.
Rotten puns aside, perhaps the best hope for the JDC to get more than nominal attention across the golfing globe is if Chile’s Joaquin Niemann wins the PGA Tour event at TPC Deere Run.
Niemann, you see, is the latest of golf’s Next Big Things. He is 19 years and 8 months old, three months younger than then-Next Big Thing Jordan Spieth was when Spieth won the JDC in 2013.
That caused ripples beyond the Rock River that runs alongside this course. Spieth was the youngest winner of a Tour event since 1931, and moved into golf’s penthouse two years later with wins in the Masters, U.S. Open, and again in the JDC.
Spieth hasn’t been back to Deere Run since his 2015 win, so it’s up to new up-and-comers to draw notice to the event. Enter Niemann, who just earned a PGA Tour card for 2018-19 on Sunday by virtue of his fourth top-10 finish in nine starts this year. He had been getting into tournaments on a conditional status.
It isn’t as if an abundance of the Tour’s marquee names will be here to try to hold off young Joaco for at least one more week. Just four of the top 50 players in the World Golf Rankings are entered.
Besides sounding like World Cup rivals, Francesco Molinari and Bryson DeChambeau bring a fair amount of oompf. Italy’s Molinari won in his last Tour start, the Quicken Loans National of two weeks ago. He is ranked 15th in the world and is a lock to play for Europe in September’s Ryder Cup.
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DeChambeau captured the 2017 JDC for his first Tour triumph. His second came last month at the prestigious Memorial Tournament.
DeChambeau is the world’s No. 22 player. He is a strong candidate to be on the United States’ Ryder Cup squad.
But the player who will have the largest following here remains Zach Johnson, who won here in 2012 and has seven top-five JDC finishes in the last nine years. The Cedar Rapids native has home-course advantage, to say the least.
“I love it. I love everything about it,” Johnson said.
“I feel really good. I think my caddie’s ... I think he feels really good. When your caddie is confident in what you’re doing you know you’ve got some stuff going.”
Meanwhile, three former University of Iowa players are in the field. Brian Bullington, Vince India, and Solon’s Sean McCarty advanced through the JDC’s Monday qualifier. Coincidentally, Thursday had already been designated University of Iowa Day at the tourney.
Johnson hadn’t heard McCarty qualified until he was told at a Tuesday JDC press conference.
“He made it here? Really? He Monday-ed?” Johnson replied. “That’s so awesome. The guy’s a stud.”
Tee times for Thursday and Friday, respectively: Johnson 8 a.m., 1:10 p.m.; McCarty 2 p.m., 8:50 a.m.; India 2:10 p.m., 9 a.m.; Bullington 2:20 p.m., 9:10 a.m.
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