There’s an interesting combination in the field for this week’s John Deere Classic, the only PGA Tour event played in Illinois in 2014.
Steve Stricker, who considers himself semi-retired because he plays only a limited tournament schedule, has long been a JDC mainstay. He became the 44-year old tourney’s only three-peat winner when he ruled in 2009-11,
Jordan Niebrugge, meanwhile, will be one of the youngest players in the 156-man starting field. The 20-year old junior at Oklahoma State University is in the field on a sponsor’s exemption after a dazzling 2013 season in which he won the U.S. Amateur Public Links title, the Wisconsin Amateur, the Wisconsin Match Play Championship and the Western Amateur.
Stricker, 47, and the 6-4 Niebrugge are both from Wisconsin. One’s a fading star on the circuit, the other a promising newcomer. They met at the Masters in April and played a practice round together.
After the JDC ends on Sunday Stricker will decide whether to get on the tourney’s charter jet to the British Open and Niebrugge will step up preparations for his title defense at the Western Amateur, which will be played a Chicago’s Beverly Country Club from July 28-Aug. 2.
Going to the British wasn’t a major consideration for Stricker going in to last week’s Greenbrier Classic, but he said he’d consider it if he was playing well. After contending for three round he struggled to a final round 74 at the Greenbrier and tied for 35th place. He’s finished in the JDC top 10 seven times in the last 10 years.
Niebrugge, from the Milwaukee suburb of Mequon, will be playing in his first PGA Tour event at the JDC. After missing the cut at the Masters he’s sure the connection with Stricker will help.
“I’ve looked up to him,’’ said Niebrugge. “He played Wisconsin golf, so it was cool to get to play with him. He’s such a down-to-earth guy, and a family guy. I’ve been around him two or three times, and I’ve learned a lot from him every time I’ve been with him.’’
Niebrugge has even hit balls at Stricker’s winter practice building near Madison with Dennis Tiziani, Stricker’s longtime instructor and father-in-law, on hand to consult.
“You’re able to play golf in the snow,’’ said Niebrugge. “I’ve been there a lot. It’s a little building that’s probably got 10-12 hitting stalls, and it’s heated with mats. There’s a driving range out in the distance.’’
The No. 4-ranked amateur in the world, Niebrugge will be trying to replicate what Jordan Spieth did at last year’s JDC. Spieth, in his rookie pro season, became only the fourth player under 20 to win on the PGA Tour and the youngest since Ralph Guldahl won the Santa Monica Open in 1931. Spieth continued his stellar play and is ranked No. 10 in the world going into his first title defense on the PGA Tour.
The 72-hole, $4.7 million tourney begins on Thursday at TPC Deere Run in Silvis, which in on the outskirts of Moline. Sunday’s champion gets $846,000.
Another State Am at Cantigny
Next up on a busy tournament calendar is the 84th Illinois State Amateur, which tees off next Tuesday at Cantigny, in Wheaton. Cantigny, celebrating its 25th anniversary, will host the event for the fourth time and first since 2008.
Tee-K Kelly, a Wheaton resident who plays for Ohio State, is the defending champion. The winner last year at Aldeen, in Rockford, he heads a field of 136 players. Most earned their places in the 10 state-wide qualifying rounds.
All qualifiers will play 18 holes Tuesday and Wednesday, July 16. The low 35 and ties after 36 holes or any player within 10 shots of the lead will compete over the final 36 holes, all to be played on Thursday, July 17.
Here and there
Brian Carroll, of Royal Hawk in St. Charles, was a three-shot winner of Monday’s Village Links of Glen Ellyn Classic for Illinois PGA members after shooting a 7-under-par 65. The IPGA’s National Car Renal Pro-Am is on tap for next Monday at Chicago Highlands, in Westchester.
The Chicago District Golf Assn. will conduct a qualifying round for the U.S. Amateur on Friday at Heritage Bluffs in Channahon.
Eddie Fernandes, who trains at The Catalyst golf facilities in the Chicago area, won a regional qualifier for the ReMax World Long Drive Championship in Orlando, FL.