SILVIS, IL. — “Magic Happens Here’’ has been the promotional motto for the John Deere Classic the last few years, and – from a Chicago player perspective – it certainly was pertinent during Sunday’s final round.
Yes, J.T. Poston won the tournament wire-to-wire – the first to do that since David Frost in 1992.
Poston, winning for the second time in six PGA Tour seasons, was 21-under 263 in his three-shot victory, but the buzz was the loudest for the early starters. Three of the four Chicago-connected players who survived the 36-hole cut were in the fourth, fifth and sixth twosomes to tee off at TPC Deere Run, but they were ready to make birdies.
Northwestern alum Dylan Wu, Northbrook PGA Tour rookie Nick Hardy and Wheaton veteran Kevin Streelman, though far down the leaderboard going into the final 18 holes of the $7.1 million championship, improved their status in a hurry.
Wu shot 66 and climbed 26 places for a tie for 43rd in the standings. Hardy did better, making two eagles en route to shooting a 64 that improved his position by a whopping 31 spots to a tie for 30th and Streelman not only shot 66 and climbed 16 spots to a tie for 41st, but he also made a hole-in-one.
And then there was Highwood hopeful Patrick Flavin, who got into the field on a sponsor’s exemption. He’s using Monday qualifiers and what exemptions come to his way in an effort to earn PGA Tour membership.
Flavin was tied for 30th after 54 holes, drew U.S. Ryder Cup champion Zach Johnson as his final round playing partner and responded with a 66. That put him in sixth place before a bogey on the last led to him finishing in a tie for 10th. That finish was still good enough to put him in this week’s PGA Tour stop, the Barbasol Championship in Kentucky.
“To play great was awesome,’’ said Flavin. “It meant a lot to me, and it was so cool to play with Zach Johnson. He’s a small guy that I can see myself in, plus he’s a John Deere legend.’’
“I felt I was in his way at times,’’ quipped Johnson, who struggled in with a 74 while preparing to play in the British Open in two weeks at St. Andrews.
Flavin laughed when he heard that.
“Your first step in making the Ryder Cup team is playing well in front of your captain,’’ deadpanned Flavin to a chorus of laughter. He has no hopes of making Johnson’s Ryder Cup team but called his finish “a huge step’’ in his goal of reaching the Korn Ferry Finals.’’
That ride will continue a while longer. Flavin needs to finish in the top 25 of the season-ending playoff series on the PGA’s alternate tour to get his membership on the big tour in 2022-23. Sunday’s showing was a big help, and it negated the need for him to play in Monday’s qualifier for the Barbasol.
Hardy, meanwhile, will take a well-deserved week off after playing five straight weeks, the last two producing a tie for 14th at the U.S. Open and tie for eighth in The Travelers in Connecticut.
“I got a good rest last night, and just felt ready,’’ said Hardy, “I’ve gained confidence. There’s no doubt I should be among the most confident players in the world right now. I’ve been playing great golf, but I’ve got to be smart about rest. When you’re playing against the best in the world you can’t play at 80 percent. You’ve got to play at full bore.’’
Streelman, 43, holed a 6-iron from 187 yards on the 12th hole. It was his second ace on the PGA Tour and 14th overall, the first coming when he was a 13-year old playing with his brother at the Nordic Hills course in Itasca. Streelman will join Flavin in Kentucky even though he did succeed – as the 16th alternate two weeks ago – to land a spot in the Scottish Open.
“It was a tough call, but I would have to race to O’Hare and I don’t really have the right clothes for the trip,’’ said Streelman.
As for the champion, Poston birdied the first three holes to open a seven-stroke lead, but it was cut to one before his next birdie locked up the $1,278,000 first prize as well as his first trip to the British Open.