Defending JDC champion hopes to end streak of missed cuts

The PGA Tour returns to Illinois next week and will stage two tournaments in the state in a six-week span.

The 49th John Deere Classic is up first. Pre-tournament festivities begin Monday at TPC Deere Run in Silvis, on the outskirts of Moline. Then the final BMW Championship, a FedEx Cup Playoff event, comes to Medinah Country Club from Aug. 15-18.

It’ll be Medinah’s first PGA event since the 2012 Ryder Cup and it’ll also be the end of BMW’s run as the tournament sponsor. The Western Golf Association expects to have a new sponsor in place when the tournament moves to Olympia Fields in 2020.

As for the John Deere Classic, it’ll put the spotlight on a most unusual defending champion. Michael Kim, born in South Korea and raised in California, didn’t just notch his first win on the PGA Tour at last year’s JDC. He did it in extraordinary fashion.

Calling it “obviously the best golf I’ve ever played for a week,’’ Kim strung rounds of 63, 64, 64 and 66 at TPC Deere Run and his 27-under-par performance for the 72 holes smashed the tournament scoring record set by three-time winner Steve Stricker. Kim won that week by eight strokes over Italy’s Francesco Molinari, who would win the British Open the following week.

Kim’s big win came just a month after he named James Tillery his swing coach. The win assured Kim a two-year exemption into PGA Tour events and put him in a comfort zone that may not have been a good thing.

In the 2019 portion of the tour’s split season Kim has made just one 36-hole cut, and his tie for 32nd in January’s Tournament of Champions. He goes into this week’s 3M Classic in Minnesota with 17 straight missed cuts. Last week in the Rocket Mortgage Classic, the new Detroit stop on the circuit, Kim shot 75-76 and didn’t come close to reaching the weekend rounds.

So what is going on?

“The win allowed me to make (swing) changes that we thought were needed,’’ he said. “There are definitely some growing pains. It’s taken a little longer than I had hoped or wished. Obviously I’d like to play better, but I’m excited to see where my game will be.’’

Kim sounded optimistic during a pre-tournaments promotional event at TPC Deere Run in May, but the missed cut streak continued. Still, JDC tournament director Clair Peterson didn’t see signs of discouragement when he visited with Kim during the Memorial tournament in Ohio two weeks later.

“His spirits weren’t down at all,’’ said Peterson. “His psyche was totally upbeat. He felt there were things he needed to work on, and that freed him up to work hard. Whether or not that’s the case we’ll find out.’’

Peterson is still hoping for late entries from Stricker, who won the U.S. Senior Open on Sunday, and Jordan Spieth. Both have told him they’re “50-50’’ on coming to TPC Deere Run.

“Still, we have 59 players who have won PGA Tour events, 29 coming in the last two years,’’ said Peterson. “Five have won major championship, one (Bill Haas) won the FedEx Cup and another (Luke Donald) is a former world No. 1.’’

Super summer for Arnold

Sarah Arnold is making the most of her final months before starting college at Western Kentucky. A recent graduate of St. Charles North High School, Arnold made the Illinois State Women’s Amateur her latest success story at Illini Country Club in Springfield.

Prior to that victory Arnold reached the quarterfinals of the Women’s Western Junior (after finishing second in stroke play qualifying) and qualified for the U.S. Girls Junior Amateur. She also has three wins and a runner-up finish on the Mid-American Junior Golf Tour this season.

Here and there

The Women’s Western Golf Association will honor former LPGA star and U.S. Solheim Cup captain Beth Daniel with its Woman of Distinction award at the group’s annual meeting on Oct. 3 at Glen View Club in Golf.

Jordan Less, of Elmhurst, outlasted defending champion David Perkins, of East Peoria, to win the 100th Chicago District Amateur at Glen View. Less, a senior at Northern Illinois, took the title in 37 holes. Perkins, a senior-to-be at Illinois State, was bidding to be the tourney’s first repeat winner since Joe Affrunti in 2000-01. Perkins notched 10 birdies in the match’s final 22 holes, including four straight from holes 22-2,3 but it wasn’t enough.

Reagan Davis, director of golf at Eagle Ridge Resort in Galena since 2013, is leaving that post to return to his native Texas.