This week’s John Deere Classic, Illinois’ only annual PGA Tour event, will be the last with Clair Peterson as its tournament director.
Peterson, 69, will drop down to a player liaison’s role with Andrew Lehman, a JDC staffer for 16 years, assuming full time director’s duties after the post-tournament details from this year are completed. The well-respected Peterson has held the job for 20 years, and the last three have been especially challenging.
In 2020 the tournament, which was planning a 50th anniversary celebration, had to be cancelled because of pandemic concerns. In 2021 the tourney was held, and the anniversary celebrated, but with stiff restrictions. Attendance was limited to no more than 5,000.
This year the issues are a new date — albeit just a week earlier than in the past — and a possible new rival. The Saudi-financed LIV Tour will hold its first American tournament Thursday-Saturday in Oregon while the JDC has a Thursday-Sunday run at TPC Deere Run in downstate Silvis.
Peterson downplays the importance of the LIV Tour, which has recruited many of the PGA Tour’s top stars over the last few weeks with the promise of bigger pay days. About 45 players have signed with the LIV circuit so far including the likes of Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau – the JDC champion in 2015.
“Those 45 historically weren’t going to come here anyway,’’ said Peterson. “Their exhibition — a three-day event with a small field (48 players) and a shotgun start — has nothing to do with what we do. What we’ve got is a Super Bowl for our community.’’
The JDC is a huge benefactor for many charities throughout the Quad Cities area of Moline and Rock Island in Illinois and Davenport and Bettendorf in Iowa. The tournament lost players in the past because it was held the week before the British Open. That’s not a problem now, though Peterson admits concerns over losing players to the Irish Open.
“That tournament has 75 slots for PGA Tour members, so that could affect us,’’ said Peterson. “We’ll still have 156 world class players.’’
Peterson has been resourceful in building attractive fields. The proximity to the British was mitigated when he hired a jet to take players directly to the British site the night the JDC ended.
This year his diligence in using sponsor’s exemptions of the past is helping out. Peterson’s first invite was Zach Johnson, who received two of them before going on to win a Masters and a British Open and taking a position on the JDC board. This week’s defending champion, Lucas Glover, is also a past invitee.
Peterson has also given invites to Justin Thomas, Patrick Reed, Jon Rahm, Jordan Spieth and DeChambeau. They won’t be at the JDC this week, but past recipients Jason Day and Webb Simpson, major championship winners who haven’t played in the Quad Cities in recent years, will. Day was invited to the JDC when he was a 17-year old.
All the Chicago-connected PGA Tour players – Kevin Streelman, Luke Donald, Doug Ghim, Nick Hardy and Dylan Wu – will be in the field. Northbrook’s Hardy has been on a roll since recovering from a wrist injury. The PGA Tour rookie tied for 14th in the U.S. Open and tied for eighth in the Travelers Championship in Connecticut the last two weeks.
This year’s sponsor exceptions have a local flavor. One is Highwood’s Patrick Flavin, who has survived an astounding five Monday qualifiers to get into PGA Tour events this year. Another is Southern Illinois’ Luke Gannon, who Monday qualified for last year’s JDC and also competed in this year’s U.S. Open.
BITS: The 102nd Chicago District Golf Association Amateur concludes its four-day run at Glen Flora, in Waukegan, on Thursday….Antioch High School’s Donald Barnett made two holes-in-one in an Illinois Junior Golf Association tournament at Bristol Oaks, in Wisconsin….Naperville’s Lisa Copeland bowed to Jessica Mason, of Westminster, Colo., in the title match of the 95th Women’s Western Junior at Prestwick, in Frankfort, and Mexico’s Eduardo Derbez Torres captured the 104th boys Western Junior at Naperville Country Club.