This PGA tourney shows it can change with the times


The John Deere Classic, Illinois’ only annual PGA Tour event, has never had a staging like the one coming up in two weeks.  Professional golf has changed dramatically this year, and so has the JDC.

Andrew Lehman is the JDC’s new tournament director, replacing the retired Clair Peterson. This isn’t Lehman’s first rodeo, but he inherited a challenging situation. Just a few months ago there was even concern that this JDC would be the last.  The sponsor for 25 years, Moline-based John Deere, and the PGA Tour did not have a contractual agreement beyond this year’s tournament.  It runs July 5-9.

“In my estimation – and we (the tournament staff) didn’t have a seat at the table in the negotiations – we never had a fear that the tournament was going away,’’ said Lehman. “A lot of people in the community had some doubts because everyone was tight-lipped.  Not much information was going out, so there was a lot of uncertainty.’’

The uncertainty ended when the JDC and PGA Tour announced a three-year contract extension on June 5. Three-year commitments seem short in tournament golf, but the arrival of the LIV Tour and the developments surrounding it have changed everything.

“The golf world has flipped upside down more than once,’’ said Lehman.  “There aren’t seven-eight year extensions any more.  Now it’s more like three to five years, and Deere was smart to look at it that way.  Who knows what the golf world will look like in three years?’’

Lehman does know what the 52nd playing of the JDC will look like.

“This is Year 17 for me, and I was blessed to be with Clair for 16,’’ said Lehman.  “This one looks entirely different.’’

For starters there’s big name entertainers performing on the 18th fairway after play ends on Saturday and Sunday.  On Saturday it’ll be Darius Rucker and on Sunday it’s Blake Shelton.  Music has been a part of other JDC’s, but not like this one. There’ll be no seating, but the on-course viewing is targeted to accommodate between 5,000 and 7,000 spectators with the concerts start at 5:45 p.m.

“We’ll close our gates at 4 p.m. on those days.  Our goal is for tickets to drive people to the golf tournament and have them stay for the concert,’’ said Lehman.

The Wednesday pro-am will be different, too.  Caitlin Clark, the star of the Iowa women’s basketball team that made a run to the title game of the NCAA tournament, will play with Quad Cities favorite Zach Johnson.  Clark will be the first “celebrity’’ in the pro-am since Bill Murray participated in 2016.

Young stars – former Western Amateur champion Michael Thorbjornsen, NCAA medalist Gorden Sargent and Illinois alum Tommy  Kuhl — again dominate the sponsor exemptions but the whole field will be stronger.  The JDC had no players in the top 50 of the world rankings the last two years, but seven have entered this time and a few more might sign up before the deadline on Friday.

The influx of PGA Tour players may be due in part to the return of a jet.

The availability of a jet across the pond – a brainchild of Peterson’s – boosted the field when the tourney was played the week before the British Open.  The jet was dropped when the JDC was given new dates for a year.

“Our charter is back,’’ said Lehman, “albeit to the Scottish Open instead of the British.  That has helped us, too.’’

SENIOR STARS: Mike Small, the University of Illinois men’s coach, is back in player mode in a big way this week.  He was in the field for the Illinois Senior Open Monday and Tuesday at The Preserve at Oak Meadows, in Addison, and will compete again in the U.S. Senior Open, which tees off on Thursday at SentryWorld in Wisconsin.

Two Illinois teaching pros – Nicole Jeray of Mistwood in Romeoville, and Jamie Fischer of Conway Farms in Lake Forest – will be in the Senior LPGA Championship, which begins on Thursday (JUNE 29) at Sultan’s Run, in Jasper, Ind.

HERE AND THERE: The 103rd Chicago District Amateur teed off on Monday for a 36-hole qualifying session.  The top 32 advance to match play, which begins on Tuesday and concludes with the championship match on Thursday.

Arlington Heights’ Doug Ghim tied for 15th in the PGA Tour’s Travelers tourney on Sunday – his third straight top-20 finish after having only one in his first 11 starts this season.

Hans Risvaer, an 18-year old Floridian, captured the 105th Western Junior title at Midlothian last week.  He’ll be back in the area to play in August’s Western Amateur at North Shore, in Glencoe.

The Western Golf Association’s 96th Women’s Junior tournament begins its four-day run Tuesday at Greenbriar Hills in Kirkwood, Mo.