SILVIS, IL. – It’s not unusual for golfers to get their first PGA Tour victory at the John Deere Classic. Jordan Spieth became the 19th player in the tourney’s 43-year history to do it on Sunday.
Spieth’s win, though, was different from all the others – a lot different.
Still two weeks away from his 20th birthday Spieth became the first teenager to win a PGA Tour event in 82 years. Ralph Guldahl was also 19 when he won the Santa Monica Open, a match play tournament staged at Riviera Country Club in 1931.
Until his two-foot par putt dropped on the fifth hole of a sudden death playoff Spieth wasn’t event a PGA Tour member. He left college after helping Texas to the NCAA title as a freshman and has been getting into PGA Tour events through sponsor exemptions. JDC director Clair Peterson gave Spieth such invites the last two years and he was still an amateur when he tied for 58th last year.
On Sunday he started the day six shots behind leader Daniel Summerhays with little hope of winning.
“I didn’t think I was in contention. I thought I’d have to shoot eight- or nine-under, and then I made bogey on the first hole,’’ said Spieth. “After that I just battled and grinded.’’
And, he got very lucky.
Spieth holed a bunker shot on the last hole of regulation play, the ball dropping on one bounce to complete a 6-under-par 65.
“The luckiest shot of my life,’’ said Spieth. “It was going six-seven feet past.’’
He wound up in a playoff when defending champion Zach Johnson made bogey on his last hole and Canadian David Hearn put his drives on the last two holes in the rough and couldn’t make birdie on either one. Spieth made birdies on five of his last six holes, but more tension was ahead.
In the three-man playoff Johnson had a chip to win hit the flagstick and stay out of the hole. Hearn had two putts inside 10 feet to win, but they wouldn’t fall, either, and when all three players put their drives in the right trees on the fifth extra hole only Spieth was left with a clear shot to the green.
“I dodged multiple bullets,’’ admitted Spieth. “I don’t know what I did to deserve those breaks, but I got so lucky. I was just swinging free. I had no nerves.’’
At least not until the playoff wound down. Once he had the playoff won there was the matter of making last-minute plans to board the JDC jet to this week’s British Open in Scotland. Spieth would haven’t been eligible for the year’s third major championship had he not won on Sunday. He figured the magnitude of his win would hit him on the flight across the pond. He never expected the success he’s had as a rookie pro.
“I had a plan, and it got exceeded,’’ he said “I just wanted to earn my tour card this year.’’
Now he’s all the way up to No. 11 in the FedEx Cup point race and assured a spot in next year’s Masters and most of the other big tournaments. Not bad for a young player who got into 17 PGA Tour events via invites or qualifiers and made 12 cuts. Sunday’s win was his fifth top-10 finish on the premier circuit and it earned him $828,000 from the JDC’s $4.6 million purse.
As for the two local players who made the cut, neither Crystal Lake’s Joe Affrunti (68, tie for 33rd) or Winfield’s Kevin Streelman (71, tie for 44th) were part of the day-long excitement. Streelman had a disappointing weekend, settling for two par rounds before joining 27 other players on the flight from the Quad Cities Airport directly to British Open.
Affrunti at least had an interesting finish. His playing partner, Dicky Pride, was stung by a bee on the 17th hole and wanted immediate treatment. They needed 40 minutes to play the final hole after letting the twosome behind them play through.