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Growing up in the sleepy western Iowa town of Carroll, Andrew Lehman had big league baseball dreams. “The job didn’t matter,” the new John Deere Classic (JDC) tournament director remembered with a laugh. “General Manager? Ticket seller? Probably one of those guys up on the dugout doing promotional stuff between innings. I love baseball and just wanted to be part of it.” So, imagine Mr. Lehman’s disappointment upon finding out minor league baseball’s Quad Cities River Bandits already had a full staff back in May of 2006. Casting about locally for another summer internship after graduation from Iowa State University, Mr. Lehman called a big league event of a different kind to see if the QC’s own PGA Tour stop needed any summer help. Picking up the call and inviting him for an interview was now retired Sally Welvaert, then the JDC’s director of sales and operations. “I did not see my career being in golf,” said Mr. Lehman, who also was executive director of First Tee of the Quad Cities youth development program from 2016-2019. “But I’m so fortunate and thankful every day now that the River Bandits were full.” After working the past 15 years in every capacity of the operation, Mr. Lehman has taken over day-to-day duties as tournament director with longtime JDC Director Clair Peterson retiring to the advisory role of executive director and player liaison. The June 29-July 3 tournament is the official passing of the torch, with Mr. Lehman shadowing Mr. Peterson’s every step from last fall’s promotion leading into this year’s event. “I’m just so humbled and honored to be entrusted with carrying on this tradition,” said Mr. Lehman, a just-turned 39-year-old husband and father of two. “He’s not going anywhere – he’s not leaving the Quad Cities,” he said of Mr. Peterson. “He’s been such a great mentor to me – and I know the rest of the staff feels the same way – and he’ll be just a phone call or quick drive away.” Mr. Peterson said his phone will hardly be ringing off the hook, though. For starters, a superb staff has been assembled to take the JDC into the future, and that begins with the new man at the top, Mr. Peterson said. Since arriving, Mr. Lehman has displayed a hands-on work ethic and earned the respect of everyone involved in the tournament, from the title sponsor to the long-time tournament volunteers. “There’s a learning curve certainly to this job,” Mr. Peterson explained. “It’s not like an accountant that can go from one employer to the next. You have to have institutional knowledge because it’s so unique – and Andrew has done everything that we’ve ever asked of him – and then some.” Mr. Lehman is already better prepared than Mr. Peterson was when his predecessor, Kym Hougham, was recruited away to head up a larger event 20 years ago. “That was a total surprise to me,” recalled Mr. Peterson, who worked for the title sponsor as tournament liaison before receiving a promotion. “The beauty of it was there were all these great committee chairs and board members that knew so much more than I did and allowed me to learn on the job. “Now, the staff we have are just fantastic with great experience and a lot of energy. Quite honestly, we are the envy of the PGA Tour. They all could go somewhere else anytime they wanted – Andrew especially. “Best yet, there’s no sense of entitlement,” Mr. Peterson added. “There’s only a sense of purpose and thankfulness that I’m working here, and you don’t find that every day. So, we’re fortunate to have this next generation take the baton, and I can’t wait to see where they wind up.” Mr. Lehman recalled a five-person staff when he joined the JDC in 2006. Now, there are seven full-time staffers working with more than 2,000 volunteers – including committee chairs and board members. The JDC generated nearly $54 million in local economic impact last summer – and raised more than $12 million for local charities despite pandemic restrictions. But Mr. Peterson sees those figures only growing with an experienced, vibrant staff hitting its stride. “There’s no shortage of exciting new ideas on the table,” Mr. Lehman said about current staff meetings. “Not that you can implement every one of them – and you may not implement even half of them in one year – but we can grow and build and strive for that. “John Deere really has taken their branding at the tournament to the next level,” he said of the longtime title sponsor. “If you think back to the driver > head on the excavator and then the mini-excavator as a putter – they’ve just gone all in from there.” During last summer’s pandemic restrictions, group hospitality was limited. So the staff struck on a concept that stuck, especially with small businesses on a budget, by offering group tables for parties of eight. The Birdies for Charity program – long the fundraising standard on the PGA Tour – also was revamped and improved. “Clair (Peterson) has just really laid the foundation for this group to take the tournament to the next level and continue to build upon what he’s done for 20 years,” Mr. Lehman said. “We’re always thinking – how can we make this bigger and better every year? If you’re not evolving, you’re dying – so, we’re always looking at keeping the energy moving forward. “We’re so fortunate that the Quad Cities is such a great golf community and understands the charitable component of the tournament,” he added. “To be recognized eight or nine times as the most engaged community on the PGA Tour? And that’s despite being the smallest (host community). That’s a testament to the Quad Cities.” When Mr. Lehman and Mr. Peterson were asked by the QCBJ how they were handling the many challenges entailed in the month leading into tournament week, Mr. Lehman said, “Like a duck on a pond – calm on the surface but paddling furiously underneath to stay afloat.” After they shared their lengthy to-do lists, the QCBJ asked, “Why do you go through all the hassle?” “The answer is simple,” Mr. Lehman said, “because it’s so rewarding. We’re bettering the Quad Cities – raising the profile of the area and local businesses, promoting volunteerism in our great community and fundraising for local charities. “It’s rewarding at the end of the day to know the impact that’s being made from a one-week event. That’s why we work so hard all year on this. Everybody takes pride in what we do. Everybody is willing to pitch in.” The weight of his new position never was in doubt. In March, Mr. Lehman was on a recruiting trip to the Bay Hill Club & Lodge in Bay Hill, Florida, talking to players at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Jonathan Byrd, the 2007 JDC champ, was the first player he met on the driving range. “You’ve got big shoes to fill,” Mr. Byrd said. “I know,” Mr. Lehman responded. “And I don’t take that lightly, either.”