SILVIS– J.T. Poston had $1.278 million reasons on Sunday, July 3, to love the John Deere Classic after earning the champion’s share of the $7.1 million prize purse at the local PGA Tour stop.
However, the 29-year-old North Carolinian noted that money has little to do with anybody’s affection for the 51st annual golf tournament.
“I love the community. I love the fans,” Mr. Poston said after winning with a score of 21-under at TPC Deere Run in Silvis.
“I love being in the Quad Cities. It’s a great area and everybody does such a great job with the tournament, and I can’t wait to be back.”
For his fifth JDC appearance since 2017, Mr. Poston and six other young pros rented a large local Airbnb house to stay together during tournament week.
The third wire-to-wire winner in JDC history – and the first since the event moved to a then newly-opened Deere Run in 2000 – joked in his champion’s news conference that their final house party was going to be particularly festive.
“I think those guys are already celebrating a free house for the week,” Mr. Poston laughed about feeling pressure to pick up the rental with his winnings. “They’re going to have a head start on me on the celebrations, but hopefully we can catch up.”
The champion’s housemates included three other pros finishing in the Top 20 – his Saturday final-group playing partner Denny McCarthy (tied for 6th), plus the tied for 16th-place pair of Patton Kizzire and Greyson Sigg.
Brendon Todd (tied for 43rd) and Justin Lower (tied for 51st) also earned money at the JDC. Only Ben Kohles failed to cash a PGA paycheck from the group – missing the weekend cut Friday, July 1, after carding a two-day total of 2-under.
“It’s fun,” said Mr. Poston, who also was joined at the JDC by his fiancée Kelly Cox. “It’s something that we’ve done a little bit – staying in houses with some of the guys.
“Feels like college golf again. I loved that team atmosphere. I’m still real close to a lot of my college teammates. I just love the team game, the team atmosphere, so it kind of has a little bit of that feel.
“Even though we’re not playing on the same team (out here), you’re coming back to the house, and everybody is pulling for each other.”
Mr. McCarthy noted Saturday, July 2, instead of an “Animal House” experience of heavy drinking and wild parties, Mr. Poston and his housemates had a “Brady Bunch” existence full of dice games such as Yahtzee and card games including Gin Rummy.
“We’ve been having fun at night, relaxing and going to some dinners together,” Mr. Lower added, noting a trip to Bass Street Chop House, Moline, during what was his first visit to the Quad Cities region.
“I was very impressed with the steaks, and we had a good crowd one night, so we had a really good dinner. It’s been a really fun week,” he added. “You see a lot of people at every tournament, but everyone seems happy here.”
The laidback family atmosphere helped lead to Mr. Poston’s awaited follow-up to his first Tour victory in 2019 at the Wyndham Championship.
Coupled with a tie for second place on the previous weekend at The Travelers – where he also led after the first round – Mr. Poston improved from 111th two Mondays ago to 22nd in the FedEx Cup playoff standings after hoisting the JDC “leaping buck” trophy.
The win also extended Mr. Poston’s PGA Tour exemption to 2024, earned him a spot next spring in The Masters, and qualified him to play in the 150th British Open in two weeks at the historic St. Andrew’s.
Also earning spots in the final major of the season were Christiaan Bezuidenhout and Emiliano Grillo, who tied for second in the JDC at 18-under.
In JDC annals, only David Frost (1992) and Scott Hoch (1980) had ever completed a wire-to-wire, first round-to-final round victory without ever relinquishing the control. Mr. Poston seized the milestone win by opening with a career-best 62 on Thursday, June 30.
“This is a great place,” said his housemate Mr. Lower, a PGA Tour rookie from Ohio. “The golf course is phenomenal. It’s definitely a place I’d like to come back to in the future.”
That is a view shared even in the back of the field by golfers unfortunately missing the cut for paychecks.
“That one right there was not going to miss the Big Dig,” William McGirt said Friday, motioning to his 9-year-old son Mac.
The Big Dig is a special event tourney sponsor Deere & Co. hosts annually at its test facility in Coal Valley for the PGA personnel and their families. Besides enjoying a family picnic full of food and fun activities including fishing in the Rock River, the Big Dig lives up to its name by offering a chance to operate Deere’s heaviest equipment.
“I had hip surgery in the fall of 2018 and when this tournament rolled around in 2019, the day after the Big Dig, he looked at me and said, ‘Daddy, when’s the tractor party?’” Mr. McGirt recalled with a laugh.
“I said, ‘Son, it was last night.’ He was crushed. He says, ‘Why didn’t we go?’ I said, ‘because daddy’s hurt and I’m not playing right now.’ He’s like, ‘We still should have gone!’
“All the kids on Tour look forward to that night all year long – and we all do, too. It’s like a family vacation when we come here.”
Like Mr. McGirt, Boo Weekley missed the weekend cut with a two-day total of 2-over – but that hardly dampened his enthusiasm for the JDC, either. This summer marked the 10th JDC for Mr. Weekley and 8th for Mr. McGirt.
“I just love coming up here and playing,” said Mr. Weekley, a 48-year-old Floridian and 2008 member of the US Ryder Cup team.
“The golf course is always among the Top 10 that we play all year. The maintenance on the greens – everything out here – is absolutely perfect. And Mr. Clair (Peterson, the longtime tournament director) takes great care of the players – and John Deere does a good job with everything. They really make you feel welcome and special here.”
However, the Big Dig on Wednesday nights of tournament week is the highlight, he said.
Big Dig, big draw
“We get to drive the tractors and all the kids enjoy that,” said Mr. Weekley, whose stepson Tucker was in tow. “I got on a front-end loader this time because my cousin owns one. Tucker loved getting on that, too. Then we went fishing and caught a bunch of fish. We had another great time here.
“It’s a family-oriented atmosphere. Not saying a lot of golf courses and tournaments don’t have that – but this is one of the best if it ain’t the top one.”
Mr. McGirt said his family’s love affair with the JDC is so strong that his son insisted on dressing in a John Deere costume to trick-or-treat one Halloween, which later earned him an audience during one visit at John Deere World Headquarters, Moline, with former company chairman Sam Allen.
“The great thing here is it’s a family town,” said Mr. McGirt, whose family also includes wife Sarah and 6-year-old daughter Caroline.
“Mac walks the golf course with me, and people walk up and speak to him. `How are you doing? How’s your dad playing?’ But nobody is stalking anybody out here, which is very nice, and he enjoys being out here. I can’t name you one kid that doesn’t love this tournament.
“It’s nice when you go into a restaurant here. People ask how you did but they’re more interested in how you’re enjoying your time here in the Quad Cities. They’re also not overbearing like they are at some tournaments – where you feel like you can’t go out to dinner because you can’t get away from people. But it’s not that way here. They treat you like one of their neighbors.”
Among the restaurants, the favorite for Mr. McGirt’s family is the Steel Plow Burger Company with locations in Moline and Davenport.
“We’ve been there a couple nights this week,” Mr. McGirt said. “We’ve actually run into a bunch of players in there.”
For Mr. Weekley’s family, Tour restaurant favorites Duck City Bistro, Davenport, and Bass Street Chophouse were among the visits.
“There’s also a pizza place we liked a lot – Bad Boy’z, right there by the (TaxSlayer Center) arena (in Moline). It’s a neat little place. This was our first time and we’ll be back there next trip in.”
Enjoying the QC sites
Other popular activities over the holiday weekend included Quad Cities River Bandits games at Davenport’s Modern Woodmen Park – annually named among the best baseball venues in the minor leagues because of its Mississippi River views.
Some PGA personnel also joined former Moline High School Athletic Director Todd Rosenthal for pickleball games at night at Moline’s Riverside Park.
Matthias Schwab, a 27-year-old PGA Tour rookie, and 2020 Olympian from Austria, also noted he was among those visiting the John Deere Pavilion for a museum experience in downtown Moline early in tournament week.
“This is a really, really fun event,” Mr. McGirt said. “I think I’ve only played half decent here one time, but I love coming here because the people are fantastic — fans are great, volunteers are great, and Clair Peterson is such a phenomenal guy and somebody I’ve become really good friends with over the years.
“Clair is one of the best tournament directors (on the Tour) — what he’s done to turn this tournament into a first-class event, you hate to see him retire. They make us feel special this week. That’s a testament to Clair, the tournament committee and volunteers and all the people involved.”