John Deere UAW rep takes the tee at John Deere Classic

Oltman steps in to take CEO’s place in pro-am

SILVIS – Joel Oltman had his second shot at being “inside the ropes” of a major PGA Tour event – but this time with a club in his hand and playing in a foursome featuring 2021 John Deere Classic (JDC) Champion Lucas Glover. 

Mr. Oltman, now a proud husband, father and John Deere employee, was a young high school golfer when he first had the privilege of being a caddy for the then Quad Cities Classic tournament at Oakwood Country Club, Coal Valley. But fate – and a convincing video application – stepped in and Mr. Oltman was chosen by Deere & Co. CEO John May to “Take the Tee” and play in Mr. May’s place in the JDC Pro-Am on Wednesday, June 29, at TPC Deere Run.   

A John Deere Harvester Works employee, Mr. Oltman is a United Auto Workers (UAW) representative and the continuous improvement (CI) coordinator at the East Moline plant. The 15-year Deere veteran was selected last month to golf by Mr. May, who caddied for the employee.

“As a spectator, I’ve always been wondering what it’s like to be inside the ropes,” Mr. Oltman told the QCBJ earlier in the week and before the round. “And now I finally get the opportunity. I’m very thankful, overwhelmed and a little nervous.”

Mr. Oltman, who still calls Oakwood his home course, was selected from a pool of about 30 Deere employees across the country who vied for the coveted Take the Tee slot. To be considered, employees had to submit a video explaining to Mr. May why they should take the tee. 

 “Joel perfectly represented what this contest is about,” Mr. May said after the event. “His passion for the game of golf, his family, the company, and his community was all on full display during the pro-am. He was a great ambassador for our company, and his golf game certainly didn’t hurt the group either.”

Mr. Oltman, of rural Geneseo, Illinois, said in his video: “CI is something I’m very passionate about. While process changes are a big part of my role, it is personal growth that I enjoy the most because that impacts an employee both on the job and at home.”

In the video, Mr. Oltman is hugging his 6-year-old son Isaac, who often golfs with Dad. He told Mr. May “I believe I would be a great representative of the John Deere Classic because my family and my passion for CI drive me to be the best employee, father and husband I can be. They count on me to be the example they need day in and day out to live a life of virtue and integrity.”  

On the course Wednesday, Mr. Oltman was cheered on during the Pro-Am by his large entourage – his wife Teresa and all eight of their children: Anthony, 22; Noah, 18; Sophia, 15; Madelyn, 13; Zelie, 7; Isaac, 6; Justin, 5; and 1-year-old Ambrose.

“I’ve watched him play since his college days, this is reminiscent of those days,” Ms. Oltman said as she waited in the John Deere hospitality chalet for him to end his round. She and the children walked all but the last two holes with him. “They wanted to be here,” she said. “I was worried about their behavior on the course – but anytime he took a shot, they were all paying attention.” 

With Mr. May as his caddie, Mr. Oltman played alongside 2021 JDC Champion Lucas Glover on the front nine and South African-Slovak professional golfer Rory Sabbatini on the back nine. 

“I was happy with the experience and proud to play,” Mr. Oltman said after walking off the 18th green. His team scored 19 under in a Shamble competition, a modified preferred ball contest. 

“John (May) was wonderful to talk to. He’s an excellent caddy,” he said of the Deere CEO. “He downplayed his caddy skills … “

Admittedly, Mr. Oltman said of his kids “I heard a little noise from time to time, but every time I saw them they were smiling.” 

The former collegiate golfer at Black Hawk College, Moline, now plays golf for pleasure – often taking several of his youngest children out on the course. 

“One of the places I love to spend time with my children is on the golf course,” he said both in his video and his pre-match interview with the QCBJ. “What I love about golf is that it requires humility, patience, perseverance… It’s just you against yourself and the course and every time you play there’s an opportunity to own the result and improve.”  

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