PGA Tour: Is it worth competing at the John Deere Classic?

The John Deere Classic, which takes place in Silvis, Illinois, has a permanent spot on the PGA Tour schedule right before the Open Championship (commonly known as the British Open). The two tournaments’ proximity on the schedule is one of the few things they have in common. The JDC’s stage is the TPC at Deere Run course, a very American-style setup with lush fairways and fast greens, while the Open this year is at Royal Liverpool in Hoylake, United Kingdom. Royal Liverpool, like other Open courses, is a links-style course with browned out fairways and slow greens that flank the coast of a nearby body of water, usually the Atlantic Ocean. The JDC saw temperatures in the 80’s for much of the tournament, while rain, wind and cool temperatures are expected this weekend at Hoylake.

While American-style courses favor a player who can flight the ball high and tame fast greens, a champion on a links-style course is often one who can play a variety of shots and can flight the ball low in 20-plus mile per hour winds.

For these reasons, as well as adjusting to the time difference, many players opt to head to the United Kingdom a week or more prior to physically and mentally prepare for the Open. Some opt to compete in the Scottish Open, which runs simultaneously to the JDC, while some look to do some early homework at the host course. Either way you shake it, the world’s top players are often a world away in the UK versus staying stateside to compete in Silvis.

Zach Johnson

Iowa native Zach Johnson finished in second place in 2014 and is always a fan-favorite at the John Deere Classic

This is for good reason.

A JDC competitor has not won the subsequent week at the Open since Todd Hamilton shocked the world to win in 2004. Nonetheless, this presents a chicken or the egg question. Is this the case because playing at the JDC is such a disadvantage or is it because so many top players choose not to play in the first place?

I think the former may be the better answer, but not by a lot. Sure, if you are a player, you would likely prefer to have more than three days to get used to the six-hour time difference, as well as an entirely different brand of golf. Sure, it is nice to compete in the more historic Scottish Open and getting a taste of links golf versus playing at Deere Run, which bears no resemblance at all to Open-style courses.

But what players miss out on at the JDC is more than they may realize. For one, the fans are some of the greatest in the world. Sure, as a Midwestern guy, I am biased, but players themselves preach to this point as well. Instead of feeling sorry for themselves that they do not get to host a more heralded event, the Quad Cities embraces what it has and it roots like hell for its Midwestern heroes, such as Steve Stricker and Zach Johnson. While Stricker and Johnson tend to fly under the radar at other events, they are regarded as kings at this tournament. While the other players may not be viewed as deities, they still receive first-class treatment and the gallery remembers who has played well at the event from years past.

Regarded as one of the most family-friendly events for players and patrons alike, players who come to play for the first time often come back. 2013 champion Jordan Spieth, the highest-ranked player (10th) in the 2014 field opted to head back to Silvis to defend his title versus heading to Hoylake early to prepare for only his second straight open.

Even the numbers favor the John Deere Classic as a stronger event top-to-bottom than the Scottish Open. Though Scotland consistently attracts more top-10, top-25 and top-50 players, the talent level drops off significantly at the Scottish Open while the JDC has a field where 50-60 players have a realistic shot to win every year.

I cannot conclude that playing the JDC, the Scottish Open or heading out to the host course is the best way to prepare for the Open. While the statistic of no JDC competitors winning the Open in 10 years is a bit daunting, perhaps that could change if more and more top players opt for the chance to earn some FedEx Cup points and take in a little Midwest hospitality before heading across the pond.