Jordan Spieth’s return gives John Deere Classic a gigantic boost

Jordan Spieth, one of the PGA Tour's top names - is competing in the 2024 John Deere Classic, which is the 53rd edition at the TPC Deere Run in Silvis, Illinois, from July 4 to 7.

Jordan Spieth was just a kid – albeit a very promising golfer – when he played in the John Deere Classic for the first time in 2013.

To say he took advantage of the opportunity is putting it mildly. Not only did he win the title in the only annual PGA Tour event left in Illinois, his win was the stuff of legends and the golf community in the Quad Cities area – which embraces Moline and Rock Island in Illinois and Davenport and Bettendorf in Iowa – never forgot the excitement Spieth brought to the game back then.

Then Spieth missed the tournament the next nine years, and he was missed — to put it mildly. This week, though, he’s back, and the communities along the Mississippi River couldn’t be more excited.

Spieth was 19 when he won his first title in the John Deere Classic. After barely a year of college golf at Texas he had one runner-up finish and six other top-10s in his first PGA Tour season – but he had yet to win. That shortcoming was eliminated in dramatic fashion in Spieth’s debut at TPC Deere Run.

He holed a 44-foot bunker shot for birdie on the last hole of regulation play – his fifth birdie in six holes – to get into a playoff. A tense six holes later he knocked off defending champion and Iowa favorite Zach Johnson and Canadian David Hearn to become only the fourth teen-ager to win on the PGA Tour, and the first since 1931.

Sepp Straka returns to TPC Deere Run as defending champion of the John Deere Classic.

The Spieth story didn’t end there. He was no one-day wonder, winning 11 tournaments in his first four years on tour including three major championships. After finishing seventh in his title defense in the 2014 JDC Spieth won his second title in another playoff in 2015 — a season he which he won both the Masters and U.S. Open.

One of the smallest-market sites on the PGA Tour had its own great hero. Spieth surpassed even Steve Stricker, who had three straight wins from 2009-11.

And then Spieth moved on. A player of his stature needed to make schedule adjustments.

“There’s no shortage of playing opportunities,’’ said Andrew Lehman, who replaced Clair Peterson as JDC tournament director in 2023. “A player will play in 18 to 24 tournament a year and he’ll have 40 to choose from.’’

Spieth chose the JDC only once, but that didn’t work out well. He was on the grounds but withdrew because of an injury without teeing off. The JDC staff never gave up on bringing Spieth back, however.

“We never stopped trying,’’ said Lehman. “A lot of people felt he’d never be back, but we kept working with him and his team. This year we worked with them for two-three months, but I thought it wasn’t going to happen because it was taking so long and we weren’t hearing anything. Then (about two weeks before the tournament) they called and said that he had committed. We’re super excited. He’s the only guy on our sponsor visits that people always asked about.’’

Kevin Chappell of the United States walks on the 16th hole during the first round of the John Deere Classic at TPC Deere Run on July 04, 2024 in Silvis, Illinois. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

The tournament, was which played for the first time in 1971, has had an ongoing battle for survival. Sponsorship issues disappeared until John Deere took charge in 1999, TPC Deere Run – designed by three-time tournament winner D.A. Weibring – became the home site the following year.

Still, there were problems getting top players to compete. The JDC became well known for its ability to produce first-time PGA Tour champions. Spieth was just one of them.

Now the issue are Signature events — big money, small field, no-cut tournaments put on by the PGA Tour as part of its battle with the LIV Tour. The JDC doesn’t have Signature status, but the tournament has coped with that dilemma.

“It’s been a tumultuous 18 months in the game of professional golf,’’ said Lehman, “but the last two years have worked in our favor.’’

This year the last of eight Signature events was the Travelers, in Connecticut. It was played two weeks before the JDC, and only the British Open (July 18-21) is left among the sport’s four majors. That left the JDC with a good week to get top players.

Spieth wasn’t the only one to fit it into its schedule. Patrick Cantlay has never played in the event, but he will this week, and Jason Day is back after making just a few appearances in the Quad Cities early in his career. Sepp Straka is the defending champion who, in the tournament’s media day, declared the PGA Tour “needs more tournaments like the John Deere Classic.’’

“Our field this year is the deepest we’ve ever been,’’ said Lehman. “It’s hard to put a field together, especially when you throw in a holiday with it (the first round coincides with Thursday’s Fourth of July). But the dates this year benefitted us. Last year we had nine of the top 50 (players in the world rankings). We should top that this year.’’

Len has been covering golf for over 56 years. He was the golf columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times for 41 years and has been in the same role for the Daily Herald and several regional newspapers since 2009... Len is also a regular contributor to the Chicago District Golfer magazine and his travel pieces are regularly published in Pro Golf Weekly, New England.Golf, eSouthernGolf and the Ohio Golf Journal. His works for all publications are available at It is in its 15th year of operation and has been enhanced by the photography provided by his partner Joy Sarver... An inductee into the Illinois Soccer Hall of Fame in 2004 (for his reporting and youth coaching, not as a player), Len was also inducted into the Illinois Golf Hall of Fame in 2019. He is also on the Advisory Board of the International Network of Golf, is a lifetime member of the Golf Writers Association of America and a member of the Golf Travel Writers of America.

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