The John Deere Classic has been a staple on the PGA Tour schedule for 50 years, and no players have been more instrumental to the event’s success than Zach Johnson and Steve Stricker.
Both players grew up and attended college in the Midwest, so they each have significant ties to the region, but their similarities stretch further than just geography. Johnson and Stricker are two of the most successful—and underrated—players of this generation.
Johnson is a two-time major champion and 12-time PGA Tour winner and while Stricker never got across the finish line in a major, he also has 12 wins to his name.
Both players have had plenty of success elsewhere, but they each have had unprecedented success at TPC Deere Run.
No one has won a tournament three years in a row since Stricker’s three-peat at this event in 2009, 2010, and 2011. Johnson ended Stricker’s run with a win in 2012. That remains Johnson’s lone title at the John Deere, but he has also posted six top-10 finishes.
For Johnson, the allure of this tournament extends far beyond the golf course.
“It's another home for me, if you will. I don't say that lightly, nor do I take that for granted,” Johnson said. “Coming back here is special. It doesn't feel like it's been two years, but clearly it has. I love it. I love everything about this tournament. I love what it stands for.”
Johnson hasn’t been in the best form as of late—he’s missed five cuts in his last nine events and posted just one top-25 finish during that stretch.
But it seems recent form becomes irrelevant once Johnson arrives on the property at TPC Deere Run. Since 2000, no one is more under par than Johnson at the John Deere. It’s as if he goes on autopilot for a week. He even talked to Tiger Woods about how he tries to make sure his game is at its peak when he makes the trip to Quad Cities. For Johnson, this event is on the same level as The Masters.
"I was talking to Tiger about it. When Augusta hit last April and it was postponed, we were both saying, it's like our bodies are ready for that event. Our brain and our body wants to prepare for Augusta,” Johnson said. “I think I've probably coined it my fifth major, but irrelevant to that, it's like my body is wanting to and my mind is ready to get here to the Quad Cities. It's almost like they took something away from me.”
The sentiment is echoed by Stricker, who skipped a major on the Champions Tour to play this event.
“It's a special week here. It's 50 years here for the John Deere Classic. Having this tournament mean so much to me over the years, it just felt like a no-brainer to come back here and to play here,” Stricker said. “It's an easy trip for me. It's in the car, drive three hours and I'm here. Like I said, it's a special place for me and my family.”
Between his time on the Champion’s Tour and his responsibilities as US Ryder Cup Captain, his schedule is certainly packed. Stricker recognizes that he is far from a favorite at 54 years old, but he believes he still has a chance this week. Stricker said he was encouraged after seeing Phil Mickelson win the PGA Championship at 51.
“I wouldn't be out here if I didn't think I could do something similar,” Stricker said. “Obviously winning the John Deere is going to be a tall order, but I still think there's some good play inside of me where I can hopefully get that out here this week.”