The John Deere Classic today announced it has awarded sponsor exemptions to three more accomplished young players who aspire to the heights of the PGA TOUR as well as four Tour veterans.
The “young gun” contingent consists of Robby Shelton, Brian Bullington and Austin Connelly.
The veterans are Troy Matteson, Heath Slocum, Charlie Wi and Matt Weibring.
Meanwhile, Aaron Wise, who recently received a sponsor exemption to play the John Deere Classic, won his second tournament on the PGA TOUR’s Canada-based Mackenzie Tour in only his third professional start. Now 20, Wise, who won the NCAA individual and team championships in June for Oregon, won the Syncrude Oil Country Championship by one stroke in Canada on July 31.
The most decorated of the three new younger sponsor exemptions is Shelton, a three-time All-American from Alabama, who led the Crimson Tide to the 2014 NCAA team national championship and was named SEC Golfer of the Year. Shelton decided to forego his final year of eligibility at Alabama after finishing third last year at the PGA TOUR’s Barbasol Championship, playing as an amateur on a sponsor exemption.
For local fans the most recognizable of the three is likely Bullington, a native of Frankfort, Ill., a southwest Chicago suburb, who had a distinguished career at Iowa. Bullington started his pro career on the PGA TOUR’s Latinoamerica Tour, where he has made five cuts in seven events. That Tour takes a summer break, enabling Bullington to compete in the John Deere Classic.
The third and youngest of the three is Austin Connelly, a resident of Irving, Texas who turned pro after high school at age 18. He also has been playing on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada.
Matteson is a two-time winner and four-time runner up during his PGA TOUR career, where he has earned more than $9 million. Matteson finished runner-up at the 2012 John Deere Classic, losing in a playoff to Zach Johnson. His finish qualified him to play in the British Open, as Johnson already was exempt. Matteson shot four rounds in the 60s that year, including an opening round 10-under par 61. A strong supporter of the John Deere Classic, Matteson hasn’t missed an event in the Quad Cities since he began playing here in 2004.
Slocum is a four-time winner on the PGA TOUR and has amassed $15 million in official earnings since joining the circuit in 2001. He began playing the John Deere Classic in 2003, missing only one tournament in that span. His top two finishes were T-3 in 2006 and T-6 in 2007.
A native of Korea, Wi has played the PGA TOUR regularly since 2005, recording five runner-up finishes and earning just under $10 million in official money. The span from 2007-’13 were Wi’s best on Tour; he recorded 20 top 10 finishes. His best finish at the John Deere Classic was a tie for fourth in 2008, when he missed a playoff by one shot. Kenny Perry won the three-man sudden death playoff.
Weibring is the son of TPC Deere Run course designer D.A. Weibring, one of only two three-time winners in the Quad Cities. Matt Weibring will be making his sixth appearance at the John Deere Classic. He has played the Web.com Tour for the last several years.
“The John Deere Classic is proud and eager to have these three young players in our field for 2016,” said John Deere Classic tournament director Clair Peterson. “Part of the John Deere Classic’s mission is to provide promising young players with opportunities to compete early in their careers against the best players in the world - the established PGA TOUR veterans who play here every year. A number of those young players – including the likes of Jordan Spieth and Jason Day – have told us the experience they gained at the John Deere Classic helped them immensely to advance in their professional careers.”
Meanwhile, veteran exemptions help the tournament as well as give a leg up to mid-career players who need a boost to get back on track. One of those past players was three-peat John Deere Classic champion Steve Stricker. Matteson, Slocum and Weibring all fit the bill, and promise to bring congeniality to their pro-am partners and fans.
Fans of the John Deere Classic often are among the first to see the so-called “young guns” perform in a professional surrounding. Conducted annually at TPC Deere Run in Silvis, Illinois, the John Deere Classic will be played Aug. 8-14 before moving back to its normal mid-July dates in 2017 the week before the British Open. The date of next year’s event is July 10-16.
In addition to Spieth (2012) and Day (2006), other past sponsor exemptions whose careers have panned out include defending British Open champion Zach Johnson (2002-‘03), Matt Kuchar (2001), Bill Haas (2004), Patrick Reed (2013), Webb Simpson (2008) and Tiger Woods (1996).