The John Deere Classic's tradition of offering valuable playing opportunities to deserving up-and-coming young players continued Thursday when the tournament announced it has awarded sponsor exemptions to three of the nation's top college players, all of whom have roots in the Midwest.
- The world's No. 1-ranked amateur, Patrick Rodgers, 21, of Avon, Ind., a junior at Stanford, received his third consecutive sponsor exemption to the John Deere Classic. Last Sunday (May 19), Rodgers won the prestigious Ben Hogan Award given to the "outstanding male amateur and collegiate golfer and of the year." Last year, Rodgers finished tied for 15th at TPC Deere Run, and has announced he will turn pro at the conclusion of this college season. A first team All-American and a member of the 2011 and 2013 Walker Cup teams, Rodgers won a Stanford record six tournaments this season, including the individual PAC 12 Championship. His 11 college victories tied a record set by Tiger Woods.
- Oklahoma State Cowboy Jordan Niebrugge (pronounced KNEE-BREW-GEE), 20, of Mequon, Wisconsin, is defending champion of the U.S. Public Links, the Western Amateur, the Wisconsin State Amateur and the Wisconsin State Match Play. Thanks to his stellar play last summer, Niebrugge earned a spot on the victorious 2013 U.S. Walker Cup team. Niebrugge, who played in this year's Masters, currently is finishing his sophomore year at Oklahoma State during which he recorded one victory in the tough Big 12 Conference. He is 17th in the Scratch Players World Amateur Ranking.
- Iowa's Steven Ihm (pronounced "I'M"), 22, of Peosta, Ia., who is wrapping up his senior year in Iowa City, has been awarded his second straight sponsor exemption to play in the John Deere Classic. Ihm recently earned first-team All-Big Ten honors for the second consecutive year during which he posted two victories and six top-10 finishes while leading his team with a 71.35 scoring average. In last year's John Deere Classic, Ihm shot 2-under par 71-69 to miss the cut by two strokes. Golfweek magazine named Ihm national player of the week on April 21.
"The John Deere Classic is thrilled to announce that Patrick Rodgers, Jordan Niebrugge and Steven Ihm have received and accepted sponsor exemptions to compete in the 2014 championship," said John Deere Classic tournament director Clair Peterson. "The John Deere Classic has a proud history of giving elite young players an opportunity to test their games against the highest level of competition. By doing so, the tournament gives its loyal fans a glimpse of the PGA TOUR's future stars."
One of those stars is defending champion Jordan Spieth, 20, who received a John Deere Classic sponsor exemption in 2012, and would have received one last year had he not qualified based on his playing record. At the age of 19, Spieth became the youngest winner of a top-level professional tour event in the last 80 years, when he won a five-hole playoff with favorite son and former Masters champion Zach Johnson and Canadian journeyman pro David Hearn.
Some other past sponsor exemptions whose careers panned out well include:
Jason Day (2006), Zach Johnson (2002-'03), Matt Kuchar (2001), Justin Leonard (1994), Patrick Reed (2013), Webb Simpson (2008) and Tiger Woods (1996).
Spieth will defend his John Deere Classic title July 7-13 at TPC Deere Run.
Tickets for the John Deere Classic are available at www.johndeereclassic.com or by calling 309-762-4653.
The PGA Tour began its run in the Quad Cities in 1971. John Deere, whose world headquarters is in Moline, Ill., assumed title sponsorship of the tournament in 1998 and is committed through 2016. The tournament moved to TPC Deere Run in 2000.
Now in its 44th year, the tournament helped raise $6.3 million for 467 charities in 2013, ranking it first on the PGA TOUR overall in per capita contributions at $18.11 for each of the 375,000 residents of the Quad City area and among the top five overall on the PGA TOUR.
The John Deere Classic, which includes Birdies for Charity, is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization located in the John Deere Classic tournament offices at 15623 Coaltown Road, East Moline, Illinois. Since its founding in 1971, the tournament has helped raise $55.38 million for charity.