Jordan Spieth’s first PGA TOUR victory came as a teenager, at the 2013 John Deere Classic. Daniel Summerhays knows that history could have told a completely different story.
“Jordan probably won’t say it, but I kind of gave a kick-start to his career,” Summerhays said Wednesday at TPC Deere Run. “If it weren’t for me, he wouldn’t be Jordan Spieth.”
Laughter followed, but golf can be a cruel game. Summerhays, 32, was the 54-hole leader in 2013, shooting a third-round 62, and looked to be closing in on the first victory of his PGA Tour career. But one bunker told two stories.
It’s the second greenside bunker on No. 18. That’s where Spieth’s ball ended up in the final round. Spieth caught his bunker shot a tad heavy, but it hit the pin and dropped into the hole for a birdie. Spieth went on to beat Zach Johnson and David Hearn in a sudden-death playoff.
After hitting his drive in the middle the fairway. Summerhays knew he could win with a birdie. But he hit his second shot into the same bunker Spieth had been in. His ball plugged.
“I had no chance, really,” Summerhays said. “I had to leave it in the bunker and then try to make that and get into that playoff.”
It didn’t happen. Summerhays tied for fourth after a closing 72.
But there are two reasons why you should keep a close eye on Summerhays this week. He also tied for 13th in 2014 and tied for eighth last year. He’s shot in the 60s in 12 of his last 13 trips around TPC Deere Run.
“Ever since my rookie year, I’ve always played well at this course,” Summerhays said. “I think it fits a draw, to my eye. I see the greens really well. I just love this place. I really have played well here, even in years where I haven’t played as well coming into this event. I definitely feel very confident in my game.”
As well he should. In his last six starts, Summerhays finished third in the PGA Championship and tied for eighth in the U.S. Open. He also tied for 11th at the Travelers Championship last week.
“The experience I’ve had here, coming down on 18, I’m already looking forward to it,” Summerhays said. “I know Zach is going to be there at the end this week. That’s a given. Strick (Steve Stricker), there are guys who are just going to be there at the end this week, and I hope that I’m one of those guys with a chance to win on the 18th hole this year.”
Johnson, the 2012 Deere champion and a top three finisher in each of the last five seasons with 28 consecutive rounds in the 60s, is on everyone’s short list of contenders. So is Stricker, who started his three-peat here in 2009. And Stricker, 49, isn’t acting his age. He tied for second at the FedEx St. Jude Classic in June and tied for fourth at the Open Championship at Troon last month.
“It’s always special coming back here,” Stricker said. “It’s a special place for me and my family. I get so much support here, and the fans really get behind me and Zach. All the other guys here, too, but it’s just a really special place for us to come here and play.”
Stricker and Johnson, 40, represent the veteran side of the PGA Tour. But keep an eye on the younger set, too. Especially 21-year-old Jon Rahm, who has already won enough money since turning pro at the U.S. Open to earn his PGA Tour playing card for 2017.
Rahm tied for 23rd at the U.S. Open, was a runner-up at the RBC Canadian Open, tied for third at the Quicken Loans Invitational and tied for 23th last week at the Travelers Championship.
“My goals have never really changed,” Rahm said. “When I turned professional, my goal having those six starts was to get my PGA Tour card. I just achieved my goal way faster than I thought I was going to.”
Another new face is 26-year-old Wesley Bryan, who earned his way to the PGA Tour with three victories on the Web.com Tour. Bryan’s third victory came Sunday at the Digital Ally Open in Overland Park, Kan.
“It’s crazy just looking back at how much things have changed over the last nine months,” Bryan said. “If you had told me there was going to be a microphone in front of my face here playing in the John Deere Classic, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. I’m excited to be here, but can’t get too wrapped up in the whole scene and the PGA Tour. I’ve got to take it as business as usual out here trying to win a golf tournament.”