Rozner: Golf's new young guns flexing their muscle at John Deere
SILVIS, Ill. -- The John Deere offers a classic opportunity, perhaps a week unlike any other on the PGA Tour schedule.
Always the North American event the week before the Open Championship, it gives those not yet qualified a chance to jump on a John Deere charter -- sponsored by the tournament -- and head for Europe to compete for the Claret Jug.
It also means much of the Open field is either playing in the Scottish Open this week or at the very least in Northern Ireland getting ready for Portush, which opens up the leaderboard for a host of players looking to boost their place in the FedEx Cup standings as they point toward the playoffs, including a stop at Medinah next month.
A victory at the John Deere Classic is life-changing, as it was for 19-year-old Jordan Spieth in 2013 -- the youngest winner in 80 years of professional golf -- and 23-year-old Bryson DeChambeau in 2017, promising full Tour status, a million bucks and a trip to the Open.
Now it's the names of Matt Wolff, Viktor Hovland, Collin Morikawa, Justin Suh and Sungjae Im garnering so much of the attention as the newest wave of young guns shakes up the golf world and begins to dominate leaderboards.
It's a very different time, when players can come off any of the junior tours or straight out of college and win immediately, as Wolff did in Minnesota a week ago at age 20 in just his third professional start, holding off Morikawa and DeChambeau with an eagle on 18.
It was only about six weeks ago that Wolff won the NCAA individual championship as a sophomore, and a year ago as a freshman he drained the clinching putt for Oklahoma State's team title.
But these youngsters have spent years playing in front of cameras and on international TV, an atmosphere that translates well to PGA Tour, even if only weeks after being college stars.
The stage is no longer a shock, so these guys play late in the day on Sunday with absolutely no fear.
Yeah, still ridiculous.
"It just kind of shows the how strong the NCAA is now," said Wolff. "We're ready as soon as we play out here to compete against the best players in the world.
"Knowing that Jordan won so quickly out here, and watching Collin and Viktor have great finishes, and even though I didn't play great in my first couple starts, it gave me confidence knowing that in college we battled.
"My thinking was, 'I can compete with those guys and they're doing it, so why can't I?' It's a cool experience playing out here with guys I played with in college."
Only seven players in the last 80 years have won before the age of 21. What do the other six -- Spieth, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy, Ray Floyd and Seve Ballesteros -- have in common?
Among other things, each man owns at least three major championships.
But it wasn't Wolff who was favored this week at the JDC. That number fell on 21-year-old OSU teammate Hovland, who won the 2018 U.S. Amateur and was the low amateur at the Masters and U.S. Open before turning pro a few weeks ago.
"I did not know that (until) someone texted me," Hovland said. "That's what Vegas put on us, but that's kind of incredible. We're still playing off sponsor's exemptions. I don't know what to say about it."
And then he did.
Said Hovland of the oddsmakers, "Stay off the weed."
Perhaps, at least this week.
But there have been 11 first-time winners on the PGA Tour this wraparound season, and four of the last six winners at the JDC have collected their maiden victory in the Quad Cities.
So this week could offer another, as the 22-year-old Morikawa sits only 4 shots back at 12-under, and several others looking for their first win are within a few shots of the lead.
There have also been six playoffs in 19 years at TPC Deere Run, so that might be the best bet for Sunday afternoon.
Weed or not.