By Rick Brown
It started as a favor for a family friend in 2005. As it turns out, it was the start of a story that shows the John Deere Classic is a magical place.
Andrew Huseman was 10 years old when he came to the 2005 Deere, but he already had big golf dreams. One player he looked up to was Zach Johnson, who was from Huseman’s home state of Iowa and was just starting to hit his stride on the PGA Tour.
I ran into Andrew and his dad, Bill, one day during the 2005 tournament as they stood behind the ropes that run from the scoring trailer at No. 18 to the TPC Deere Run clubhouse. We chatted, and Bill told me Andrew really wanted Zach’s autograph.
So did a lot of people. Johnson had won for the first time on tour the year before, at the BellSouth Classic. And the fact that he grew up in Cedar Rapids, Ia., made him a popular Quad Cities attraction.
As Johnson worked his way down the hill, I walked up to him and asked him a favor. Would he make sure he signed an autograph for a family friend? No problem, Zach said.
And sign, he did. Zach found Andrew and signed his hat.
“It was a great day,” Bill remembers.
Andrew has gone on to become a fine player himself. He played for a national championship team at Indian Hills Community College in Ottumwa, Ia., and has gone on to play Division I golf at Arkansas State.
Last summer, Andrew qualified for the U.S. Amateur at Oakland Hills in Birmingham, Mich. He was one of the low 64 qualifiers to advance to match play after shooting 69-71.
Seeded 37th, Huseman drew No. 28 seed Curtis Luck in the first round. Luck prevailed, 4 and 3, and went on to win the U.S. Amateur. Luck turned pro, and is playing in this week’s John Deere Classic on a sponsor’s exemption.
The 20-year-old, from Australia, is coming off the best finish of his budding professional career. He tied for fifth at the Quicken Loans National two weeks ago. He backed that up with a tie for 20th last week at the Greenbrier Classic.
All that makes Huseman’s opening-match loss to Luck nothing to be disappointed about. And it gives him more motivation to dream of a career in professional golf.
Luck can take another big step toward gaining full-time status on the PGA Tour this week at TPC Deere Run. Luck is one of many young guns ready to take aim at par, which has been a trend all season.
Johnson, who has won two majors and 12 times on the PGA Tour to get on the doorstep of the World Golf Hall of Fame, started here with a sponsor’s exemption. So did Jordan Spieth, who got his first career victory here in 2013. This year, the new wave getting exemptions are the Illinois twosome of Dylan Meyer and Nick Hardy, Wyndham Clark of Oregon and Maverick McNealy of Stanford.
The 47th John Deere Classic will present a record $1 million check to the winner Sunday, part of the $5.6 million purse. The field includes 2017 winners Kyle Stanley (Quicken Loans), Kevin Kisner (Dean & Deluca at Colonial) and Daniel Berger (FedEx-St. Jude). Charles Howell III, who lost in a playoff to Stanley at the Quicken Loans, is also in the field. So is Top 25 money winner Charley Hoffman.
Brian Harman, a runner-up in the U.S. Open, and Johnson are joined by Steve Stricker to give the field three noteable former Deere champions.
Ryan Moore won the 2016 Deere, shooting a closing 67 and playing his final 46 holes without a bogey. He finished at 22-under 262. Moore had just two bogeys all week.
Moore rode that Deere momentum to a spot on the Ryder Cup team. Under the guidance of captain Davis Love III, the Americans won back the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine. Moore’s 1 up victory over Lee Westwood clinched the cup.
Johnson and Spieth gave the American team three former Deere champs on the roster.
Captain Love is in the field this week, too. So are players like Bubba Watson and three more major champions - Angel Cabrera, Lucas Glover and Geoff Oglivy.
So it will be a mix of young and old chasing the Deere title this week. With a little (Curtis) Luck there will be some magic, too.