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Culp's Corner

John Deere Classic Preview

by Josh Culp
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

After a few stops out East, we head to the Midwest for this week's John Deere Classic. 

There is a full field of 156 golfers set to take on TPC Deere Run.

There is also one more Open Championship ticket up for grabs this week via The Open Qualifying Series. This will be awarded to the highest finishing golfer (not already qualified) that finishes T5 or better. 

The FedExCup Playoffs race is also heating up so there will be plenty of motivated golfers from the mid-tier this week. 


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The Course

Originally hosted by Crow Valley Country Club and then Oakwood Country Club, the current course (TPC Deere Run) has run the show since the year 2000. 

Unlike the GC of Houston, this event does not try to prep golfers for the upcoming major. They've accepted their role as a birdie paradise with six of the last eight winners reaching 20-under or better. 

TPC Deere Run is a par 71 that plays around 7,268 yards. There are seven par 4s that play under 435 yards which means distance is not a major factor here. Golfers will often club down to 3-wood or iron off plenty of these tee boxes. The fairways are quite generous and there is no water in play off-the-tee. There are plenty of fairway bunkers to navigate, though. 

Similar to last week at The Old White TPC, this is a course where big numbers are hard to find. The only tournaments since 2014 with a lower double-bogey rate are the Tournament of Champions, Sony Open, Sanderson Farms, and Puerto Rico Open. Unlike last week, though, birdies and eagles fly off the shelves here in the Quad Cities

What type of golfer does that favor? It may seem like birdie makers would be the proper target but if everyone is racking up birdies and eagles, those birdie markers may already be close to their maximum amount of birdies per round. The law of diminishing returns, or something like that. Instead, it's the bogey avoiders that typically see a boost here. These are the plodder types that typically settle for pars with an occasional birdie. Here at TPC Deere Run, a lot of those pars turn into birdies. 

With soft, bentgrass greens as targets, this typically turns into a wedgefest with golfers throwing darts for most of the week.

It's important to get yourself in position to attack with those wedges and short irons so off-the-tee game is still very important here, with a lean going in the favor of accuracy. Looking at the last six winners here: Bryson hit more fairways than the field he faced in three straight starts before his win. It was 4 straight starts before Moore hoisted the hardware here. Spieth hit a higher clip of fairways than the field in 6-of-7 and 4-of-5 lead-up starts before his JDC wins. Zach Johnson also entered with 5/5 events of striping more fairways per round than his opponents. Brian Harman (2014) is the lone exception when it comes to recent winners arriving with good form in the driving accuracy department. 

Course Quotes

Sifting through some past quotes over at the Fantasy Golfanac, let's try to break down the course to see how they will play...
Patrick Rodgers: "It's a tricky balance because this course is not that easy. The reason the scores are lower is because the greens are softer and there is typically not a whole lot wind. It can come back and bite you in a hurry, like you saw there on 18. The rough is up and it's not a piece of cake. You just have to play some good golf and be good with your wedge game when you have some opportunities from the fairway. Did a nice job of that today. "
Bryson DeChambeau: "I think understanding that you have to have a really good wedge game and got to understand how to hit shots in the wind, control trajectory, spin rates, and everything like that."
Tom Gillis: "I like playing in the Midwest, and it's a golf course that is not so much based around distance, which a lot of the TOUR is now, so it's more shot making, wedge play and putting, and at 48, at my age, that kind of is appealing to me."

Scott Brown: "I tend to drive it well.  If you drive it well around here, you're going to have a lot of good looks at birdie, because we have short irons in our hands."

Overview: Golfers love to talk about driving it in the fairway here and then capitalizing with wedges and short irons. Location is also brought up when it comes to dealing with the climate and bentgrass greens. As Gillis mentioned, this is a course where the old guys can still hang with the young bombers. 

Correlated Courses

Looking at grass types, geography, course attributes, and past performance, here are a few courses/events that I think could prove to be a good pointer this week: 

Silverado Resort and Spa
Innisbrook's Copperhead Course
TPC River Highlands
Harbour Town Golf Links
Colonial Country Club

The main theme here is less-than-driver courses without much emphasis on distance. These are mostly position-based courses where you don't need to overpower them. You just need to keep it in the fairways and then capitalize with your scoring clubs. 

The Weather

Thursday: Mostly sunny with a high near 87 degrees. Winds at 7-to-10 MPH with gusts around 15 MPH. 

Friday: Partly sunny with a high near 89 degrees. A 30% chance of storms in the afternoon. Calm winds. 

Weekend: Temps remain in the upper 80s and a few more chances of storms to roll through. 

This part of the country is usually pretty sticky in July. Humidity will hang around 50-to-80% all week and the heat index will hover in the low-to-mid 90s. Winds look relatively calm this week except for Sunday currently. As of now, the Windfinder station calls for gusts as high as 30 MPH on Sunday midday. That is still a long way out so it's worth monitoring over the next few days. 


Golfers to Watch

Zach Johnson
As an Iowa native, this is his "fifth major" as he gets to play in the Midwest, close to home. This is the week he circles first every year. He's been T11 or better after 20 of his last 23 rounds played here at TPC Deere Run. Hard to go against that. 

Steve Stricker
Another Midwesterner who loves to head back home for this Midwest event. Stricker certainly has the results here as well (three wins and three other top 5s). However, his results are trending in the wrong direction as he ages, unlike ZJ. While Johnson has been hovering all over the top of the leaderboard, Stricker has actually been outside the top 25 here in 9 of his last 10 rounds played at TPC Deere Run. I can't call him a bad play by any means but if you are looking to fade one of these course horses, Stricker might be worht a look. 

Chesson Hadley
He was T5 through 36 holes here last year. He is one of the best approach players in the field/on TOUR and he can go lights out with the putter at any moment. He's lost a bit of steam over the spring and summer, but this might be a good chance for him to reward loyal owners. 

Patrick Rodgers
Not exactly a home event but somewhat close for this Indiana native. He got an invite here early in his career and he's now played the JDC six times, more than any other event for him. That knowledge paid off last year as he was the solo leader after 36 and 54 holes but ultimately got passed up by Bryson DeChambeau. Lots of good vibes for Rodgers this week in Silvis, Illinois.  

Nick Hardy
There has been a bit of buzz on Dylan Meyer recently but it's his old teammate that draws my eye as a sleeper. During this past season, Hardy finished as the top scorer in 8-of-13 starts at the University of Illinois. Meyer was the top man in just 3 of his 12 starts. Both golfers also played in this event last year (Hardy T55; Meyer MC). I'm not calling Meyer a bad play, I do think he provides some upside as well. I just think Hardy could be a little more off-the-radar and provides just as much potential. He reached as high as #10 in the World Amateur Golf Rankings. 

Norman Xiong
Sticking with the youngsters, this Oregon Duck standout really built a train of hype last week and then missed the cut on the number. Based on quotes from people that have seen him play in college, this 19-year-old is the real deal and we shouldn't give up faith based on one bad result. If you're playing DFS or another deep-league format, he will remain worth a little sprinkle of exposure anytime he tees it up. 

Francesco Molinari
During the week at TPC Potomac he said he has no intentions of changing his commitment to this event because he's using it to fulfill the "strength of field" rule where you must play a new event every four years. You could take that as a major negative if you want. At the same time, he said one of his biggest goals is to reach East Lake this year. This is another course with another thin field that should allow him to pad his FedExCup totals. 

Johnson Wagner
Wagner has three top 10s here and he was inside the top 5 at the midpoint of all three of those starts. If that's not a ringing endorsement for course history, I don't know what is. Of course, he is still Johnson Wagner and has missed the cut in 4 of his 8 starts here. Consider Wagner a decent boom-or-bust option this week when setting DFS lineups. 

Ranking the Field

1. Zach Johnson
2. Steve Stricker
3. Bryson DeChambeau
4. Ryan Moore
5. Francesco Molinari
6. Joaquin Niemann
7. Kyle Stanley
8. Chez Reavie
9. Kevin Streelman
10. Wesley Bryan
11. Chris Kirk
12. Kevin Tway
13. Austin Cook
14. Chesson Hadley
15. C.T. Pan
16. Patrick Rodgers
17. Johnson Wagner
18. Harold Varner III
19. Bill Haas
20. David Lingmerth
21. Scott Piercy
22. Vaughn Taylor
23. J.T. Poston
24. Aaron Wise
25. Danny Lee


Head over to Dave Tindall's Scottish Open Preview. Check back on Tuesday afternoon for our Expert Picks and Wednesday for the DFS Dish. 

Josh Culp

Josh Culp joined NBC Sports Edge in 2014. The DFS enthusiast from Iowa State can be found on Twitter @futureoffantasy.