John Deere Classic

Davis Thompson’s record victory at the John Deere Classic is ‘only beginning’ of what he sees as a long, prosperous career

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Dylan Buell

Forgive us for the initial focus on the tournament within the tournament and the tournament within that tournament but blame it all on Davis Thompson. In cruising to his first PGA Tour title at the John Deere Classic Sunday in Silvis, Ill., Thompson gave no one a chance to win the coveted kicking-deer trophy and the $1.44 million first prize.

Destroying all drama, not to mention the hopes of his pursuers, Thompson, leader by two after 54 holes, birdied five of his first six holes, went out in 29 and relegated the rest of the field to duking it out for second place and a berth in the Open Championship in two weeks at Royal Troon. And trust us, that skirmish was far more entertaining with a half-dozen players involved in the fray.

But first, let’s give Thompson his due for making the primary story one big yawn. In his 63rd PGA Tour start, the former University of Georgia All-American was as cool as an iceberg and just about as stoic—at least until the end. A final-round seven-under 64 gave him a tournament record 28-under 256 total and four-stroke victory. Thompson, 25, is the ninth first-time winner on the tour this year and the 24th first-time winner of the event.

When he tapped in for par at the home hole at TPC Deere Run, he shared a long embrace with his wife Holly Grace and sobbed on her shoulder, the only time he cracked all day.

“I played great all week. Kind of had a few hiccups on Friday but worked hard after the round and was able to kick it into gear on the weekend,” said Thompson, who jumped from 70th to 38th in the world with the victory. “Just feels great. A lot of hard work went into this, and thankfully I was able to get the job done this weekend.”

Coming off a T-9 finish at the U.S. Open at Pinehurst and a T-2 at last week’s Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit—his second runner-up in six weeks—Thompson seemed primed for the push that got him to his maiden victory. He sensed it was coming, too. “The goal, I guess, in May was to make the playoffs, and then next thing I know I finished second at Myrtle Beach and then ninth at the U.S. Open and second last week,” he said. “This week my goal was to just kick the door down and get a win, honestly.”

Thompson birdied the first hole with your basic destiny-seeking 44-footer to immediately increase his lead from two strokes to three over Eric Cole and Aaron Rai, and even though it was far from over, it sure seemed headed in that direction. Then he got up and down for birdie at the second, holing a three-footer, and his lead was four. Then he birdied the fourth from 13 feet, the fifth from 29 feet, and the sixth from 12 feet and his lead was six strokes. He made 120 feet of putts in that outward 29.

That’s quite a kick.

He got it in the house (and then had to pick up the tab at the mythic Trophy House, the residence that now has produced the last three winners) with a rather uneventful back nine, getting only the briefest threat from a collection of birdie hunters trying to one up one another for the honor of being number two. Which in this case was one big deal.

Thompson not only qualified for the Masters with his win, but he also claimed one of the two Open berths available at the Deere, which is one of the 16 Open Qualifying Series events for the 152nd Open. The other spot went to C.T. Pan, who tied for second at 24-under 260 with Michael Thorbjornsen, playing in his third event as a pro, and amateur Luke Clanton. Thorbjornsen and Clanton, whose combined age leaves them eight years shy of eligibility on the Champions Tour, each shot 63 while Pan, the bronze medalist in the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, had a 64 but got the Troon ticket by virtue of a higher world ranking among the trio at 144th.

Clanton, 20 and a rising junior at Florida State, became the first amateur since Billy Joe Patton in 1958 to register consecutive top-10 finishes on the tour. Amateurs are having themselves a year, huh?

Also in the dustup behind Thompson were Ben Griffin, Carson Young and Denny McCarthy. Griffin fired the day’s low round (62) but he couldn’t catch his neighbor, and a late bogey cost him a shot at the Open. Griffin estimates that his house and Thompson’s house next door on St. Simons Island, Ga., are separated by about five feet.

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Stacy Revere

“He's just solid. Hits it long and hits it straight. He does everything you can expect of an elite golfer,” Griffin said of Thompson. “I knew both of us … one of us was going to get a win sooner rather than later. Great guy. He's even keeled, and he's not going to talk a lot. He is just going to go about his business, and he is not afraid to make a lot of birdies as we can tell.”

Thompson made 30 of them, best in the field of course, not a surprise for a player ranked 29th on tour in birdie average. His adjusted scoring average of 70.076 ranks seventh overall. This guy looks like he might stick around for a while.

Brendan Todd, another Sea Island neighbor, has called Thompson a future Ryder Cup player and top-10 player in the world, and Zach Johnson, who also lives at Sea Island, likewise sees plenty of potential in a young man who has been around tournament golf for a long time; his father Todd is the tournament director of the tour’s RSM Classic.

In Thompson’s mind, it’s all about building blocks. He just established the foundation.

“Throughout my life it's taken me time to get adjusted to anything in life,” he said. “Took me a while to get adjusted to college. Even back to junior golf when I started playing the back tees. It just kind of takes me a while to get adjusted, and then once i get comfortable I kind of get in a groove and start to play well. I feel like the past couple months I've got more and more comfortable and was able to break through this week.

“Now that I've got my first win, I feel like the work is only beginning,” he added. “The goal is to play this game for 20 plus years and have a great career.”