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At the Turn: John Deere Classic

Adam reviews the results of the John Deere Classic!

SILVIS, ILLINOIS - JULY 03: A general view of signage at the 18th tee during a practice round prior to the John Deere Classic at TPC Deere Run on July 03, 2024 in Silvis, Illinois. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

As expected, another shootout ensued at TPC Deere Run, with the cut line ending at -5 and the winning score -28. Although I normally am not a fan of these easier courses, this tournament tends to be entertaining most years, often times producing an exciting finish. This time around, Davis Thompson ran away with the event for his first PGA Tour victory. What has been refreshing the last couple of weeks with weaker fields has been the ultra-young players competing at a high level.

Michael Thorbjornsen ($7,700), this year’s graduate of the second year PGA TOUR U program, and Luke Clanton ($8,600), who still attends Florida State, each shot -8 63s in the final round to finish T-2. Clanton had finished T-10 in Detroit last week and is clearly not afraid of the big stage. Neal Shipley also had a good week in Detroit before struggling at the Deere. Seeing some of these young players compete at a high level keeps me optimistic for the future of the PGA TOUR, despite what’s been happening with the potential merger with the Saudis and bringing the top players in the world to one global tour. Time will tell on that bring. Now, on to the evaluation of how last week’s recommended players worked out.

Sungjae Im: 

12th highest DK points at $10,300, Sungjae was a bit of a disappointment. Aaron Rai, Denny McCarthy, and, of course, Davis Thompson all outproduced him at lower salaries. While he didn’t tank your lineup(s), he wasn’t the must-have in your lineups that he was expected to be. While I don’t regret anything about the process that landed us on Im, as high as I was on Thompson, he should have been the high-priced player to start lineups with. The solid play did continue, seeing him gain strokes in all four major categories for the week. I’m expecting him to continue riding the wave of good form and be a player to target in the upcoming weeks.

Davis Thompson: 

Winner winner chicken dinner (at $9,600)! As you read last week in the John Deere Classic write-up, it was only a matter of time before the Georgia Bulldog found himself holding the trophy at the end of the week. Having written him up several times, including the last two weeks, it feels nice being high on a player before he broke through. He ended up producing 161.5 DK points, 22.5 points higher than Clanton, the second-highest scorer for the week. He was truly a must-have in your lineup if you wanted to win a tournament. DT again performed solidly with his ball striking (off the tee & approach), but it was the play around and on the greens that propelled him to victory. Sleeping on the lead going into the final round for the first time, one would normally expect there to be some nerves and jitters early in the round. Instead, the second-year PGA TOUR member made a birdie on five of his first six holes, allowing him to coast to a 4-shot victory. Clearly, having found his stride on tour, he’ll be a player who is targeted in the immediate future.

Sam Stevens: 

At $9,000 salary, Stevens’ producing only 77.5 DK points was a disappointment. A bit of a risky, ownership-based play, SS performed somewhere just below his median outcome in this event. While the tournament finish wasn’t awful, he was the lowest DK scorer of the ten players who tied for 34th and was outproduced by several players who finished as many as three shots behind him. Not making birdies at his usual clip relative to the field, there are some regrets in targeting Stevens. Typically, I’m very big on targeting strong approach play, and Stevens isn’t a particularly good player on approach. While he did show stronger trends in the key approach range at TPC Deere Run (120-180 yards), I fell in love with his recent finishes due to a hot putter. At a course like this one, the green complexes were not difficult, making it more difficult for elite putters to separate themselves from the average to below-average performers on the greens. I’ll be selective about targeting SS for future events.

Adam Svensson:

While he also finished T-34 along with Stevens, Svensson finished with 87.5 DK points due to many more birdies made. Although this finish didn’t blow you away, at $8,300, the point-per-dollar spent was enough to make him a solid play by week’s end. What seems to be the Achilles heel of his game is putting, and that proved to be true once again. Svensson lost over a stroke per round on the greens. I’d like to complain, but if I’m being honest about the evaluation process, that’s pretty close to his baseline performance expectation on the greens. Trying to learn from this outcome, I’d like to see more spike putting weeks if I’m going to target overall poor putters. Svensson will be targeted again, but at a lower salary and on more difficult greens.

Lee Hodges: 

It seems that a couple of the worst-putting performances of the week came from recommended plays. Seemingly watching Svensson putt poorly and saying, “Hold my beer,” Hodges lost over TWO strokes on the greens per round, landing him in 77th place. Only outscoring one player who also made the cut, this was a total letdown at his $7,500 salary after being -9 through the first 36 holes. Hodges also lost significant strokes off the tee, but from an evaluation standpoint, these would have been difficult things to see coming. The putting hadn’t been great, losing strokes slightly on the greens in the previous two events. However, in the four previous events, he had gained an average of over 2.5 strokes per tournament. I’m chalking this performance up as an aberration and will not shy away from targeting Hodges in the future. I may give him a couple of weeks to gain his confidence back and figure out his putting.

Andrew Novak: 

Producing a massive 124.5 DK point performance on his way to a T-7 finish, Novak was a great value for the week. Two bogey-free round bonuses (3 pts each) and the All 4 Rounds Under 70 Strokes bonus (5 its) helped vault him ahead of other golfers who finished around him. What we had hoped for was for the long-term expectation of strong approach play to return and for the hot putter to continue. This is precisely what happened, seeing him gain almost three strokes on the field for the week with his approach shots while rolling in putts to the tune of almost seven strokes gained for the week! The confidence level is high for the Sea Island, GA resident. After starting the week with a bogey and a triple bogey on his first two holes (almost giving me an aneurysm), he totally redeemed himself with twenty-nine birdies against only two bogeys over the next 70 holes. Novak has turned a corner and sustained form with top-20 finishes in 4/5 events earlier in the PGA TOUR season. I’ll likely be targeting him again in the near future.

Daniel Berger: 

Swing and a miss. DB wasn’t really on my radar before looking at some course fit metrics, and I wish I had stayed away altogether. Berger made a late bogey on Friday to miss the cut by a shot. He made ten birdies, but the six bogeys were what did him in. There weren’t any strong statistical trends or good course history to make him a strong play, so I’ll be steering away from such players moving forward. Lesson learned the hard way.

Ben Silverman:

Finishing with 105.5 DK points, he ended up being a bargain at $7,100. The 20th-highest point scorer of the week, he racked up 20 birdies and an eagle. If you read The Green Read leading up to the tournament, his approach play and putting had been what helped him to four consecutive top-35 finishes. That trend continued as the Canadian-born 36-year-old gained well over three strokes on approach while converting on the greens to the tune of almost two strokes gained for the event. It seems he’ll struggle to flash for a top-10 finish in elite fields, but at the right courses against average to below-average fields, he’s a fine player to target as a salary saver.

David Skinns: 

Another one who absolutely blew up on the greens, Skinns, lost three strokes with the putter over just two rounds. At $6,900, he was a lineup killer for me, ruining an otherwise great opportunity to cash in tournaments. Additionally, he lost four strokes around the greens, more than canceling out his strong approach play. Looking back, I fell in love too much with the story of a journeyman hitting his stride. While it’s nice to see the good form from such a player, the younger players who have the speed to burn and those who have sustained high-level play for a longer period are more viable targets. Skinns may be in play at some point down the road, but I’ll be looking for a “buy low” spot instead of targeting him at a higher price, coming off of a great finish.

Harry Higgs: 

While Higgs was a somewhat risky play from the start, the performance was still disappointing. Without the strokes gained data to look at, I was banking on Higgs carrying over his strong play on the KF Tour in similar birdie fest events. Seeing the data this week, it was a struggle across the board relative to his playing competitors. After an abysmal +1 72 in round one, he did show some fight on his opening nine holes of round two, firing a -5 31. After that, a poor finish led him to a missed cut by a couple of shots. It’s difficult to conclude anything from just a couple of rounds of data, but the lesson for me here is that we should use that data where we can to strategically target players for the course. I loved the Higgs redemption story coming into the event, but the optimism burned me. I’m looking at these players as golfing robots from here on out.

Final Thoughts:

I joke about the robot stuff, but taking the emotion out of the evaluation process is a must. While players are human and confidence levels will rise and fall, a good story does not make for a good play in any event. Good course fit, recent form, and course history will always rule the day. However, it does feel like we’re hitting our stride coming into the home stretch of the season. Now we head across the pond to Scotland for one event ahead of the Open Championship. Onwards and upwards!