Planet Golf — 07 July 2023 by GW staff and news services
Straka nearly collapses but hangs on for win

SILVIS, Ill. — A good old boy from Georgia by way of Austria, Sepp Straka endured a shag bag of Sunday emotions that even an accomplished country music star like Blake Shelton would be hard-pressed to put in song.

If Shelton dared to try, “Ol’ Sepp” would be a ballad with a happy ending, but not before a stunning penultimate stanza literally dripping with potential heartbreak.

With likely the biggest gallery in the John Deere Classic’s 53-year history filling the luxury boxes and amphitheater hillside surrounding the finishing hole — many of those patrons gearing up for a post-round concert featuring Shelton — Straka stood in the 18th fairway, 181 yards and two strokes away from becoming the 13th PGA TOUR player to record a sub-60 round, and just the fifth to secure a TOUR victory in the process. (Just two have won with a sub-60 final round: David Duval, 1999 The American Express; Stuart Appleby; 2010 Greenbrier Classic.)

He promptly pumped his approach into the 18th-hole pond, leading to a double-bogey 6 that put victory in peril.

Thankfully for ol’ Sepp, that’s not how the song ended.

traka, 30, secured his second TOUR win in as many years when 54-hole leader and fellow Georgia Bulldog Brendon Todd, his closest pursuer after the calamity at 18, saw his typically trusty putter fail him coming down the stretch.

In the end, Straka’s mostly brilliant, career-low 9-under 62 at TPC Deere Run was good for a two-shot win over Todd and Alex Smalley, who played together in Sunday’s final pairing.

The victory lifted Straka to 18th in the FedExCup standings and 27th in the Official World Golf Ranking, and it may have enhanced his chances of joining the European Ryder Cup side in the upcoming competition in Italy.

“September is a few months away, and I’m glad my game is in good shape,” he said. “Hopefully, I can make a push for that.”

More than anything, Straka’s second career win solidified his standing as a late-blooming TOUR standout, a dream he said he never envisioned after moving to Valdosta, Georgia, from his native Vienna, Austria, at the age of 14.

Now he’s a savvy veteran of five TOUR seasons.

“I never really had a whole lot of confidence in myself growing up,” he said. “My brother (Sam) was a little better than me. My class in high school was full of really good players, so I never really had a lot of success early on.”

He was good enough, though, to make the roster of a powerhouse Georgia program, and steady progress as a pro has brought success that instills confidence he can hang with the best in the game.

“I think one thing I’ve tried to work on a lot and have done a better job of is being more consistent in my practice and that translating into tournaments,” he said. “But at my best, I do feel like I can compete with anybody. Obviously the last three days I could have competed with just about anybody in the world, but growing up I never would have thought I would have a chance to even play on the PGA TOUR. This is all just a big dream come true.”

Straka’s final round certainly was world-class. Although it ultimately didn’t join the historic sub-60 strata, it did eclipse a 63 by the late, great Payne Stewart in 1982 to become the lowest winning Sunday round in John Deere Classic history. It also included a front-nine, 7-under 28 that shares the TPC Deere Run nine-hole record.

He got to 11-under for the day with a run of four straight birdies from the 11th through 14th holes, and the golf world couldn’t help but ponder not just a 59 that would have matched Paul Goydos’ course record in 2011, but perhaps a TOUR-record 58 scored by Jim Furyk in the final round of the 2016 Travelers Championship – or lower.

The latter was all but lost when he failed to birdie the par-5 17th, and, of course, the former swam away when he pulled his 8-iron approach from 181 yards in front of the huge gallery engulfing 18.

“I just pulled it way left,” he conceded. “I was just trying to hit my target about 7, 8 yards right of the pin and let it feed in there. Once it started going left with the wind off the right, it was never going to come back.”

Although the 59 was a thought coming down 18, Straka said he primarily was seeking a final birdie to hold off Todd and others behind him.

“It popped in my mind, for sure, yeah, but I wasn’t going to change my game plan or strategy for the 59,” he said. “The goal was still to keep the same game plan and try to finish and win a golf tournament. As fun as the 59 would be, I think winning the golf tournament is always more fun.”

Known for his steady putter, Todd basically missed a chance for a fourth career win when he three-putted for the first time in 131 holes at the par-3 16th. It was his first bogey in 46 holes.

Interestingly, Todd had mentioned Goydos’ 59 in predicting a likely Sunday shootout on the previous afternoon. And he certainly noticed Straka had that number in sight on the TPC Deere Run back nine.

“I was like, ‘He is about to do it, and I said it yesterday.’ It didn’t work out that way, but he still played a heck of a round,” said Todd. “He is a heck of ball striker, and he has worked on his short game the last few years. It is really starting to show with the level of golf he has played the last two years. When he gets into contention, he is lights out and he’s not scared to win.”

Straka didn’t just rally on Sunday. He opened Thursday with a 2-over 73, the first over-par round for a John Deere Classic winner since the tournament moved to TPC Deere Run in 2000.. But he rectified an issue with the putter overnight, and he fired his way into contention with a Friday 63.

Straka couldn’t help but notice the huge crowd coming down the stretch.

“Is that what they’re all here for?” he said when told Shelton was his closing act. “I didn’t even know he was playing, to be honest with you. I knew there was a concert. I didn’t know it was Blake Shelton, so yeah, might have to hang around for a little bit.”

The country star’s performance closed a festive week at TPC Deere Run, but for the record, “Ol’ Sepp” wasn’t on the playlist.

If that song ever is written, it will end on a sad yet interesting note. Straka’s victory came with the caveat that he cover the cost of the Airbnb rental home shared this week with 2022 John Deere champ J.T. Poston and four fellow pros.

“Oh, yeah. They’re not letting me off the hook there,” he said.

Considering he pocketed the winner’s share of a $7.4 million purse, that’s not too sad a note. But the rental cost could skyrocket next year, now that the joint now has housed back-to-back winners.

“I hope J.T. went ahead and renewed before this,” Straka said.


SILVIS, Ill. — Cameron Young was not averse to thinking ahead to the winner’s circle come Sunday after securing the midway lead at the John Deere Classic after shooting a 7-under 64 on Friday.

Coupled with an opening-round 65, Young stands at 13-under for the tournament and holds a narrow lead as the afternoon wave of play finishes.

Young has been thinking about capturing his first PGA TOUR win long before securing last year’s Rookie of the Year honors with a standout campaign that featured five runner-up finishes, including a solo second at The Open Championship at St. Andrews.

Why not say so now?

“I feel like you can be thinking about it without it being a bad thing,” the 26-year-old former Wake Forest University standout said in a moment of candor. “I think everybody came here this week to win a golf tournament, and in that way you’re all thinking about it right off the bat.

“Obviously I’m in a better position than you find yourself most weeks to do that, but that just really means I’m kind of accomplishing my goals thus far this week and doing my job well. So that’s all I can try to keep doing.”

Young did his job well from the start on Friday, opening the round with birdies on his first three holes on the back nine at TPC Deere Run and closing his eight-birdie, one-bogey day with a 171-yard approach to within 4 feet of a tough pin on the challenging ninth.

When rookie playing partner Ludvig Aberg, who matched Young’s 7-under day to get 10-under for the tournament, told him, ‘Nice shot,’ Young’s penchant for candor arose again.

“I was aiming nowhere near there,” he said. “It was kind of awful, but it worked out awesome. It’s one of those things that happen when it’s going well.”

Things have certainly been working out better for Young this week than they have in a while. Since a runner-up finish in the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play the last week of March and a T7 at the Masters two weeks later, Young has been searching for success.

His best finish in seven subsequent starts was T32 at the U.S. Open.

Veteran caddie Paul Tesori, who first took the young star’s bag at the Match Play event in Austin, Texas, credited his Deere Run resurgence to a recent week off in Florida. Young spent the time working on his game with father and longtime swing coach, David Young.

“He’s been working really, really hard on his putting,” Tesori told PGA “It hasn’t shown necessarily in his results yet, but he’s worked hard. He’s worked hard with mechanics, his swing, worked hard on drills. He’s done all the things you want to do. The hard part is trying to stay patient and wait for the results to come.”

Certainly, Young’s putting work is paying dividends this week: He gained 4.5 strokes on the field on the greens through the first two rounds — but he also hasn’t put much stress on the flat stick. Seven of Friday’s birdies came from 10 feet and in.

Young’s position on the midway leaderboard befits his standing at TPC Deere Run. At No. 19 in the Official World Golf Rankings, he is the highest ranked player in the field by 10 spots. But, as he noted early in the week, no one’s spotting him shots.

“I know that every week there’s 150 other guys that are really, really good at golf trying to beat you,” he said. “That part of it doesn’t really do anything mentally for me.”

It doesn’t hurt to have Tesori at his side. Before a 12-plus-year stint with Webb Simpson, the veteran caddie was part of TPC Deere Run wins with Vijay Singh (2003) and Sean O’Hair (2005).

Although this week marks Young’s first start in Silvis, however, neither player nor caddie see that as a special advantage either. Two rounds with Simpson last year were Tesori’s first exposure to the golf course in a decade, and the big-hitting Young is attacking from places Tesori never previously had been.

Tesori said the partnership has been work in progress.

“It has been harder than I thought it would be,” he said. “Having 12 years with Webb, there’s some things that were automatic to me. But Cam likes things done differently than Webb. It’s a different kind of communication he wants. Our first two events when things were going well, it was easy. As we struggled, I feel like there’s times I could have helped more and haven’t been able to.”

Still, said Young, “I feel like we’re really getting there. All in all, it has been amazing, and he works so hard and knows so much, he has turned into a huge resource for me. I trust him.”

He also trusts that a long-dreamt-of visit to the winner’s circle isn’t far away. Although six runner-up finishes in the past two years have heightened his hunger, he hasn’t lost sleep over missed opportunities.

“None of them bother me, and I don’t feel like I’ve had a tournament in my hands,” he said. “Mostly what I take from those is just knowing I’m very close. Finishing second, you’re playing good enough golf to win a PGA TOUR event. Keep working on the same stuff and getting better, and eventually things will go the other way.”


SILVIS, Ill. — Jonas Blixt heated up on the back nine at TPC Deere Run on Thursday, playing his last six holes in 6 under for a 9-under 62 and a two-shot lead over Grayson Murray in the first round of the John Deere Classic.

Murray was 8 under through 13 holes but stalled from there. He bogeyed his final hole and shot 64. Cameron Young, the highest-ranked player in the field at No. 19, also closed with a bogey and was part of a big group three shots back.

The 39-year-old Blixt, a three-time winner on TOUR, has only conditional status and is making his first PGA TOUR start since the AT&T Byron Nelson in May. He spent most of the past six weeks working at home with his swing coach and missed the cut last week on the Korn Ferry Tour, but he felt like something clicked on the range on Tuesday.

“I kind of came to the point in my season where it’s so late that I don’t feel any pressure anymore really and just kind of go out and swing at it,” Blixt said. “Golf is weird. Like, tomorrow I can shoot 100 I feel like, but today was a great day.”

Blixt shot 7-under 29 on the back nine — his first time breaking 30 for nine holes on TOUR — and the 62 matches his career-best round. He drove the green on the 360-yard, par-4 14th hole and made a 43-foot putt for eagle. On the par-4 18th, he hit his approach from a fairway bunker within 5 feet for a closing birdie.

Blixt last won in 2017 at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans. He had back surgery two years later and has struggled since. He entered the week ranked 842nd in the world.

“I played a lot of years on TOUR, and I’m very thankful for it, and I got to play with a lot of good players, a lot of good golf courses, a lot of good sponsors,” Blixt said. “Sometimes you just have to be grateful for what you have and what you experience as well and not always think about what could have been. So I kind of lean on that a little bit. Obviously I’m still hungry. I’m not saying that I’m quitting.”

Murray’s 64 was his best round on TOUR in three years.

“I’ve been playing really good on the Korn Ferry Tour and got a win about a month ago and a third place out there,” he said. “I’m in a good position out there to lock up my card here soon, and I felt like coming out here with an opportunity to kind of double dip, as you could say, and play a little more free knowing that my card is pretty much locked up out there.”

Murray, a winner at the Barbasol Championship in 2017, suffered a knee injury in a scooter crash in Bermuda in October, forcing him to withdraw from the Bermuda Championship. He didn’t play again until January on the Korn Ferry Tour, and since then he has worked on spending his free time productively.

“I try to fill my time with some positive things off the course, whether it’s going to the gym or hitting up a movie,” he said. “We have a lot of down time, and I would say I was not good at prioritizing that in the past.

“I’m 29 years old now. I’ve been out here a long time, andI kind of had a coming-to-Jesus moment a little bit and said, hey, look, I have an opportunity here. I probably haven’t reached my prime yet.”

Joining Young at 65 were Greyson Sigg, Garrick Higgo, Adam Schenk, Nate Lashley and Richy Werenski.

Related Articles


About Author

(0) Readers Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.