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The Five: Prospects Playing John Deere Classic

New pros, promising amateurs in the field at TPC Deere Run

SILVIS, Ill. — If PGA TOUR University had a syllabus, Jordan Spieth’s pin-rattling hole out from a greenside bunker on the 72nd hole of the 2013 John Deere Classic would assuredly be on it.

That shot offers a masterclass in the art of making the most of an opportunity.

“I definitely remember that,” said Stanford senior Michael Thorbjornsen, who was 12 when Spieth holed that shot en route to his first PGA TOUR victory. “Now, look at him, a multi-major winner, former No. 1, doing great things even 10 years later.”

This week, Thorbjornsen and fellow amateur Gordon Sargent will join recent PGA TOUR University graduates and rookie pros Ludvig Aberg, Ross Steelman, William Mouw, and Tommy Kuhl as the latest group of emerging stars embracing opportunity at TPC Deere Run.

The John Deere Classic is a summer tradition in the Midwest. Part of the event’s history is its use of its sponsor exemptions to offer precious opportunities to up-and-comers, be they amateurs or new pros.

While some tournaments may prefer to invite more familiar names, like former major champs or TOUR winners seeking a spot in the field, the Deere prides itself on skewing young with its invitations. We saw the effect of that last year, when Chris Gotterup, fresh off his senior season at Oklahoma, finished fourth at TPC Deere Run.

When Spieth won here in 2013, he was the youngest TOUR winner in eight decades. Sargent, now the top-ranked amateur in the world, was 10 years old in 2013 but remembers Spieth’s win well.

“It definitely gives you a lot of confidence knowing there are players who jump-started their careers here,” the Vanderbilt junior said. “It’s going to be a fun week.”

Since 1995, the John Deere Classic has been won five times by players under the age of 24. That’s the most on TOUR in that span. When David Gossett won in 2001 – two years after he had won the U.S. Amateur – he was the first player since Tiger Woods in 1996 to win while playing on a sponsor exemption.

Woods almost made the Deere his first win, as well. Using a sponsor exemption to make his third PGA TOUR start as a pro, Woods took the first 54-hole lead of his young career before being overtaken by Ed Fiori in the final round. Woods’ T5 finish in the Deere set the stage for him to earn the first of his 82 PGA TOUR wins two weeks later at the Shriners Children’s Open.

TPC Deere Run is the land of opportunity. And that’s what the young players in this week’s field are seeking. An opportunity. To gain invaluable experience. To test their game against the best. To earn a paycheck and valuable FedExCup points. And, ultimately, a trophy.

Headlining this year’s crop is Ludvig Aberg, the Swede by way of Texas Tech. He is golf’s version of Victor Wembanyama, the consensus top pick in this year’s NBA Draft class. Aberg swept college golf’s three player of the year awards in 2023 and was No. 1 in PGA TOUR University, becoming the first to earn PGA TOUR status through that program.

Aberg has made the cut in all three of his PGA TOUR starts since turning pro last month, including two top-25s. He was in third place halfway through last week’s Rocket Mortgage Classic, displaying his strong combination of distance and accuracy off the tee.

“It’s been a few intense weeks,” Aberg said Tuesday. “Ever since I played my first event (at the RBC Canadian Open) a couple of weeks ago, it’s been kind of on the go all the time.

“I try to be prepared for it. I try to prepare as much as I could, and it’s going to … take some time to get used to it. And whether you like it or not, it’s a completely new setting. So there’s a lot that goes into that.

“All I can do is try to embrace it, try to have fun with it, and try to learn as much as I can because there are going to be things that are different.”

Aberg has the luxury of being a PGA TOUR member thanks to his success in PGA TOUR U. These other prospects listed below are hoping to use their sponsor exemptions as a springboard for their promising careers.

This week’s version of The Five looks at five young players to watch at the John Deere Classic.


Vanderbilt junior

Sargent, the top-ranked amateur in the world, is seeking to become the first player to earn PGA TOUR membership through PGA TOUR U Accelerated. That program offers PGA TOUR status to any player who can achieve 20 points on a scale that rewards points for a variety of accomplishments in top amateur and pro events, from winning prestigious titles like the NCAA Championship and U.S. Amateur to making cuts in majors. Sargent has 16 points and will earn two more when he tees it up in the Walker Cup in September. Making the cut this week would earn him an additional point, and a top-10 finish would earn him one more. Sargent won the 2022 NCAA title and was that year’s NCAA Division I freshman of the year. He has been a first-team All-American in each of his two seasons at Vanderbilt and competed in two majors this year, missing the cut after earning a special invitation to the Masters and finishing T39 to earn low-amateur honors at the U.S. Open.


Stanford senior

The initial rankings for the PGA TOUR U Class of 2024 will be released later this summer, and when they are it’s a safe bet that Thorbjornsen will be one of the top names. He was a first-team All-American in 2023 and the Pac-12 Men’s Golfer of the Year after winning the conference title and the Olympia Fields Fighting Illini Collegiate Championship, one of the top events of the college schedule. The former U.S. Junior champ is best known for finishing fourth in last year’s Travelers Championship while competing on a sponsor exemption. He won the 2018 U.S. Junior Amateur at Baltusrol, then made the cut in the following year’s U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. Thorbjornsen and Sargent, along with North Carolina’s David Ford, were the first three players named to this year’s U.S. Walker Cup team. Thorbjornsen is the second-ranked amateur in the world.


No. 4, 2023 PGA TOUR U Ranking

The 22-year-old out of Georgia Tech jumped into the top five of the PGA TOUR U standings with his runner-up finish at the NCAA Championship in May. That earned him full status on the Korn Ferry Tour, where he has made the cut in his first two starts as a pro. The Columbia, Missouri, native was a quarterfinalist in the 2021 U.S. Amateur and the medalist in the 2022 Western Amateur. He already has a win at Deere Run win on his resume. At age 12, he won the John Deere Classic Junior Championship.


No. 6, 2023 PGA TOUR U Ranking

The 22-year-old native of Chino, California, was a three-time All-American at Pepperdine, earning first-team honors in 2020 and helping the school to the 2021 NCAA Championship. He earned conditional Korn Ferry Tour status with his No. 6 finish in PGA TOUR University. Mouw has made the cut in all four Korn Ferry Tour starts since turning pro, including top-25s in each of his last three starts. He was a five-time qualifier in the U.S. Amateur and a member of the 2021 U.S. Walker Cup team. He got married days before this year’s NCAA Championship and his parents own an egg farm in Southern California.


No. 15, 2023 PGA TOUR U Ranking

The 23-year-old from Morton, Illinois, was part of five Big Ten title teams at the University of Illinois. He was a first-team All-American for Illinois this year. He finished in the top 10 in 10 of 13 starts, including a T7 finish at the NCAA Championship. As a fifth-year senior, he helped the team reach the quarterfinals of the NCAA Championship, as well. Kuhl earned PGA TOUR Canada status through PGA TOUR U and has made the cut in two of three starts on that circuit since turning pro, including a T15 finish in his pro debut. His hometown is just 90 minutes from TPC Deere Run.

Source : PGA Tour