John Deere Classic Preview, Picks & Analysis
IT SEEMS like only yesterday that Luke Donald was world number one. The Englishman, like so many before him, decided that he needed to change his golf swing in an effort to find a few more yards from the tee. It didn’t matter that he had won five time son the PGA Tour. It didn’t matter that he had finished 2011 as both the leading money winner on the PGA Tour and won the Race to Dubai. He wanted to get better. He wanted to put himself in a position to win majors.
In 2013 he changed his swing coach, and so his decline began. In 2015 he had to face sectional qualifying for the U.S. Open for the first time in 11 years due to his fall to 66th in the world rankings. He managed to finish at the top of his qualifier at the Bears Club to seal a spot. But the following year was a disaster. In his first 10 events of the 2016 season, Donald failed to record a single top-10 finish and had only one top-25 in this time. He failed to make the field at The Masters for the first time since 2004 as he fell to 90th in the world rankings. The sole highlight of his season came at the RBC Heritage, where he finished runner-up for the fourth time. He had led after 54 holes, but was beaten by Branden Grace. He finished second in the tournament again the following year but it wasn’t enough to stop him falling out of the world’s top 100. And he also suffered a health scare, being admitted to hospital with chest pains.
Things didn’t improve last year either. He played in just eight PGA Tour events, missing the cut in six of them. His season came to a premature end as he suffered a back injury. Donald was given a medical exemption for 2019, and has 15 events to earn $335,89. There was an encouraging start when, in only the second event of his comeback from injury, he tied for ninth at the Valspar Championship. But his world ranking had tumbled to a scarcely believable 609.
And so he finds himself playing in the John Deere Classic and if he wants to play in The Open Championship his only way of doing so is by grabbing one of the last remaining exempt spots. To be sure of making it to Royal Portrush, Donald needs to win. It will be his 12th start of the year. He has missed five cuts and enjoyed two top-10 finishes and is still $70,000 short of his target. But he has gone back to his old swing, finally accepting that what served him so well was a wonderful short game. Donald is a thoroughly likeable man and most of us should be rooting for him.
Another golfer who has gone through some recent struggles is Cameron Champ. The PGA Tour rookie came flying out of the blocks, winning in only his second start, following it with two further top-10 finishes before 2018 was over. A man with what could best be described as an idiosyncratic golf swing, Champ, 24, hits the ball into the middle of next week - and beyond. But an action with so many moving parts was always likely to go wrong. And 2019 has been an entirely different story.
He has missed seven cuts and also withdrew from the Players Championship. He has also suffered some injury problems. Champ opened the Rocket Mortgage Classic with rounds of 66 and 65 and it looked like he might be back to his best, but he disappeared from view during the final two rounds and later admitted that he is struggling with his confidence. Champ has worked with Sean Foley since the age of 14 and is the longest driver on tour for the 2018-2019 season with a 317.1 yard average through the Rocket Mortgage Classic. During the 2018 Web.com tour season, Champ averaged an unbelievable 343.1 yards off the tee and led the 2017 U.S. Open in driving distance at 337 yards. But he is now learning that there is more to life on the PGA Tour than hitting the ball a mile.
Most of the world’s top players have opted to take the week off as they prepare for The Open. It means we are likely to see a surprise winner of the John Deere.
But perhaps the man who will attract the greatest attention is somebody who will almost certainly miss the cut. Ho Sung Choi has been given a sponsor’s place in the field. The self-taught, former fisherman has four worldwide victories, including the 2018 Casio World Ranking, and has cracked the top 200 in the world ranking. In the process, he has become an internet sensation on account of his unusual golf swing, which usually ends with him swinging himself off his feet.
“We’re excited to welcome Ho Sung Choi to the John Deere Classic. We think our fans will enjoy his unique style of play, as well as his fun personality,” said tournament director Clair Peterson.
Choi made his PGA TOUR debut at this year’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. He is known for his “fisherman’s swing” and his post-impact gyrations as he tries to influence the ball’s flight. Choi first developed his swing in 2013 while trying to hit a shot out of the deep rough. When he found that his helicopter action helped add 13 yards to his tee shots, it soon became his standard swing. Choi’s story started in a seaside town 230 miles north of Seoul, where his father worked hard as a small fisherman and his mother a diver. He lost part of his thumb in an accident at a fishing industry school, though it was later was reattached with skin from his stomach.
Choi didn’t take up golf until he was 19 while working a part-time job in a pro shop at a course in South Korea. Unable to afford lessons, he read golf instructional books and initially tried to imitate the swings of the game’s greats.
The tournament was won in 2011 by Steve Stricker, in 2012 by Zach Johnson, in 2013 by Jordan Spieth (his first PGA Tour success), in 2014 by Brian Harman, in 2015 by Spieth, in 2016 by Ryan Moore, in 2017 by Bryson DeChambeau and last year by Michael Kim.
Rory Sabbatini. In great form
Cameron Champ. Hits it a mile
Luke Donald. Rebuilding his confidence
Cameron Champ. Light the blue touch paper
Luke Donald. The golfer everybody loves to love
Nick Watney. Has been in the wilderness too long
Kyle Stanley. Fabulous golf swing
Ollie Schniederjans. Looking for a big week
Martin Laird. Struggling to find his best form,
Zach Johnson. Don’t rule him out at Portrush
Charles Howell III. Another week, probably another top 10
Daniel Berger. Needs to arrest alarming slump
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