As the 148th Open Championship arrives next week at Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland, some of the PGA pros continue their Tour travels in the US into the Quad Cities for the John Deere Classic this week. That includes three young guns, all 22 years old or younger, who are making quite an impression in their opening months on the PGA Tour.
In an unprecedented move by the sportsbooks like DraftKings and FanDuel, Viktor Hovland, Matthew Wolff and Collin Morikawa are the top three favorites at the JD Classic, which makes up for its lack of current stars with the very best of the (near) future.
John Deere Classic betting favorites
|Player||Winner (DK)||Top 5||Top 10|
Three legit favorites or an overreaction?
The TPC Deere Run course in Silvis, Illinois plays to a par 71 and 7,268 yards. It has dramatic pitches and rolls, firm and fast fairways with reachable par 5s and just three par 4s over 450 yards. Distance is not a distinct advantage, so short to moderate hitters have had success.
With fewer top-ranked PGA pros in the field annually due to its position on the schedule a week before the Open Championship, less accomplished players and younger golfers and long shots have made their mark to hit the leaderboard and win the John Deere Classic. To win the $1,080,000 first place prize, players will have to hit many greens in regulation and go low, as the average winning score over the past decade is nearly 22-under par.
Last week, one of today’s PGA stars of tomorrow made his mark both on the course and at the sportsbooks in the gambling market.
Matthew Wolff, all of age 20 and just a month removed from leaving Oklahoma State, captured his first PGA Tour victory in just his third start since turning pro. He won the 3M Open at TPC Twin Cities by shooting a 31 on the back nine in Sunday’s exciting and flashy finish. That included an eagle three on the closing 18th hole to finish 21 under par and one shot in front of PGA Tour veteran Bryson DeChambeau and another rising rookie, the 22-year-old Morikawa.
Wolf was ranked 1,659 in the world; nobody had been ranked that high and won on the PGA Tour. DraftKings Sportsbook posted odds on Wolff winning the 3M at 135-1. Morikawa was 70-1 while the more hyped rookie Viktor Hovland was 30-1. Hovland had a good 3M Open tournament as well in his third PGA start as a professional, finishing tied for 13th place at 15-under par. Hovland finished as top amateur in both The Masters and U.S. Open this year.
There had been signs that this wave of graduates are out of the ordinary, and so the three young hotshots are the class of the John Deere Classic according to the sportsbooks, with Joaquin Niemann, 20, and Sungjae Im, 21, also top-7 in the betting market.
Considering three former and more recent John Deere champions are in this year’s field (Brian Harman, Zach Johnson and Ryan Moore), the story is a good one for gambling with Hovland and Morikawa looking to join Wolff as a PGA Tour winner soon.
Profiling the young guns
- Viktor Hovland — Won the U.S. Amateur as a college teammate of Matthew Wolff at Oklahoma State. Hovland then was low amateur at the 2019 Masters and U.S. Open, and has since finished top-15 at both the Rocket Mortgage Classic and 3M Open. Hovland was second in strokes gained/off-the-tee at the U.S. Open, and then led the field the following week at TPC River Highlands in the Travelers. The hype for Hovland is a sign of respect for how well he’s played so far on Tour, and he’s actually listed as the favorite this week at the Westgate Superbook in Vegas. A top-5 finish secures his PGA Tour card for the rest of the year. Hovland was T-3 in greens hit at the 3M Open, and also T-3 in greens hit at the U.S. Open.
- Matthew Wolff — Earned the NCAA individual title less than two months ago and posted a 68.69 scoring average over two seasons; the lowest in NCAA history. Now Wolff is a PGA Tour winner at age 20 following last week’s win. A letdown may be looming, but that victory earned him a two-year exemption on Tour and invites to the 2020 Masters and PGA Championship.
- Collin Morikawa — While much of the attention has shined on Hovland and Wolff, Morikawa has gone about his business making the cut in all four of his pro starts including the U.S. Open. His runner-up finish last week at the 3M Open conferred special temporary status for the rest of the PGA Tour campaign. Morikawa finished T6 in GIR; 11th in proximity) and paid it off by ranking fifth in Putting: Birdies-or-Better. If he can retain position inside the top 125 at the conclusion of the Wyndham Championship, he’ll earn fully exempt status on the PGA TOUR in 2019-20.
- Joaquin Niemann — Currently T-52nd in Greens in Regulation on Tour but 8th in Proximity to Hole meaning he gets his shots from the fairway close to the hole. Was T-12th in Greens in Regulation at 3M Open and was T-2nd at Rocket Mortgage. He finished T-23rd at the Deere last year while shooting a final round 65. His game has been very consistent and improved over his last six events and Nieman has played his last three events in 41 under par.
- Sungjae Im — Game has improved this year. Since the Canadian Open he is 44 under in 16 rounds. Ranks 40th in Greens hit. He has a TOUR-high 62 red numbers and 48 sub-70’s rounds. Since the RBC Canadian Open, Im is 4-for-4 with four top 25s, and he’s posted 13 top 25s this season.
Before we start awarding more PGA Tour wins and majors to the young stars, note that there have been 36 players to hold the No. 1 amateur ranking since its introduction in 2007. Only two of those players—Joaquin Niemann and Jon Rahm—were able to secure their PGA Tour card without going through the old Qualifying School or the Web Tour Finals. Hovland and Morikawa have some work to do as they rise up the ranks in pursuit of a PGA Tour card and victory. Same with Norman Xiong, 20, who just a year ago had captured awards as the nation’s best freshman and top collegiate golfer, won the prestigious Western Amateur and helped guide the United States Walker Cup team to victory with a 3-0-1 record. He’s currently struggling badly on the Korn Ferry Tour.
In short: It’s really, really hard for young players at the start of their careers.
The best rookie class in years?
How does this 2019 class of PGA Tour rookies compare to some of the best rookie classes over the years?
In 2013, Jordan Spieth won his first PGA Tour event at age 20 at the John Deere Classic. Spieth is now 25 years old with 11 PGA Tour wins and three major championships. His class of 25-year-old stars includes Justin Thomas (five Tour wins & major), Xander Schauffele (four), Bryson DeChambeau (five). Spieth and Thomas are former World No. 1 players.
DeChambeau captured his first PGA Tour victory in 2017 at the John Deere Classic.