If there are some common threads to be found in past John Deere Classic winners it’s certainly not world ranking.
Jordan Spieth (2015) was 2nd, Ryan Moore (2016) 59th, Bryson DeChambeau (2017) 144th, Michael Kim (2018) 473rd and Dylan Frittelli (2019) 133rd.
If that doesn’t help on first glance, at least it tells us that DeChambeau wasn’t in the world’s top 100 at the time: he was a future star but hadn’t got there yet.
Of much more use are the stats and this is where DeChambeau helps paint the picture.
The last five winners starting from 2016 ranked 7th, 8th, 2nd, 1st and 2nd for the week in Strokes Gained: Putting.
The last four (data isn’t available from 2016) were all in the top 25 for Strokes Gained: Off The Tee.
In short, it makes plenty of sense to look for a big hitter who putts well.
There’s a great quote from Doc Redman that supports the idea. “I feel like it’s a first shot and putting golf course,” he said a few years ago.
So, in a week where there are some confusing trends, I’ll cling to those two as my way in.
Maverick McNealy was all the rage in last week’s Rocket Mortgage Classic and I put him up in this very column.
The 25-year-old from California had finished 20th at Colonial and 30th at the Travelers on his previous two starts and had to settle for something similar in Detroit when 21st.
Notably, he’s ranked 1st for SG: Off The Tee in both his last two events – Rocket Mortgage and Travelers Championship – and hitting it both long and straight should help him create a bunch of opportunities here.
Talking about his work with coach Butch Harmon, he said at The Travelers: “I’ve been in a really good place with the golf swing for a while.”
Putting-wise he’s in decent shape too. He ranked 5th for SGP at The Heritage and has solid numbers in his latest three starts.
He played this event way back in 2017 as an amateur and that gave him the belief that he could compete at the very highest level. McNealy shot all four rounds in the 60s and finished 44th with 9-under.
Right now, he looks like a player on the cusp of something big and McNealy believes it too. “I’ve felt like that for a while now, and I think the score is always the last thing to catch up. Like I said, never felt like I’ve worked harder, been more disciplined. I’ve been working out. My body feels great.
“I’m just really proud of the body of work I put in, and like I said, the score catches up last. It’s a lot of times the work you put in the last couple months prior to things working out where everything shows up.”
Hopefully it comes this week. Take him at 35/1.
Aaron Wise is a very healthy 39th in Strokes Gained: Off The Tee this season and that solid driving has helped him up to 52nd in the FedExCup rankings.
Highlights include second place in The Mayakoba Golf Classic, 9th at both Wells Fargo and Memorial and 17th in the US PGA at Kiawah ISland.
Those latter three have all come in his last five starts.
Sprinkled throughout those tournaments are a series of low rounds. He closed Mayakoba with a 63, opened with a pair of 64s in the Honda Classic, started out with a 64 in the Byron Nelson and fired a Friday 65 last time at the Travelers.
This is a player who once fired 62-62 in the first two rounds of the Web.com’s Air Capital Classic in 2018, an event he went on to win with 21-under.
Wise went even lower than that to secure his first PGA Tour win. That came in the 2019 Byron Nelson thanks to laps of 65-63-68-65.
This event should absolutely be in his wheelhouse and he showed that on debut in 2016 when a third-round 63 helped him take 16th place.
Like McNealy, that came when he was still an amateur so this tournament holds some special memories.
Talking about his career arc, Wise said at Kiawah Island: “I figured in order to play these tough golf courses, the majors, WGCs, I had to become a better ball striker, and I worked hard on that,
“And in that process I kind of lost my putting and lost my chipping a little bit. That’s been a big focus for me this last year or so, to get that back on track, and now I feel like I’m kind of in the sweet spot where I’m hitting the ball good, I’m chipping great, and my putting is kind of coming back into form.”
The latter is still a little in and out but he was 25th and 26th for SG: Putting in two of his last three starts so there are some positive signs.
Back Wise at 33/1.
It’s amazing when comparing the the SG: Off The Tee and SG: Putting lists how many of the best drivers are way, way down the putting stats so I’ve looked at some more recent data.
Falling into the category of traditionally good driver with decent recent putting stats is Lucas Glover.
The American is again in the top 25% for Off The Tee this season but less typical is the fact that he’s gained strokes with the putter in eight of his last 10 PGA Tour starts.
That’s helped him string some decent results together and he’s posted fourth in the Texas Open and eighth ta the Charles Schwab Challenge.
He shot middle rounds of 67-65 at Colonial and that course has some strong correlations with this one.
But how has he actually performed at TPC Deere Run? Well, there’s some good news there too.
Glover was tied 10th the last time the event was played (R2 64) in 2019 and also made the top 25 on his previous visit in 2017. He also shot a Friday 62 in 2013.
Speaking several years back, he said: “I’ve got good vibes here. They actually gave me a start here in ’02 right out of college, and I played well for two days. I was kind of just getting my start, so I’ve always had a good vibe here.
“I like the golf course. I mean, you hit every club in the bag and a variety of holes and great risk‑reward holes.
“A lot of the tee shots set up well for me, and any time you’re putting well, you feel pretty good anywhere.”
Put the history, recent course form and decent putting stats together and he’s worth a look at 50/1.