SILVIS, Ill. – Luke Guthrie grew up three hours south of TPC Deere Run in Quincy, a city of about 40,000 on the Mississippi River. Known as “Gem City,” Quincy also is home to D.A. Weibring, a five-time winner on the PGA Tour who happened to design this week’s venue.
With Guthrie being a University of Illinois All-American and a newly-minted professional, he belongs in this week’s field. No doubt the folks of Quincy feel the same way.
“I don’t think many players have this kind of opportunity,” said Guthrie, “to kind of play in front of a home crowd.”
Guthrie, 22, had about 20 friends and family on hand for his PGA Tour debut in Memphis, where he tied for 19th. He’s expecting a good turnout Friday here at the John Deere for Illini Day. In addition to Points, three-time John Deere Classic winner Steve Stricker is an Illinois graduate. Illini fans will be clad in orange and gathered around the tent behind the seventh tee.
Guthrie, here on a sponsor invitation, had planned to play a practice round with Stricker on Tuesday afternoon, but Stricker had a change in plans. Guthrie calls Stricker, No. 13 in the Official World Golf Ranking, the nicest guy he’s ever met. Like many, he can’t remember the last person to win the John Deere outside of Stricker (Kenny Perry, 2008).
“I’ve never gotten to play with him,” Guthrie said, “but there’s probably nobody better inside 150.”
While at Illinois, Guthrie won back to back Big Ten Conference titles, the first to do so since Northwestern’s Luke Donald in 2000-01. Stricker did it as well for Illinois, in 1988-89. In his four-year campaign, Guthrie set the school’s career scoring record, at 72.08.
Guthrie said he learned a lot more than fundamentals while playing under Illinois coach Mike Small, who has mentored two of the past three NCAA individual champions in Scott Langley (2010) and Thomas Pieters (2012). Small, a strong player in his own right, has played in seven PGA Championships, earning low club-professional honors twice.
“I’ve just really learned how to play the game, I think, better than most other college coaches teach it,” Guthrie said. “Just like not short-siding yourself, playing to the strong points and the practices we have to get you in a mind-set that I think separates our program from others.”
Guthrie’s brother, Zach, an assistant coach at Illinois, will be on the bag this week. With the program’s junior golf camp in progress, Zach is driving three hours each way between Champaign and Silvis to do both jobs.
The goal this week for Luke Guthrie is high: win. It’s the same mind-set he had in Memphis, trying to avoid the trap of simply aiming to make the cut.
“I’m here to compete,” Guthrie said. “Hopefully, I’m there on the back nine on Sunday.”