Steve Jones and the Quad City got well together
Toms! Jones! Gump! Funk! The I stars came out at last week's Quad City Classic in Coal Valley, 111., where Steve Jones staged a duel with Scott Gump and David Toms that quickened pulses citywide. The field was thinned when a few guys skipped the Quad to prep for the British Open, but aside from Tiger Woods, Ernie Els, Davis Dove III, David Duval, Justin Leonard, Fred Couples, Phil Mickelson, Mark O'Meara, Tom Lehman and 20 other top 30 players, everybody showed up.
This Rodney Dangerfield of tournaments has never gotten its props. If you want to dismiss a Tour pro's career, just say, "Where'd he ever win, Quad City?" How lore poor is the event? Its inaugural winner was Deane Beman. Ed McMahon used to be its celebrity host. Quad City had spent its 26-year history on the brink of extinction until last spring, when the lawn-mower blade of fortune spun the Quad's way. Deere & Company, the tractor giant based in nearby Moline, signed on as sponsor through 2006. There was greenmail involved: Deere gets to be Official Turf Equipment Supplier for the Tournament Players Club network. That means plenty of long green for the mowermaker. It also means a new name and venue for the tournament. Next year the Quad City Classic becomes the John Deere Classic and moves to the new DA Weibring-designed TPC at Deere Run. "We have the longest sponsorship deal on the Tour," says tournament director Kym Hougham. With the Tucson tournament doomed and a half-dozen other Tour stops, including New England, Milwaukee, Texas and this week's Deposit Guaranty Classic, endangered, this event's future is assured.
Sunday's duelists included Jones, Gump and defending champ Toms. At the 15th hole Gump drove into a forest of rough and disappeared. Then Toms cried uncle. Faced with a miserable lie under a tree at 16, he took an unplayable, double-bogeyed the hole and fell out of sight. That left Jones in charge. The 1996 U.S. Open champ seemed out of place among so many grinders dreaming of the Masters invitation and two-year Tour exemption a victory would bring. Still, his best finish this year had been a tie for fourth at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic six months ago. "I've been the height of mediocrity," said the 6' 4" Jones. After sinking a crucial par putt at the 12th hole, he turned his hat sideways and stuck out his tongue. Message: Quad City is fun city.
Tournament director Hougham felt festive, too. "We have clawed and scratched for 26 years," he said. "Now, finally, we've reached the summit."
The last Quad City champ tipped his cap to fans and fate. "I didn't think I could hit it far anymore," said Jones, who missed nearly three years in the early '90s with hand injuries. "I thought I'd have to outthink everyone. This week I thought better and hit the ball as far as ever. I've been impatient with my game, but today I was patient."
He couldn't wait to catch a plane to England for the British Open.
July's brushfires threatened LPGA International Golf Course and the tour's headquarters in Daytona Beach, leaving the HQ building surrounded by moatlike trenches dug by firefighters. "The fires came right at the clubhouse," says Pam Phipps, director of golf at LPGA International. "I saw smoke and red flames on both sides of us." Following business-school fire-drill procedure, Phipps grabbed cash and receipts from the pro shop and ran for her life. Outside, where deer and rabbits were fleeing the fires in a scene out of Bambi, she encountered thick smoke, police cars with lights and sirens running, and firefighters shouting evacuation orders. Call that doomsday picture Armageddon Outta Here. "I thought, Pam, get going," says Phipps.
Afterward, firefighters told her that LPGA International probably helped save the day. "They said it might have stopped the fire," she says. "There are housing developments around here that might have burned down if not for the course." Apparently the moist, nearly treeless fairways of the Rees Jones-designed track, which is no favorite of the tour's players, discourages brush-fires, too.