You might not have recognized last week's Tour stop, but that was the Quad Cities Open that David Gossett won on Sunday. You remember the Quad Cities. It's the tournament that we made fun of because it had Ed McMahon's name on it for a while, and was played somewhere that made a pretty good trivia question (answer: Moline and Rock Island, Ill., and Bettendorf and Davenport, Iowa), and had more bad dates than Bridget Jones, always sharing a week with the British Open or the Ryder Cup. Things have changed. The Quad Cities is called the John Deere Classic now, and it's played on a luscious new course, the TPC at Deere Run in Silvis, Ill., right next to Moline. There's network TV and a $2.8 million purse, and the tournament has a week of its own, just like the big boys.
Five years ago the Tour threatened to abandon the Quad Cities. That the tournament is thriving today is a tribute to one golfer, D.A. Weibring, and three great-great-great-grandchildren of John Deere himself. How Weibring and the heirs joined forces to save the tournament is a story about the local-boy-made-good who wanted to help out at home and the noblesse oblige of the area's wealthiest family.
In 25 seasons Weibring, 48, has won five tournaments and more than $4.6 million, or about what Tiger Woods has won (four and $4.5 million, respectively) since January. Cynics say that makes Weibring exactly the sort of pro you would expect to be best known for his association with a tournament like the Quad Cities. Weibring, though, is not a cynical person, and he is proud to say that he has three victories at the Quad Cities. He won it in 1979, when it was called the Ed McMahon-Jaycees Quad Cities Open; in '91, when it was the Hardee's Golf Classic; and again in '95, when it was the Quad City Classic.
Although no one has matched his record, that alone is not the reason he became the tournament's patron saint. "People around here don't look at DA as a star," says Quad City Times reporter Craig DeVrieze, who has covered the tournament for 17 years. "They think of him as one of us."
Weibring has lived in Plano, Texas, for most of his adult life, but he grew up in Quincy, Ill., 180 miles down the Mississippi River from the Quad Cities, and in many ways remains a downstate, small-town kind of guy. He loves basketball, is chatty and never treats anyone as a stranger. "Except for Chicago," Weibring says, " Illinois is a state of small towns. The Quad Cities [tournament] always felt like home."
His roots in the event go deeper than the three wins. In 1974, when he was a junior on the team at Illinois State, he was invited to play in the Wednesday pro-am at Quad Cities. Weibring drove up on Tuesday and spent the night in his car in the parking lot at Bettendorf's Crow Valley Country Club, the tournament's home for its first three years. Weibring turned pro in 1975, and the first cut he made in a Tour event was at the Quad Cities in '77, when the tournament was at Oakwood Country Club in Coal Valley, Ill., where it had a 25-year run. Before his breakthrough win in '79, Weibring also had his first brush with success at the Quad Cities, in '78, when he tied for third. "Some guys don't play well in front of friends and family," Weibring says. "But it motivates me."
Weibring relishes the '79 victory not only because it was his first but also because his father, who was ill with lung cancer, saw every shot. Don Weibring ran a dry-cleaning business in Quincy and so loved golf that he helped raise money to build the town's public 18-hole course, Westview. "My dad taught me how to play," Weibring says. "He felt uncomfortable going to the big city, so the Quad Cities was his major. That made it important to me. He was a very good player and used to teach a little bit at Westview. He shot 66 consecutive rounds of par or better. After he died, in 1984,1 didn't go back to the tournament for four years. It would have been very difficult for my mom."
In 1991 Weibring won the Quad Cities by fighting off Paul Azinger, Peter Jacobsen and Greg Norman on the final nine holes. In '95, when he became one of only eight active players on Tour to win the same event three times, Weibring was already heavily involved in the course-design business. At the time the victory seemed fitting because the future of the tournament was in doubt.
For many years the Quad Cities remained on the schedule only because it had a powerful benefactor at Tour headquarters. Deane Beman, the PGA Tour commissioner at the time, had a soft spot for the tournament because two of his four victories had come at the Quad Cities. In 1975 Beman allowed the tournament to put up a purse of only $75,000, which was $50,000 below the minimum. Ten years later he had the Tour make up a $16,000 shortfall in a $300,000 purse.
When Beman retired in 1994, though, the Tour took on a less generous attitude. "The Quad Cities had to step up or step off," says Duke Butler, the Tour's vice president of tournament business affairs. That's when the John Deere Co. intervened.