For Nick Taylor, the decision to jump on a jet and fly across the Atlantic would have been easy. In fact, he’d have been thrilled to get the chance.
The easy-going Canadian said that if he’d held the trophy for the John Deere Classic on Sunday night, he’d have had his passport in his back pocket, ready to step on the charter flight to the Open Championship. Skipping the final major championship of the year was never in question.
“I think some guys are confused by the fact there are these rules (for the players), but they are going to allow thousands of spectators,” he says. “But if I’m hoisting the trophy on Sunday, then I’ll find a way to deal with it.”
Lucas Glover won the tournament, claiming his first PGA Tour victory in 10 years. With Glover already in the Open Championship field, runner-up Ryan Moore was in line for the remaining spot at Royal St. George's but it was unclear if he would make the trip.
Being Canadian, and having had to manage COVID-19 restrictions at the United States/Canada border for the past 15 months, Taylor wasn’t too bothered by the potential hurdles of going to Royal St. George’s for the Open. After all, he’s not been back to his home in British Columbia on Canada’s west coast since Christmas, even though Andie, his wife, and young son Charlie, have been there for the past few weeks. Quarantine restrictions make it difficult for anyone to travel across the border, something Taylor has avoided as often as possible. But he’d make an exception for the British Open, where the leading player in the top five at the John Deere Classic not otherwise exempt gets a spot. The final qualifiers for the British Open come from the Scottish Open, where the leading three players not already exempt head to Royal St. George’s.
Last year, the Open Championship was canceled as the pandemic captured the world’s attention. The U.K. has been opening up in recent months after a near-complete lockdown, but it turns out that it is far from business as usual for players heading to Sandwich, a small town on England’s south-east coast. Recently The Telegraph broke the news that golfers attending the tournament were given last-minute details on what was and wasn’t acceptable. COVID-19, it turns out, may be receding from the public’s perception in the U.S., but is still a big issue in the U.K. The note to Open Championship participants said players couldn’t share housing with other players. A golfer can’t travel to another self-catering cottage (think Airbnb) to have dinner with another player, and the facilities players are permitted to stay in are limited.
The restrictions, and the late notice players received, led to a lot of grumbling from PGA Tour golfers.
“Yeah, there's definitely some concerns,” Rickie Fowler said when asked about the issue at the Rocket Mortgage Classic. “Guys have been talking to me or have been talking to other guys, been making calls or sending texts back and forth with some of the people with the Open just with any questions or concerns that we have.”
For Taylor, none of this is an issue. But for others it was a significant hurdle. Kevin Na, ranked 37 in the world, pulled the chute on going to the United Kingdom citing the travel restrictions. Similarly, Charles Howell III, also in the John Deere field, dropped out, while eight other golfers, including Korean stars Sunjae Im and Si Woo Kim, said they weren’t making the trip to golf’s final major of the year. Even Rocket Mortgage winner Cameron Davis said he was skipping the chance to play because of complications with his green card application in the United States.
“I’m looking forward to seeing my family and celebrating back in Seattle next week and recharging a little bit because this week is already a bit of a grind to get through,” said Davis, who has been through a whirlwind in the last two weeks after his first PGA Tour win. “I’m pretty tired. It'll be nice to relax.”
The kerfuffle around the Open Championship is a bit of a downer to the John Deere, which has done all it can to try to make the best of its challenging place on the PGA Tour schedule. When the tournament ends, there’s a jet ready to take players to the British, allowing them to play in the John Deere field and still make it to the U.K. without issue. Of course, it hasn’t always been a smooth transition for the player who qualified. Sean O’Hair qualified in 2005, but didn’t have a passport to travel, while another winner, Jonathan Byrd, left his passport at home. Other winners simply said they didn’t want to go.
Not that making the British Open is the key lure for the John Deere Classic. Taylor, who has played in the event before, is fond of the course and has played well sporadically in the past.
“I’ve had good rounds here, but not enough of them,” he said. He compares the tournament to the RBC Canadian Open, which was similarly connected to the British Open, following the major championship for years before moving to the week ahead of the British Open.
“The field is interesting,” says Taylor, a two-time winner on tour. “The nature of the tournament is you go relatively deep in past champions and the like to fill it.”
That means there are names like Hunter Mahan in the field, players hoping one good week can kickstart a slumping career. But it is also the tournament where a young emerging star named Jordan Spieth won for the first time.
“It is where a lot of Hall of Fame careers started,” Taylor adds. “(Bryson) DeChambeau won here.”
That makes the John Deere Classic unique in the PGA Tour schedule – it is where the faded meet the future, and where the dreamers ponder their shot at the Open Championship.
Top: Nick Taylor looks on during round three of the John Deere Classic.