Ihm set for the John Deere Classic

BY CODY GOODWIN | JULY 11, 2013 5:00 AM

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Iowa’s Steven Ihm spent this past Tuesday afternoon at the TPC Deere Run Golf Course with former Masters champion Zach Johnson. Ihm and Johnson talked about their upcoming weekend, shared a few jokes and, of course, played some golf.

It was a relaxing nine holes for Ihm, though he admitted to asking Johnson a few questions about the course as the day progressed. It was a practice round, after all, and Ihm made sure he learned all he could before he begins play in today’s opening round of the 2013 John Deere Classic.

“[Ihm] came to me, and that’s great,” Johnson said after their practice round. “I was doing that when I was their age, too.”

The 2013 John Deere Classic is just the next stop — and perhaps, the most important and exciting — in what has become an exhilarating and successful spring and summer for Ihm.

After a spring season with the Hawkeyes — in which Ihm posted a 72.3 stroke average, good for third all-time in program history — the Peosta, Iowa, native traveled to Johnstown, Pa., where he won the 60th Annual Sunnehanna Amateur.

Ihm attributed the continued success to built-up confidence. That confidence was further bolstered when, just a few short days after his win at Sunnehanna, Ihm traveled north to Wisconsin and shot a round with his golfing idol: Steve Stricker.

“That was awesome,” Ihm said. “He gave me a few tips on chipping and my wedges. It was awesome. He’s really a genuine guy, and so is Zach. They’re both true Midwestern guys.”

The fun ends today, though, when Ihm tees off at his first professional golf tournament at TPC Deere Run (he begins his round at 9 a.m., on Hole 10). But make no mistake: Ihm will carry the lessons he learned from both Johnson and Stricker into today’s tournament.

“Some of that stuff was set up by me,” Iowa men’s golf coach Mark Hankins said. “I think it’s extremely important for him to interact with those guys — especially those two, who have won the John Deere Classic before. He was going to get some good insight about the course and about what to expect.

“I’ve had plenty of players play at the John Deere Classic, but Steven’s the first one who’s a current student-athlete.”

Hankins said Ihm’s practice rounds with both of the former John Deere Champions — Stricker won 3-straight from 2009-11 before Johnson won it last year — was also set up to help shed some of the nerves that come with a golfer’s first PGA event.

But Ihm, though admittedly nervous, said he was excited to get the tournament underway. This came as no surprise to Hankins, who said Ihm is playing well enough to make Friday’s cut and play over the weekend.

“We’ve both realized that he’s as good as a lot of these guys right now,” Hankins said. “Some of these guys are maybe not as comfortable on Midwest golf courses. That’s [Ihm’s] advantage — he’s playing on a golf course that’s one hour away from his hometown.”

The locale of the tournament plays into Ihm’s excitement, too. He and Hankins both estimated that more than a hundred fans will be there to support him through these first two rounds — some as family; others to support him as a Hawkeye; and more because he is close to home.

The bigger crowd also helps to further build Ihm’s eagerness to begin play, but knows that, just like at Sunnehanna, patient play is the key to playing good golf.

“You can find yourself being overly aggressive early because you can look up at the leaderboard and see guys that are 5-under through five holes, or 5-under through six holes,” Ihm said. “You just have to know that the birdies will come. If you hit good shots, options open up, and you’ll get a lot of birdie opportunities.”

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