Hawkeyes' Ihm On Golf's Big Stage At John Deere Classic
By Mike Hlas (Story) and Scott Saville (Video), Reporters
IOWA CITY, Iowa - The John Deere Classic doesn't give away sponsor's exemptions lightly.
The PGA Tour event has sought to identify top young talent and give them a place to get a feel for the pro game. And if it should build loyalty to those players should they become established pros, all the better.
The JDC gave Zach Johnson got his first Tour experience via exemption. Other young players who were invited to the JDC via exemption include U.S. Open champions Lucas Glover and Webb Simpson, as well as top current players like Bill Haas and Matt Kuchar. And back in 1996, a new pro named Tiger Woods played the then-Quad City Classic on an exemption.
Until this year, no University of Iowa golfer had received such an invitation. But now there is Steven Ihm of Peosta and Dubuque Wahlert High, a Hawkeye senior-to-be who has some serious game.
Ihm has already had a great spring/summer. He recently played a round of golf with three-time JDC champion Steve Stricker in Wisconsin after writing Stricker a letter asking if he would consider it. He went to Johnstown, Pa., and was the champion of last month's Sunnehanna Amateur, which has been won by the likes of Glover, Simpson, Rickie Fowler and Ben Crenshaw.
In August, Ihm will play the U.S. Amateur by virtue of being in the top 50 (32nd) in the World Amateur Golf Rankings.
Now at 21, with one year of college golf left for the Hawkeyes, Ihm will play this week in the same Tour event with Johnson, Glover and Stricker.
"I'm very honored to have the opportunity to play," Ihm said. "I'm a pretty levelheaded guy so I don't think I'll be too nervous. Maybe a few jitters at the first tee."
Ihm had a pretty wonderful 2013 spring season for the Hawkeyes. He was a first-team All-Big Ten selection, had a stroke average of 72.3 (third-best in school history), and became the first Iowa player to win back-to-back stroke-play tourneys since 1970.
"That's pretty much unheard of in college golf," said Hawkeyes Coach Mark Hankins. "That's 90 players every time you tee it up. And he played both in pretty tough conditions and tough golf courses."
Ihm's father, Jim Ihm, played golf for Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Sister Ashley Johnson golfed for Clarke College, and sister Amy Ihm is a sophomore-to-be on the Iowa women's squad. Older brother Mike Ihm will be Steven's caddie this week.
The Ihms live just off the Thunder Hills Country Club course in Peosta. Steven played for Indian Hills Community College's national-championship squad as a freshman, winning the Phil Mickelson Award as the top National Junior College Athletic Association player.
"He'd played under pressure and for a national championship," Hankins said. "That prepared him to be a real good sophomore."
Ihm received a Big Ten Player of the Week award in his first semester at Iowa, and away he went.
"He's a great putter who manages the game very well," said Hankins. "He really has a knack for competing.
Ihm doesn't lack for confidence, saying "I think the (TPC at Deere Run) course fits my game pretty well. I think I can put up some good numbers."
"I want to play professional golf, obviously. This will be a great measure of what I could be able to accomplish in the future. I'm still a ways out, but I think it will be great to test my game and how I handle myself when the pressure's on."
He'll also help the tournament add to its crowd count.
"I know a couple buses will be bringing people down (from the Peosta-Dubuque area)," Ihm said. "I know there will be quite a few people from my club there, and that'll be a lot of fun."
Today, a busload of junior golfers from Thunder Hills will attend today's youth clinic. Ihm is scheduled to play nine practice holes with Johnson.
For years now, the story regarding Iowans on the PGA Tour has been "Zach Johnson." Maybe one day it will be "Johnson and Ihm."