SILVIS – Aaron Krueger didn’t put himself in the position he wanted to be in after the first round of the John Deere Classic on Thursday.
In the big picture, however, Krueger was exactly where he wanted to be.
The 1998 Fulton High School graduate, head pro at Wakonda Club in Des Moines, carded a 74 and is 11 strokes behind a trio of leaders – Zach Johnson, Rory Sabbatini and Brian Harman – after the tourney’s first day.He’ll likely need a score in the mid-60s in today’s second round if he is to survive the 36-hole cut.
Krueger, 34, earned his spot in the tourney by winning the Iowa Section PGA Tournament last July against 70 other club pros. He also won the Iowa event in 2008, and competed in the 2009 JDC.
“To have this opportunity once in a career is special,” Krueger said. “To do it for a second time, it really means a lot, especially when I get to kind of come back home to do it.”
Home for Krueger was Fulton, where as a Steamer, he finished second in the 1997y Class 1A state golf tournament. He played golf at Iowa, then got into the golf business. He was an assistant at courses in Florida and Waterloo, Iowa, before becoming head pro at Pinnacle Country Club in Milan in 2008. He was there for 3 years before moving on to his current position at Wakonda.
Serving the membership is his main priority, and sometimes playing golf takes a back seat. That’s tough when teeing it up against the likes of former Alabama All-American Bud Cauley, one of Krueger’s playing partners who carded a bogey-free 67.
“This is their business. This is their job,” Krueger said, “and I’m out here trying to treat it like that. Their consistency is there week-in and week-out, and I have to try to peak my game for a couple of events here or there.
“After this, I’ll go back to work and work a crazy amount of hours at a member-guest. That’s part of what I do, but that’s what I love. That’s my routine, and that’s what I’m used to.”
Krueger had just one birdie, on the 454-yard fourth hole. His tee shot split the middle of the fairway, but unfortunately on that hole, that’s where a huge oak tree resides. The ball caromed 30 yards backwards, leaving him 215 yards into the green.
With a 4-iron, Krueger hit his next shot on the green about 35 feet from the cup.
“That second shot was right into the wind,” Krueger said, “and that was as good a shot as I hit all day.”
On the green, Kreuger’s putt was straight and true, and found the bottom of the cup.
“It was nice to give the crowd something to cheer about there,” Krueger said.
Krueger was even through 11 holes, but made three bogeys coming in.
On the 215-yard 12th, he left his tee shot short and right, in a deep-faced bunker. He blasted out to 20 feet, but missed the putt.
On the 424-yard 13th, Krueger pulled his tee shot left of the fairway, leaving an awkward angle into a tucked pin. He knocked it 80 feet past the cup, on the back fringe, and failed to get it up and down, resulting in a second straight bogey.
The final miscue came on the 18th, where he drove into a bunker to the left of the fairway. With a pond on the left, he aimed right, but put it on a hillside. From there, he chipped short of the green, putted it nearly 5 feet past the cup, but made the comebacker for bogey.
“I had a lot of very bad misses,” Krueger said. “I missed it on the short side on so may holes, and you just can’t do that, especially in this rough. When you get to a tour event, they put the pin 4 or 5 [feet] on the edge of the green, and if you’re short-sided, you’ve got no chance.
“You’re playing defense all day, and that’s what I did.”
Still, it could have been worse. Krueger didn’t three-putt all day, and one-putted six times.
“I’m proud of the way I hung in there,” Krueger said. “I didn’t have my A game whatsoever, and to finish 3-over, I feel like I stole a couple of pars on the back nine and made the most out of it.”
Whether or not Krueger makes the cut at the John Deere Classic, his golf is hardly done. Next month, he’ll play in the PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville. He earned his spot by finishing in a tie for 12th place in a field of 312 club pros at the PGA Professional National Championship last month in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
It will be the first time Krueger will compete in a professional major.
Growing up, Krueger’s biggest tournament was the Men’s Lincoln Highway. He won the event in 2001 at his home course, Clinton Country Club, and again in 2002, at Rock River Country Club.
When asked about those Lincoln Highway victories, a smile came across Krueger’s face, because it reminded him of his late grandfather, Bill Haiduck.
“That was a huge week for him, because he had played that long ago for Morrison Country Club,” Krueger said. “He told me a lot about the history of the event, and really, that was one of my highlights while I was in college, to win that event. My grandfather walked around with me both times. It was special to him, and it’s special to me.”
Krueger by the numbers
1: Birdies in his opening-round 74
4: Bogeys in the round
6: Number of one-putts
11: Strokes behind a trio of co-leaders