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Growing game of golf

Zach Johnson reacts after missing a birdie putt on the 12th hole during the final round of the 2014 John Deere Classic golf tournament at TPC Deere Run in Silvis, Ill., Sunday, July 13, 2014. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Zach Johnson reacts after missing a birdie putt on the 12th hole during the final round of the 2014 John Deere Classic golf tournament at TPC Deere Run in Silvis, Ill., Sunday, July 13, 2014. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

SILVIS – After hearing for the last month and a half how popular soccer is becoming in the United States, I'm going to take up the mantle for golf.

But Ty, you say, golf is definitely more popular than soccer in this country. Any fool can see that.

Oh yeah? Well this is my column, and, to quote Eric Cartman, I do what I want!

So I'll take on the role of Captain Obvious, but I don't do so empty-handed. See, as a semi-nerd (I'm starting a new demographic), I love me some numbers, and I've come to you armed with facts and figures, stats and data to make my point clear.

The JDC doesn't keep attendance numbers, but based on the gate receipts this week, it was the biggest draw in a long time. The tourney made 26 percent more on Thursday than last year's first round, and had modest increases of 4 percent and 2 percent over last year's Friday and Saturday, respectively.

And while stats on Sunday's gate sales won't be available until today, tournament director Clair Peterson said the increase "will be absolutely wild."

As an avid, bona fide, card-carrying people watcher, the John Deere Classic is as good as it gets. About the only other place I see regularly with as many interesting folks walking around and conversations taking place is tailgating at Iowa football games.

But it's not just the swelling attendance and surging crowds themselves that piqued my interest on a beautiful, sunny, just-breezy-enough day – a rare day, I might add, where the humidity was less than 370 percent, as is usually the case in early July at TPC Deere Run.

It's what the folks who lined every green at least three deep were talking about that brought a smile to my face.

For starters, you might be surprised at how much talk there is about fashion sense. From Jhonattan Vegas' red pants to Johnson Wagner's throwback mustache, it's amazing the range of responses you hear about various golfers' clothing and grooming.

For the record, I'm a jeans and t-shirt kind of guy – basically because I can't really pull off anything more exotic than that – but if you can be a Vegas or a Rickie Fowler and wear crazy colors and pull them off, more power to you.

As for Wagner's mustache, it was getting attention both on TV and on the course. One fan said it looked like a saloon keeper from the Old West, while another posited that he might emulate it himself … if it passed the "wife test."

For my part, I would love to see what the 'stache has to say. Then I visited Twitter, and lo and behold, my idea of starting a Twitter feed for the most talked-about facial hair on Tour had already been taken. I'm now following 206 feeds, with the latest addition @wagnersmustache.

I know, right? Great stuff.

But fashion sense isn't the only topic I heard repeated at pretty much every hole I stopped during Sunday's final round. With scoreboards visible from almost every place on the course via ever-changing electronic videoboards, the murmurs when new scores are posted by the second are easy to pinpoint.

As Zach Johnson moved up the leaderboard and Steve Stricker fell back, you could tell when one of their scores or positions were updated. Just like everything else with those two fan favorites, talk about them – even under folks' breath – was louder than anybody else.

They are the Tiger Woodses of the JDC, after all.

But other players were well-represented by a traveling band of fans as well. It wasn't just the mobs following Zach or Strick that saw the green-side crowds thicken from three deep to six or seven deep. There was also, it seemed, a guy following every group who would shout out the players' names at some point or other, often eliciting the response of a wave – halfhearted if the player in question was unhappy with the hole he just played.

But that halfhearted ends with the round. Almost every player who spent time in the media interview room this week raved about the fan support, and every golfer took time to sign as many autographs as were requested from the folks lining the fences outside the scoring trailers.

In talking to folks for the last 3 years during the final round in Silvis, where you stand and how you take in the tournament – or what you do around Deere Run away from the fairways and greens – is all about personal preference. Golf has got to be one of the only sports where you, the fan, has the choice how to view it. How fan-friendly is that?

And that focus on making the experience fun for the fans is why I'm pretty sure this limb about the popularity of golf onto which I'm climbing is pretty darn sturdy.

It's going to take an awfully strong wind – or many, many, many wayward tees shots – to knock it down.

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