SILVIS – Nick Hardy found himself with about a 30-foot par putt on the 18th hole at TPC Deere Run, his midway point during Friday’s second round of the John Deere Classic.
The University of Illinois senior calmly dropped it in, and a large throng of Fighting Illini fans watching went wild. The calmest person in the house was his college coach, Mike Small, who was watching from afar and showed next to no emotion when it went in.
“I was telling somebody right before that he’s one of the best putters I’ve ever had, so you never count him out on the greens,” Small said. “I love the way he’s grinding. He’s out there grinding, and I’m kind of grinding here behind the ropes myself.”
Small was a very interested spectator as he had two players, Hardy and Dylan Meyer, who received sponsor’s exemptions into the event. For Hardy, it was his third pro tournament, after competing in the 2015 and 2016 U.S. Opens. For Meyer, it was his first PGA Tour event.
Hardy is making the most of the opportunity after carding rounds of 71 and 66 for a 5-under-par total of 137, good for a 17-way tie for 29th place.
“I’m really excited to play the weekend,” said Hardy, a Northbrook resident. “That’s always a treat. To be alongside these caliber of players, it’s awesome. I’m just excited to play.”
For Hardy, the recipe for success was a simple one. He kept the ball out of trouble, and made just enough putts to go low, especially in Round 2.
“For the most part I drove it well, and that’s what you need to do out here,” said Hardy, who made the cut in his first pro tournament, the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay in Washington. “You have to drive it in the fairway, and I did that for a lot of the 36 holes.”
The news was not so good for Meyer. He followed up a first-round 70 with a 72, leaving him at even-par 142 for two rounds. Eighty-two players made the cut at 2-under-par 140.
For Meyer, who hails from Evansville, Indiana, the reason he won’t be playing the weekend was obvious.
“It was all in the putting. I didn’t make any putts, and I’ve been doing that all summer long,” Meyer said. “I haven’t been making anything, and it’s very frustrating. I’ve gotten to a point where I’ve been getting more upset for the way I’ve been putting. That’s the one thing that’s been holding me back from playing well.”
Meyer was in the hunt to make the cut until a poor drive on the 428-yard 8th hole, his 17th of the day, led to a bogey. He narrowly missed a birdie on his final hole, but needed to hole out his second shot to make the cut.
“This just shows me that my bad rounds are not good enough to make the cut out here,” Meyer said. “I need to get better. It’s that simple.”
Meyer and Hardy had plenty of crowd support. It was Illini Day at the course, and lots of patrons sporting Illini orange followed the Illinois seniors every step of the way.
“It felt like the NCAAs out there,” said Hardy of the event that was held 6 weeks ago at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove. “Illini fans definitely show up, and I think it’s awesome what they do with the Illini Day.”
Meyer felt the vibe from the fans, but just couldn’t get it done.
“When you get an I-L-L-I-N-I, you hope it kick-starts your round,” Meyer said, “but I just didn’t get anything going. It was unfortunate.”
Illini Nation will be back in force on Saturday and Sunday, to follow Hardy in his quest to move up the leaderboard. He has aspirations to be a pro someday, and this gives him a little taste of it.
“It’s fun seeing how I stack up. That’s what’s really cool about this opportunity for me,” Hardy said.
One of Hardy’s playing partners was Sam Saunders, best known for being Arnold Palmer’s grandson. Saunders made the cut at 4 under, as did the third member of the pairing, Richy Werenski, at 5 under.
“Nick’s a nice kid and a good player,” Saunders said. “He hits the ball solid and plays pretty simple golf. I think he’s got a good future ahead of him.”
After some more summer amateur tournaments, Hardy and Meyer will return to U of I for their senior seasons. The Fighting Illini return all five starters from a team that made the semifinals of the NCAA Tournament before losing to eventual champion Oklahoma. They hope to take it a step further next spring.
“Dylan and I want it really bad to get that team title,” Hardy said. “We’ve obviously been really close. I can’t wait to get the band back together and get it going, that’s for sure.”
“I want to hold that trophy at the end,” Meyer said.