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Joe Affrunti will need plenty of birdies at John Deere Classic

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Northwest Herald file photo Crystal Lake native Joe Affrunti is one of several local athletes who has made it to a professional sport. Affrunti is currently playing on the PGA tour.

Joe Affrunti is no stranger to playing birdie golf.

His ability to do so nearly put him in position for his first Web.com Tour win 10 days ago in Indiana. But this weekend – on a TPC Deere Run course known for yielding birdies more than any other on the PGA Tour, Affrunti understands that if he hopes to be in contention at the John Deere Classic, his ability to shoot under par is going to have to factor in.

“This week, everyone knows you have to make a million birdies,” the Crystal Lake native said on Wednesday. “It’s one of those things where it’s hard to stay patient if (birdies) don’t come early in the week, but you have to.

“The good thing is you know you can get on a run out here, so if you don’t make birdies early, you know could go on a run and make six or seven straight.”

Affrunti is scheduled to tee off at 9 a.m. for Thursday’s first round. He’s paired for the first two rounds with Steve LeBrun and Patrick Rodgers, who plays at Stanford and who received a sponsor’s exemption for this weekend’s tour stop in Silvis.

It’s a course Affrunti is familiar with, having played Deere Run three times, including in the 2010 John Deere Classic when he missed the cut. But he’s also coming off a performance in his most recent Web.com event in which Affrunti posted seven birdies in the final two rounds to put him on the verge of his first tour victory. Instead, Affrunti four-putted the 17th hole of the final round and ended up in a four-man playoff.

Affrunti sees very similar tendencies at Deere Run as he did with Victoria National Golf Club, where he built confidence heading into this weekend’s PGA Tour stop.

TPC Deere Run has surrendered the most birdies on the PGA Tour each of the past two years – including 2,117 during last year’s John Deere Classic. It’s a course where players who have succeeded understand that can’t be underestimated even though it plays the easiest among the 11 Par 71 courses used by the tour last season.

“You don’t have one hole that’s like the next,” defending champion Zach Johnson told reporters in Silvis on Tuesday. “You’ll stand up on a tee and you’ll say, ‘Oh yeah, I remember this hole’.  You go to some course and every hole looks the same – this is not one of them.

“You have up, you have down, you have left, you have right, you have short you have long. It requires every club in your bag.”

Affrunti agrees, especially given the amount of rain the course has taken recently, making for soft greens and fairways. He expects the conditions to also be familiar – muggy and sticky – making the course susceptible to a host of low-scoring rounds.

Last year, Johnson edged out Troy Matteson on the second playoff hole after both finished the tournament at -20. It's the kind of finish Affrunti expects the winner will have to approach to capture the title this weekend.

“It’s one of those events where par is never a bad thing, but it’s not a good thing, either,” Affrunti said. “But I know when I’m swinging it good, I get on runs and I know my runs are as good as anybody else’s runs.

“I just have to make a ton of birdies and alleviate the other (bad shots) and I know that’s in my game.”

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