John Deere announced Tuesday it has extended its partnership with The First Tee program for five years through 2021.

Mara Downing, president of the John Deere Foundation and director of global brand management and corporate citizenship, said it will be a three-pronged investment.

The first is to launch a national essay competition for teenage boys and girls to vie for a $5,000 college scholarship and a spot in the John Deere Classic pro-am. They also want to increase girls golf participation along with supporting The First Tee activities in three Deere communities — the Quad-Cities, Des Moines and Cary, N.C.

The First Tee is a non-profit youth development organization who uses golf to impact lives of young people. There are approximately 800 kids in the Quad-Cities involved with The First Tee.

Downing, who played golf at St. Ambrose from 1995-98 and was an all-American her junior season, said Deere’s commitment is $625,000 over a five-year period for those three initiatives.

“We think that encouraging young women to get engaged in the game of golf and develop leadership skills through the game of golf is critically important,” Downing said.

Jen Weiler, an executive with The First Tee, said 38 percent of its participants are female. The goal is to grow that number to 45.

“We feel like we’re doing a good job, but we can do better,” Weiler said. “We believe that we should be a leader in introducing, nurturing, and retaining more girls in the game of golf.”

A leadership academy will begin next year in undetermined metropolitan areas, the first all-girls event The First Tee has organized.

“I’m so excited about this leadership academy,” Weiler said. “I think it’s just going to take everything to the next level for our girls.”

Date change: Being a tournament board member and competitor, Zach Johnson was asked Tuesday his stance on the JDC moving to August and coinciding with the Summer Olympics.

“I do think it’s a little unfortunate that it’s the first week of the Olympics,” he said.

Still, Johnson admitted about every tournament after the U.S. Open was impacted. For the JDC, it means no top-20 ranked players and just four in the top 50 of the FedEx Cup standings.

“It’s really wedged our whole schedule and really made you think about when to play and when to rest, which is oftentimes more important this time of year,” Johnson said.

Joining the big boys: Wesley Bryan played his way into the John Deere Classic and full status on the PGA Tour after earning his third Web.com Tour victory of the season Sunday.

Bryan, 26, survived a three-man playoff at the Digital Ally Open in Kansas to grant him a “battlefield” promotion.

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Better known for his trick-shot videos shot with his brother, George, and a contestant on the Golf Channel’s “Big Break,” Bryan has seven top 10 finishes this season and made more than $565,000 on the web.com.

Notable pairings: The marquee grouping for the first two rounds will feature three former JDC champions in Zach Johnson, Brian Harman and Steve Stricker. They’ll go off the 10th tee at 8:20 a.m. Thursday and the first tee at 1:30 p.m. Friday.

Stricker won the Classic in 2009, ’10 and ’11 while Johnson was the 2012 champion and Harman earned his first PGA Tour win here two years ago.

Jerry Kelly, Bud Cauley and Patrick Rodgers tee off at 7:40 a.m. Thursday.

Keegan Bradley, Kevin Na and Bryan headline the afternoon wave Thursday at 1:30 p.m. off the first tee.

Field changes: Jeff Overton and Will Wilcox withdrew from the JDC on Tuesday. As a result, alternates Garrett Willis and Kent Jones are in the field.


Wilcox said on Twitter he is having surgery on an injured wrist.

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