Carroll High grad Andrew Lehman (right) is the assistant tournament director for the John Deere Classic, a PGA Tour event in the Quad Cities. 
The ISU graduate coordinates everything from electrical, signage and security to working with rules officials and patrons. 
BRANDON HURLEY | DAILY TIMES HERALD
Carroll High grad Andrew Lehman (right) is the assistant tournament director for the John Deere Classic, a PGA Tour event in the Quad Cities. The ISU graduate coordinates everything from electrical, signage and security to working with rules officials and patrons. BRANDON HURLEY | DAILY TIMES HERALD

Within the chaos is where Andrew Lehman excels most.

Calm and driven, he answers each radio call with confidence as he bristles down a dusty service road perfectly sandwiched between a pristine golf course and the slowly snaking and murky waters of the Rock River. 

Even a stomach bug couldn’t derail the Carroll High graduate during the most important week of the year. 

The John Deere Classic assistant tournament is the definitive multi-taster, complete with a keen knack to know everyone’s name. Without him, the annual Quad Cities-hosted PGA Tour event may very well not be the third highest grossing tournament for charity, despite being the smallest market. 

For one week in mid July, Lehman’s life transforms into a whirlwind, a perfect storm he craves and cherishes, coordinating electrical set up and signage to directing thousands of volunteers while also working closely with PGA Tour rules officials. 

If there’s a problem on the course the week of the tournament, Lehman is most likely your guy. He’s the keenly sharpened Swiss Army Knife of professional sports, offering a little bit of everything. 

No matter where I went last week in Silvis, Illinois, on the eastern outskirts of Moline, from the clubhouse to the warehouse and the credential booth, each time I dropped Lehman’s name, his colleagues had nothing but great words to say.

“He’s got his hand in everything. He’s pulled everywhere,” Pat Huig said, a member of the Grunt Crew, a group of workers who help distribute signage and drinks. 

Lehman is remarkably humble, though. You’d never hear him admit how vital he’s become to the basic functions of a successful Tour event. He was restrained even allowing me time to profile him, stating how the tournament is more important and there are much more famous people from Carroll. 

The 2002 CHS graduate’s passion for helping others combined with top notch leadership qualities and a laser focus is what helps the JDC run like a well-oiled machine.

Working our way into the maintenance shed off to the far side of TPC Deere Run, Lehman morphs into a folk-hero as we pop out of his golf cart. 

The building is a shine to everything John Deere Classic. Old scorecards dot the walls as do various banners recalling the names of years gone past, including the Quad Cities Invitational, while historic moments are framed along the walls as well. There are old flags, tee boxes and vehicles. 

A group of older, cigar-smoking men converge on the father of two, eyes beaming and small smiles waiting to hear orders. 

Lehman is in constant contact with tournament employees, whether that means manning a pair of radios or never letting his phone travel too far from his ear. There’s always a next on Lehman’s agenda during tournament week from conducting TV interviews to making sure the box suite air conditioners don’t overheat. 

“You have to be a people person and very detail orientated,” the former Tiger said. “One decision can affect 10 other things. Everything has a purpose.” 

Lehman first got involved with the JDC as an intern in 2006, fresh out of his four-year stint at Iowa State University, where he studied to obtain a degree in sports management. He wanted to get into baseball, but the tournament came calling at the right time, and more than a decade later, he finds himself recently wrapping up his 13th John Deere Classic. 

Lehman worked his way through through the ranks handling player relations, coordinating lodging and flight arrangements with PGA players and their agents, which gave him a unique perspective of the professional tour. His seemingly overwhelming responsibility as assistant tournament director is nothing new to him. He’s rooted deeply within his happy place once tournament week arrives. 

“I love the build up and anticipation,” he said. “The more and more you get involved, the more I love diving in. Everyone becomes like family. A lot of the week goes so fast. All of a sudden, it’s Monday.

It all kind of blurs together, but you remember the finishes,” he continued. “You have to stop and enjoy the process, enjoy the tournament.

The July tournament at TPC Deere Run in Silvis, Illinois has become a lightning rod for community service. This summer alone, the John Deere Classic enlisted more than 2,000 volunteers – the first time in the event’s history. 

It’s the community togetherness of the entire Quad Cities that really makes the tournament thrive. Volunteers have been the backbone at TPC Deere Run for many, many years. 

From folks manning the ropes to citizens driving the shuttle buses, each generous person was eager to offer help and share their knowledge of the tournament. There’s not much that compares on the PGA Tour, Lehman said.

“This is the premiere event here in the area,” he said. “There’s no professional teams in Iowa, there isn’t a PGA Tour event in Chicago anymore. There’s nothing around like this. And we like to hang our hat on charity success.”

The golf tournament generates a $54 million impact on the Quad Cities economies in addition to raising $12 million for charity. It’s become more of a celebration than an actual golf tournament, though that added wrinkle of professional competition is certainly nice. The course and its passionate foot soldiers have overcome long odds to continue its lengthy stretch of success. 

“We are like the Green Bay Packers of the Tour,” Lehman said, citing how the locals feel as if they have a big stake in the tournament. “The community rallies together. And it’s just not here, it’s the Midwest. It’s a special place to live. Living in the Quad Cities is no different than Carroll. It’s a friendly place.” 

Over the years, Lehman’s appreciation for the PGA players has continued to grow. Unlike many other professional sports, these golfers are down to earth, real guys that are approachable. 

The John Deere Classics hosts an annual barbecue “The Big Dig” the Tuesday before the tournament, where players, caddies and their families mingle with JDC employees and sponsors. It’s a real treat to see the other side of things, Lehman said. They’ll have yard games available and even a fireworks show. 

“These guys are in T-shirts, backwards hats and flip flops,” he said. “They are all so down to earth. Good guys.”

It’s a thank you to Lehman and his colleagues prior to a hectic sprint to the finish line. Lehman does make sure to carve out an hour or two each year to take in the final three Sunday groups as they make their way through holes 16, 17 and 18. This is usually Lehman’s only chance to actually watch the tournament live each year, but it hasn’t disappointed. He remembers Steve Stricker rolling in the winning putt on 18 a few years back and when Jordan Spieth returned in 2015, as the world’s top-ranked golfer, fresh off wins in the Masters and the U.S. Open. The crowds were juiced to the gills, Lehman said. 

“The place was packed,” he remembers. “You couldn’t move.” 

Taking a cue from their thousands of volunteers, the John Deere Classic likes to give back to the players as well. They offer a first-class, non-stop charter to the British Open following the conclusion of the annual tournament. The JDC has been the final event prior to the year’s third major for quite some time. So instead of forcing guys to find flights and wait for connecters, the local tournament directors have stepped up to the plate. The players fly out on Mark Cuban’s private, 100 seat jet, which leaves the Moline airport at 8 p.m. Sunday night and usually lands overseas at 10 a.m. the next morning. 

It’s one of the more unique offerings on tour, something Lehman used to have a big hand in. 

“It’s really a neat deal,” Lehman said. “For a $1,700 donation to charity they get a spot on the plane.” 

In his role, Lehman is even on the ground floor of innovation. It was his idea to create a more stadium-like feel for the 18th hole while he pitched the idea of encompassing the fan experience on the famous 16th hole back drop. 

He’s always learning, tweaking and generating ideas. 

Lehman’s work doesn’t stop once the tournament is done, there’s tear down, coordinating vendor traffic out of the course and once that’s over with, it’s on to planning for next year’s tournament. Analyzing what worked, what didn’t and what new things they can offer at the John Deere Classic. 

Of course, Lehman would have it no other way. He’ll keep grinding with a breath-taking view of the course from his office inside a historic farmhouse, anticipating the chaos of next summer.