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Iowa star Caitlin Clark plays golf at the John Deere Classic Pro-Am, draws huge crowds

SILVIS, Ill. — If the last year has hammered home anything regarding Caitlin Clark’s current celebrity status, it’s that crowds will show wherever No. 22 goes. Hoops doesn’t even have to be on the agenda.

Non-basketball appearances, inside the ballpark, on the golf course — doesn’t matter. Clark fans will flock from every corner to catch a glimpse of the Hawkeyes’ homegrown superstar doing anything ordinary or extraordinary. That proved true once again Wednesday at the John Deere Classic Pro-Am at TPC Deere Run.

With a robust gallery resembling what the leader’s group produces on championship Sunday at this well-respected PGA Tour event, Clark weaved her way through 18 holes while linking up with Iowa’s favorite golfing son, Zach Johnson, on the back nine. Throngs of black and gold lined the ropes at every hole just as they do outside the Carver-Hawkeye Arena tunnel. Many of the fans were young girls in Clark apparel yearning for even a brief moment with arguably America’s most popular female athlete. Autographs and photos were abundant.

“I had a really good time,” Clark said. “I thought I did a little better on the front nine, wasn’t as tired. I got really tired on the back nine, but it was fun. I appreciate all the Hawkeyes fans who were out there today, a lot of people who support the Hawks and women’s basketball. That was super cool to see.

“But just enjoying it. This is different for me and a little outside my comfort zone. Just tried to have fun with it. And obviously when you get to golf with the Ryder Cup captain, not many people get that opportunity.”

While John Deere Classic week annually acts as a de facto homecoming for Johnson — the Cedar Rapids Regis and Drake graduate who has become Iowa’s most noteworthy golfing name — there was no solo spotlight on this day. By the time Johnson joined the party on hole 10, Clark’s contingency was plenty strong after she played the opening nine with rookie pro Ludvig Aberg. It only grew as one Iowa native chatted up another under the Quad Cities sun.

Is it possible Clark and Johnson played with the first hole-to-hole police escort in John Deere Classic Pro-Am history? Perhaps so. With upwards of 10 cameras planted behind the duo at any point, that part of Wednesday’s experience carried a familiar feel for the in-demand Clark — even if the setting was different.

After a particularly thick crowd on hole 10, media members were restricted back to their official positions one arm’s length inside the rope at each hole. So it goes as everyone tries to chronicle the biggest thing popping maybe in all of college athletics.

“It’s just cool getting to interact with everyone and all the young kids today,” Clark said. “I really enjoyed being around them. I used to run around golf courses and wanted to go to golf and basketball events when I was a young kid. It can really change their life even if they have one interaction with you. Just trying to make as much time as I can trying to sign an autograph for a young kid or give them a ball or high five. That goes a really long way.”

As for the action, did you really think Clark could completely bury her competitive side even in this low-stakes event? Not a chance. Playful frustration plastered her face as a fairway shot curved wide or a put rested just short. There were plenty of quality shots, too, that produced smiles and laughs along the way.

As Clark prepares for her senior-season bonanza following a junior year that saw Iowa women’s basketball soar above its perceived ceiling, there aren’t many moments when Clark can be a carefree 21-year-old enjoying her college years. Even with an impressive audience, this was certainly one of them.

“I can’t speak highly enough,” Johnson said, “about how she handles herself.”

Dargan Southard is a sports trending reporter and covers Iowa athletics for the Des Moines Register and Email him at [email protected].

This article originally appeared on the Des Moines Register: Caitlin Clark: Iowa basketball star plays golf at John Deere Pro-Am