SILVIS, IL — J.T. Poston plays golf the way Phil Ivey plays poker.
If there is a pulse behind the smooth and easy stroke Poston enlists to roll putts into the center of the cup with a reliably languid pace, you wouldn’t know it.
Poston’s swing is equally smooth and easy, and he moves across a golf course in measured fashion, too, rarely changing stride, each step seemingly matching the last.
As the 29-year-old from Hickory, North Carolina, pushed all-in during Sunday’s final round of the John Deere Classic, coolly and steadily securing his second PGA TOUR career victory, you wouldn’t have known the stakes.
They were considerable. The $1.278 million winner’s check, for starters. 500 points and a move from No. 66 to No. 22 in the FedExCup standings, for another. And a TOUR exemption through 2024. There also was an exemption to tee it up in The Open Championship in two weeks, and at fabled St. Andrews, no less. A ticket to next year’s THE PLAYERS Championship, the Masters and the PGA Championship was on the line.
J.T. Poston raked that whole pot.
That’s not to mention the coveted validation that comes with adding a second career TOUR win to his maiden victory at the 2019 Wyndham Championship in his native North Carolina.
“Honestly, it’s just who I am,” Poston said afterward of the steady veneer and outward calm he displayed the whole week long while chasing the first wire-to-wire win in 30 years at the John Deere Classic. “I know how I feel and I guess I do a good job of not showing it, but there is definitely some nerves. I’ve always been pretty level, even keel. I think that’s a strength, not getting too excited, especially today after a great start.
“I feel like it could have been easy to get real excited and start thinking about the finish line. I tried to stay one shot at a time and focused on what I had in front of me. But it’s just kind of just how I’ve always been.”
Maybe not always.
In the aftermath of a 2-under round of 69 that secured the three-shot victory, Poston conceded his bogey-free victory at the Wyndham did create a bar he spent a few years trying to match.
“I think I put a little more pressure on myself kind of the last couple years, trying to get that second win and trying to be perfect again,” Poston said. “I think it took a little while for me to realize or accept that it’s OK to make a mistake as long as you limit them, and that was something that I would say I finally realized this year and tried not to be perfect, but just tried to be real solid.”
The result has been a stretch of golf that, while far from perfect, saw him building toward this week.
A tie for third at the RBC Heritage was followed by three successive missed cuts, and then a T9 back home in Carolina at the Wells Fargo Championship. At last week’s Travelers Championship, opening and closing rounds of 62 and a tie for second foreshadowed his TPC Deere Run form.
Well, perhaps not all the way. Over post-round games of cards the previous few evenings, it seems Poston’s poker face was less than Ivey-esque.
“You gin on him early and he’ll get a little fired up,” said Brendon Todd, a three-time winner and another of this week’s housemates, “But (his heart rate) goes back down quickly.
Kelly Cox, who will become Mrs. J.T. Poston in December, said Poston’s unflappable calm was a cause for attraction after Todd introduced them three years ago.
“I don’t know how he does it, honestly,” Cox said. “It’s one of his best characteristics. When we met, that was one of the first things I noticed.”
A three-time TOUR winner himself, Todd said Poston’s poker-faced approach just might be a template to playing winning golf.
“I think he’s one of those guys who’s just about as relaxed as they come,” Todd said. “Not too high. Not too low. He’s a lot of fun to be around. He’s got a great sense of humor. This week he was calm, having fun, seemed relaxed. Wire-to-wire winner? It was really impressive to see, and I think we can all learn a little from that.”
It may not work for everyone, of course. There’s that one guy who raised fist-pumping to new heights while winning everything worth winning. Certainly, Poston’s steady game, steely nerves and not inconsiderable talent works for him.
How far can it take him from here?
“He can be as good as he wants to be,” said Kizzire. “He’s got a great swing, great rhythm, great touch around the green and that putter, he’s very impressive on the greens. He’s one of the best putters on TOUR. When he’s on, he’s the best. Sky is the limit for him, but he’s a guy that’s not going to look at all that. He’s going to look at what’s right in front of him and keep doing it.”
“Big,” he conceded. “I have some career goals of playing on Presidents Cup and Ryder Cups and stuff like that, winning majors. I haven’t done anything like that yet. I haven’t really played that great in a major yet, so I’ll probably take a step back and reevaluate some of the goals.
“But right now, a good start would be playing well in the majors, getting in the mix in the majors and playing well in some big events. Yeah, I would love to be on one of those U.S. teams. I know I have a lot of work to do to be relevant there, but it’s a goal of mine and something that I’m definitely going to try and accomplish.”