SILVIS, Ill. — When star power meets girl power, you get the Caitlin Clark effect.
Hawkeye nation turned out to the John Deere Classic in full force on Wednesday for the Iowa superstar. John Deere green turned to black and gold as fans dutifully followed Clark through 18 holes in the Pro-Am.
For many young girls in attendance, it was a chance to see Clark up close and personal.
"She just brings a whole new level of excitement and fun and we just love watching her," Teryn Lukes gushed. The recent high school graduate traveled nearly three hours from Lime Springs, IA, to TPC Deere Run just to watch Clark play.
This fall, Lukes will be headed off to the University of Iowa herself. It's a decision she says was influenced, in part, by Clark's magnetic pull.
"I loved Iowa before, because it was especially nice for my program, but since she's going there and now that my family bought season tickets, it just makes a whole lot more sense," Lukes said.
Clark teed off shortly after 8:00 a.m. during pro-am play. Despite the early wakeup call, there was no shortage of Hawkeye Faithful cheering her on.
Rows of Iowa basketball fans adorned in black, gold and proud #22 jerseys lined each tee box, fairway and putting green, excitedly moving from hole to hole with Clark despite scorching heat and humid conditions.
As she wrapped up each hole, Clark paused for plenty autographs, photos and high-fives. For many fans, it's physically the closest they'll get to the superstar.
"We got the perfect spot and no one was by us and we stuck our paper out and gave her a pen! It was really fun," Sophia Nelson said. The 10-year-old woke up at 5:30 a.m. to make the drive from Clinton, IA, along with her 6-year-old sister Violet and father James. "It was really cool just to see my favorite player in person!"
The Nelsons have become Caitlin Clark superfans. This past season they watched every single game, either in person or at home on TV.
"She put Iowa women's basketball on the map and she certainly got us to tune into about every game," James said. "She's a huge inspiration for our three girls. We wouldn't be here if Caitlin wasn't here!
So much so, the Nelsons poured new concrete and put up a basketball hoop at their home, so the girls could practice playing like their favorite athlete. Ask Sophia and she'll say she goes out to shoot hoops about five times a day!
"She's an inspiration to a lot of little girls and little boys. And she's a great basketball player in general — a great person," Sophia said. "She's definitely changed women's basketball and it's good that people are finally tuning in."
Watching Clark play can be called poetry in motion. But some young fans were willing to take that a step further.
While waiting for Clark to tee off from the first hole, News 8 caught up with Logan Johnson, Rowyn Trenkanp and Peyton McDonald. The three boys were posted up in their #22 gear, ready to catch a glimpse of the basketball phenom and joking they weren't going to leave the course without her autograph.
"I spent my whole school year writing about her in class and I like to watch her on TV," Johnson said. "I wrote a poem that was like, 'Caitlin Clark went off in March; setting records here and there; can't wait to see her next year."
Nearby, 7-year-old McKinley Schwandt and her 9-year-old sister Kennedy were pressed up against the course ropes, waiting for Clark to start playing.
"I like that she has to have sometimes two guards," Kennedy said.
Their parents surprised the girls with a trip to TPC Deere Run that morning, saying it made their day to know they would get to see their hero.
"It's gonna be awesome to see their little smiles when Caitlin tees off," mom Lauren Schwandt said. She says her girls have been excitedly following Clark and the women's team for months. "It means a lot, I mean, Caitlin's a huge role model and she's very positive."
It's something 12-year-old Davenport resident, Meghan Reichwein, couldn't agree more with.
"Everybody's cheering for her, it's really fun," Reichwein said. "She's really good!"
Photographer Jenny Hipskind contributed to this story by shooting the attached video.
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