The Starter: Rocket Mortgage Classic

A look at the clubhouse at the Detroit Golf Club, host of the inaugural Rocket Mortgage Classic. Credit: Getty Images

After a ten-year absence, Michigan will once again play host to the world’s greatest professional golf league.

The PGA Tour makes its return to the Great Lakes State this week for the debut of the Rocket Mortgage Classic. Contested at Detroit Golf Club, the new stop will bring elite professional golf to a sports-crazed city that’s starving for a champion, as it’s suffering through down times with the Pistons, Tigers, and even the Red Wings, while the Lions are, well, still the Lions. The glory days of Steve Yzerman, Barry Sanders, and the Bad Boys these are most certainly not.

The field for the inaugural event is not one of the strongest of the season; that will come as the tournament gains prestige, but there are some intriguing headliners. Most notably is the presence of Gary Woodland, who will be making his first start since his impressive triumph two weeks ago at the U.S. Open, his first career major championship victory.

His win for the ages at Pebble Beach has suddenly put him firmly on the sports-world radar. Also in the field this week is Dustin Johnson, the world No. 2, who should be favored to add career win No. 21 to a gaudy resume. Also, possibly at the request of Rocket Mortgage, arguably the most prominent of his many sponsors, the ultra-popular Rickie Fowler will be in the field as well.

The last tournament regularly held in Michigan – the Buick Open, had a phenomenal 51-year reign, with its first tournament won by Billy Casper (1958) and its last by Tiger Woods (2009). The bar has been set high for The Rocket Mortgage Classic, but Detroit, one of the country’s most resilient cities, is undoubtedly up for the challenge. It all starts this week.


The Skinny

Tournament: Rocket Mortgage Classic
Dates: June 27-30, 2019
Where: Detroit, Michigan
Course: Detroit Golf Club
Distance: Par 36-36-72, 7340 yards
Architect: Donald Ross
Format: 72-holes, stroke play, 36-hole cut
Purse: $7,300,000
Winning Share: $1,314,000
TV Network: GOLF/CBS
Defending Champion: New Event


History Spotlight: A Motor City Master

horton-smith-bobby-jones
Golf legend Bobby Jones congratulates Horton Smith after Smith won the the inaugural Masters Tournament at Jones’ Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia on March 25, 1934. Credit: Getty Images

The Rocket Mortgage Classic might be lacking history, but the host venue, Detroit Golf Club, most definitely does not. The Club itself has roots dating all the way back to 1899 and the North Course, where the event will mostly be contested (see Course section), is an original design of the legendary golf course architect Donald Ross, whose resume includes Pinehurst No. 2, East Lake, Oakland Hills, and Aronimink, among many others.

One of the Detroit Golf Club’s former club pros knows a few things about inaugural golf events. Horton Smith held the position from 1946 until 1963; the same Horton Smith who won the first ever Masters Tournament in 1934.

Smith’s 32-win PGA Tour career also included a second Masters triumph in 1936.


The Course

A general view of the clubhouse entrance at Detroit Golf Club in Detroit, Michigan on June 24, 2019, ahead of the inaugural Rocket Mortgage Classic. Credit: CBS Detroit

Detroit Golf Club is comprised of two historic golf courses – the North and South – both designed by Donald Ross in the early 1900s.

To accommodate a PGA Tour event, however, tournament organizers, and club officials, have blended the championship tracks together in order to create one big PGA Tour venue with extra yardage, new pro-style tee boxes, additional sand hazards, rerouted holes, and ample room for the PGA Tour’s traveling circus (TV towers, stadium seating, galleries, concessions, hospitality tents, equipment/TV trucks, parking, and whatnot).

The newly-reconfigured Detroit Golf Club will play to a par 72 (36-36), while stretching 7,309 yards for the inaugural event. It will include the traditional four par-5s, four par-3s, and the 10 par-4s.


Power Rankings

Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler
Rickie Fowler (L) and Dustin Johnson talk on the 12th hole during a practice round prior to the 2019 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach Golf Links on June 12, 2019 in Pebble Beach, CA. Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

The field this week at Detroit Golf Club is a fairly weak one with only Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler considered true headliners. Both DJ and Fowler are Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, in this week’s power rankings.

How weak is the field this week? The final five on our list (Nos. 6-10) include not a single player ranked in the world top-40. This has to be a first for a regular season event.

Top-10 at the Rocket

Power Rank-Player (OWGR)
10. Joaquin Niemann (97)
9. Abraham Ancer (58)
8. Brandt Snedeker (45)
7. Billy Horschel (41)
6. Aaron Wise (71)
5. Chez Reavie (26)
4. Gary Woodland (12)
3. Hideki Matsuyama (31)
2. Rickie Fowler (14)
1. Dustin Johnson (1)


Top Sleeper: Sungjae Im

Sungjae Im
Sungjae Im tees off on the 2nd hole during day two of the Albertsons Boise Open at the Hillcrest CC on Sep. 14, 2018 in Boise, Idaho. Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images

It has been an up-and-down rookie season for the 21-year-old South Korean Sungjae Im, who at times this year has looked like he was so close to career victory No. 1 he could taste it.

Now Im appears to have emerged from a two-month long slump with finishes of T7 and T21 in his last two starts respectively. His two victories, and three runner-ups, last year at just 20 years of age, on what used to be the Web.com Tour prove that he does not easily get intimidated. A course that the PGA Tour has not seen before might be right up his alley.

Im already boasts one of the Tour’s best all-around games, and he has taken his putting to a different level as of late, which could be an especially great equalizer in a week like this one.


Five Storylines To Follow

1. First Action As The US Open Champ

Gary Woodland Wins 2019 U.S. Open
Gary Woodland celebrates on the 18th green after winning the 2019 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach Golf Links on June 16, 2019 in Pebble Beach, California. Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

Despite a successful decade-long PGA Tour career, Gary Woodland has never really been an event headliner, at least not to the extent that he will be this week. Two weeks ago, the 35-year-old was unshakable in staring down a prodigious leaderboard at the U.S. Open, most notably major savant Brooks Koepka, shooting four rounds in the 60s at Pebble Beach to win his first major championship.

Now, the world No. 12 will be competing on Tour for the first time as a major champion when he tees up in Michigan this week. Will Woodland be ready to go after two weeks of limelight distractions? If he is, the field should definitely take note; Woodland’s eight top-10s on the season are already a career-high by two. Additionally, he leads the Tour in birdie average, his approach game is near immaculate, and he is showing confidence with his putter, which used to be the closest thing he had to a weakness.


2. Reavie A Winner Again

Chez Reavie Wins the Travelers Championship
Chez Reavie celebrates on the 18th green after making a par to win the Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands on June 23, 2019 in Cromwell, CT. Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

Gary Woodland is not the only native Kansan who is rocking the golf world as of late. Chez Reavie finished T3 at the U.S. Open two weeks ago, holding his own in the final round despite being paired with Brooks Koepka and not having been in the position before. He then chased his best career major performance with a four-stroke victory at last week’s Travelers Championship, putting an end to his 11-year winless drought.

The 37-year-old is slated to be in the field for this week’s inaugural Tour event, and despite two consecutive exhausting weeks, both physically and mentally, on opposite coasts, Reavie’s chances at going back-to-back should not be discounted. He has a history of being very streaky, and he has never been hotter in his life.

The Tour leader in driving accuracy has seen his world ranking climb to a career high of 26th over the past two weeks, and he will be motivated to keep that number moving up as he eyes this year’s Presidents Cup squad.


3. Rickie The Headliner

Rickie Fowler
Rickie Fowler looks on during the first round of the 2019 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach Golf Links on June 13, 2019 in Pebble Beach, CA. Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

There is no doubt that the biggest portion of the Detroit crowd will be following Rickie Fowler this week, who is easily the most popular golfer in the field.

The 30-year-old is playing well this season, having notched his fifth career victory in February at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, one of eight results this year of 17th or better in just 15 starts.

It might be fair to question where Fowler’s mental game is this week, however. When he was last in action, the man, who is under as much pressure as anyone on Tour to win a major championship, got off to a sizzling start two weeks ago at the U.S. Open, opening with a 5-under 66 before collapsing with a Friday 77 and eventually settling for a disappointing T43 finish. After carding six birdies in that first round, he managed just five over the next three rounds combined, and he ranked 71st in the field in strokes gained: putting, normally one of the biggest strengths of his game.


4. DJ In The Field

Dustin Johnson
Dustin Johnson plays a tee shot on the eighth hole during a practice round prior to the 2019 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach Golf Links on June 11, 2019 in Pebble Beach, CA. Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images

This week’s field could accurately be called strong for an inaugural event, but it contains just one member of the Official World Golf Rankings’ top 10: No. 2 Dustin Johnson. Like Woodland and Fowler, Johnson was last in action at Pebble Beach two weeks ago.

The 20-time Tour winner was among the favorites at the U.S. Open, an event where he recorded his only major championship three years ago, but despite showing a ridiculously good tee-to-green game, settled for a very disappointing T35 at a course where he had shown great proficiency in the past, largely due to a downright abysmal performance with his putter. Per usual for DJ, he is shining statistically, as he currently ranks 2nd on Tour in strokes gained: tee-to-green and strokes gained: total, and he ranks third in scoring average.

The undeniably most talented player in the field has been hit-or-miss in his last six starts, posting two runner-ups, but also four starts of 20th or worse, which is very un-DJ-like.


5. Two Spots Open For The Open

Charles Howell III
Charles Howell III plays a shot from the 12th tee during a practice round prior to the 2019 PGA Championship at the Bethpage Black course on May 15, 2019 in Farmingdale, NY. Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images

The final major championship of the 2019 season tees off next month, with the Open Championship at Royal Portrush Golf Club in Northern Ireland. As always is the case with The Open, the current field is unbelievably good, but it is not yet complete.

Fortunately for a number of talented players in Detroit this week, the Rocket Mortgage Classic is part of the Open Qualifying Series. The top two finishers this week who are not already exempt will be booking their overseas flight at the conclusion of the tournament.

The highest-ranked players in this week’s field who have not yet qualified for the 148th edition of The Open are World No. 53 Byeong Hun An, No. 54 J.B. Holmes, and No. 55 Charles Howell III.


Stat of the Week

Tiger Woods Buick Open
Tiger Woods watches his putt on the 18th hole during the final round of the Buick Open at Warwick Hills Golf and CC on August 2, 2009 in Grand Blanc, Michigan. Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

20.8 – The number of strokes under par, on average, of the last ten winners of the Buick Open, the last regular PGA Tour event to be played in Michigan, which was held from 1958 until 2009.

The lowest it got under par was -26 in 1987, a seven-stroke victory for Robert Wrenn, the only win of his career. Despite how easy the event played, however, it did draw some impressive fields, with Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh both winning the event three times.

It is obviously too early to tell just how well the fields will handle Detroit Golf Club, but it is not unusual for new events to score very low while the kinks are worked out.


Quotable

jack-nicklaus-gary-woodland
Gary Woodland shakes hands with Jack Nicklaus on the 18th hole green following the final round of the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village Golf Club on June 5, 2016 in Dublin, Ohio. Photo by Ryan Young/PGA TOUR via Getty Images

No More Mr. Anonymity
“All of a sudden, he’ll walk into a club and they’ll say, ‘Hi Mr. Woodland.’ He used to walk in and they’d say, “What’s your number? Sixty-four? Sixty-four, your locker is over there.

“The press will walk in and you guys will want to talk to him. He has always been a good golfer and is a super-nice guy, but his life will just change dramatically. The demand on his time, the people that want to see him, the people that want to invite him to do things, be part of this, part of that. It will change a lot.”
Jack Nicklaus on Gary Woodland’s life-changing win at the U.S. Open two weeks ago.


Full Field & Odds

Hideki Matsuyama
Hideki Matsuyama celebrates a birdie putt on the 18th hole as Rickie Fowler looks on during the final round of the Waste Management Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale on Feb 7, 2016 in Scottsdale, Arizona. Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

The field for the inaugural Rocket Mortgage Classic features just three players ranked in the world top 20. Two of those top-ranked players, however, are arguably two of the game’s most popular in world No. 2 Dustin Johnson and fan favorite Rickie Fowler, while the third is the newly-minted major winner Gary Woodland.

That trio, along with Hideki Matsuyama – a former world No. 2 himself, are head and shoulders above the rest of the field in terms of money lines.

Despite entering the Motor City in mediocre form, particularly relative to his high standards (T35, T20, 2, T28 in his last four starts), DJ is listed at 5-1 to capture his 21st PGA Tour title.

Reigning U.S. Open winner Woodland, and Fowler, who’s the advertising face of Rocket Mortgage, were next at 12-1, with Matsuyama getting only a slightly better payout at 14-1. No one else in the field has better than 25-1 odds.

Odds To Win 2019 Rocket Mortgage Classic

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