Orange shirts and a show: Crowd turns out for Rickie Fowler in Detroit

Ian Thibodeau
The Detroit News
Rickie Fowler watches his shot off the 9th tee during the Rocket Mortgage Classic on Saturday

Detroit — He started the day six strokes behind the leader, but that didn't keep a crowd from showing up here at the Rocket Mortgage Classic to watch world-ranked No. 14 golfer Rickie Fowler stripe the fairway of the first hole at Detroit Golf Club.

A nearly 300-yard tee shot was more than enough to elicit yells from the crowd, which was peppered with the bright orange shirts Fowler made popular on the PGA Tour a decade ago when he turned pro.

By the time Fowler and his pairing partner Kevin Kisner got to the third tee, hundreds of fans were marching along with the golfers, shouting Fowler's name the whole time.

"Hold your ground," a group of fans perched behind the third hole's tee box joked as Fowler lined up a possible birdie putt on second green.

"Stay strong. If he dunks this, this place is gonna go nuts."

He missed the putt, but still made par. And the crowd still shouted his name and cheered him on.

"Thanks for coming to Detroit!" one woman said as Fowler passed her.

It's a fitting following for a golfer who might be the most-recognizable face on the course Saturday. In his fourth year as a spokesman for Dan Gilbert's Rocket Mortgage, Fowler's been hyping the tournament for nearly a year. And with the PGA Tour stopping in Detroit for the first time in a decade, some fans were just happy to see a star on their home turf.

Fowler said earlier in the week that he personally wants to see the Detroit tournament succeed.

"We're really happy he made the cut," said Don Godard, 44, from Sterling Heights. His 8-year-old son, Miles, stood at the fence around the practice green Saturday morning as Fowler walked out of the clubhouse before his 11:40 a.m. tee time.

The third day of the inaugural tournament started slow. As temperatures just after 9 a.m. reached into the 80s, small groups of fans clutching sweating bottles or cans of beer followed the first several pairings around the front nine. The course was quiet, mostly. 

The mid-morning sun dried out the Donald Ross-designed course and baked some spectators. Occasional shouts of "fore" echoed through the trees on the northern end of the course.

But as the bulk of the crowd spilled in just before 11 a.m., Godard and his son already had a bag full of gear they'd picked up from the dozens of stands on the grounds. And Miles stood, marker and bright orange hat in-hand, at the practice green and waited for his favorite golfer to notice him.

"Don't beg, bud," Godard told his son. "You can ask, but he might not sign things right now."

Miles turned around and smiled, eyes wide, as Fowler practiced putting.

"We're gonna follow Rickie at least as long as his little little feet will last," Godard said. "He's so excited. Look at his face."

Tournament officials haven't given attendance numbers for the tournament. On Friday, tournament executive director Jason Langwell told The Detroit News that Friday doubled Thursday's attendance, and that both Saturday and Sunday would bring twice as many people to the Detroit Golf Club as Friday.

The only gripe from fans — mostly on social media — during the week seemed to have been that the course played too easy for the pros. Tournament officials pushed back Friday and told reporters both the players and the fans on the course loved it. 

The crowd following Fowler didn't seem to mind when he crushed his driver for the first time that day on the third hole, sending the ball soaring down the fairway. By the 10th hole Saturday, Fowler had pulled within three strokes of leader Nate Lashley, who was set to tee off at 2 p.m. 

The crowd favorite was giving the crowd something to watch in Detroit.

Twitter: @Ian_Thibodeau