How low will they go? PGA Tour pros could turn DGC into a birdie barrage

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Detroit — The PGA Tour enjoys the heck out of its current marketing tagline, "Live Under Par," and, boy, are the pros gonna love Detroit Golf Club.

Next month's Rocket Mortgage Classic, the PGA Tour's first-ever tournament in the City of Detroit, figures to be a (please pardon the pun) fan-tastic experience, with excellent, up-close viewing opportunities for the patrons — as well as a whole mess of birdies.

"Fans love watching birdies," said Jason Langwell, executive director of the tournament. "And players love making birdies. And I think there will be plenty of that."

That seems to be the consensus opinion.

Johnny Wunder drives during media day for the Rocket Mortgage Classic.

Scoring should be spectacular June 27-30 in the shadows of Woodward Avenue and Seven Mile Road, as a 156-player field tees off on the old Donald Ross design.

When it was announced last year that the PGA Tour was finally coming back to Michigan, and that it was coming to Detroit Golf Club, many in the golf community opined that the touring professionals would beat up the course. There were rumblings of a 30-under-par winning score.

That's a stretch, of course, considering there never has been a PGA Tour winner to post 30-under for a four-day, 72-hole event.

The PGA Tour record actually is owned by Justin Thomas, who shot a 27-under-par 253 on the par-70 Waialae Country Club in the 2017 Sony Open in Hawaii. That championship performance included a 59.

Could the Rocket Mortgage Classic winner scare that record? Probably not, but maybe. PGA Tour pros each average between three and five birdies a round, on courses much tougher than this.

And if that's the case — Motown goes Low-town — then tournament organizers are just fine with that. After all, that's how life always was at the PGA Tour's last Michigan stop, the old Buick Open.

"It's hard to say," said Langwell, whose 156-player tournament has commitments from big names like Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson and Xander Schauffele, and expects many more in the coming days. "Mid-20s, potentially?

"There's fun speculation out here."

Detroit Golf Club will play 7,334 yards, give or take depending on the daily tee and pin placements. That's about average for a PGA Tour stop, but some of those other PGA Tour tournaments that play that long also play to a par 70, like the Travelers Championship in Cromwell, Connecticut.

The PGA Tour, at the urging of Quicken Loans folks, decided to keep Detroit Golf Club playing to the traditional par 72, which means four par-5s — which means more birdies. Three of the par-5s will be easily reachable in two shots by any pro who finds the fairway (and even by some of those who don't), four of the par-4s will play under 400 yards, and two of the par-3s are quite short, between 160 and 170 yards.

That's half of the 18 holes that will be total green-light territory for the best golfers in the world, and even some of the longer par 4s aren't going to scare the average touring professional who hits his drives 300-plus.

Detroit Golf Club is the golfing jewel in the city limits, and that it's never before held a professional tour event tells you what the tours have previously thought of its teeth.

But the PGA Tour is in a different place these days. It used to be obsessed with length, making the courses longer to supposedly "protect the integrity" of the game. These days, that's now the popular opinion. PGA Tour brass has realized if everyone's playing the same golf course, who cares how long or short it is? Besides, everyone loves birdies and eagles. That's why you see a lot of drivable par-4s on tour these days.

Detroit Golf Club members might have a differing opinion. Every member of every club that hosts a PGA Tour tournament loves to see how its daily racetrack holds up against the best players in the world. And too low a score might not sit well with egos.

"I think it will be a great test of golf," said Andy Glassberg, president of Detroit Golf Club. "That's what everybody is really looking for."

There will be ways for the course to protect itself from too low a score, if it so chooses.

For starters, there are the green complexes, a staple of Ross-designed golf courses. They are tricky, to be kind. They have slope. They have multiple tiers. They can be mowed to resemble glass countertops.

If the PGA Tour course Picassos get in a foul mood, there are dangerous pin placements on every green that could give the touring professionals fits.

If the wind blows, as it did with force during Tuesday's showcase of the course for the local media, that certainly will impact the champion's score, too.

And then there's the rough, which isn't overly long these days, but still is thick and gnarly and plenty penal. Missing the fairways is no recipe for success at Detroit Golf Club.

About that rough, tournament officials don't plan to grow it beyond control, like what you might see at a major, particularly the U.S. Open or British Open — two majors the Rocket Mortgage Classic is sandwiched between.

Every tournament is, at its root, all about trying to identify the best golfer in the field, but the PGA Tour isn't nearly as sadistic as the stiff suits at the USGA and R&A. If majors are final exams and funerals, PGA Tour events are keggers and backyard BBQs.

"I had two players ask me, are you going to grow the rough up and beat us up," said Langwell, who is responsible for player recruiting — as he's doing this week at the Memorial in Ohio, Jack Nicklaus' tournament (where, yes, Tiger Woods is playing).

"This isn't about that."

The course layout

Here's a look at what PGA Tour pros will be facing at the Rocket Mortgage Classic:

No. 1: 397 yards, par 4 (this is the No. 8 hole on the North Course)

No. 2: 453 yards, par 4 (No. 9 hole on the North)

No. 3: 387 yards par 4 (No. 1 on the South)

No. 4: 635 yards, par 5 (No. 2 on the North)

No. 5: 167 yards, par 3 (No. 3 on the North)

No. 6: 461 yards, par 4 (No. 4 on the North)

No. 7: 552 yards, par 5 (No. 5 on the North)

No. 8: 372 yards, par 4 (No. 6 on the North)

No. 9: 207 yards, par 3 (No. 7 on the North)

No. 10: 425 yards, par 4

No. 11: 233 yards, par 3

No. 12: 459 yards, par 4

No. 13: 393 yards, par 4

No. 14: 555 yards, par 5

No. 15: 160 yards, par 3

No. 16: 446 yards, par 4

No. 17: 577 yards, par 5

No. 18: 455 yards, par 4

Course totals: 7,334 yards, par 72

Rocket Mortgage Classic

When: June 27-30

Where: Detroit Golf Club

TV: Golf Channel, CBS

Purse: $7.3 million

Twitter: @tonypaul1984