'It's so huge': Big-time pro golf back in Michigan for first time in a decade
Detroit — Name a big name in golf. Please. Go ahead.
Ben Hogan. Tiger Woods. Arnold Palmer. Jack Nicklaus. Gary Player. They've all won a golf tournament in Michigan, whether it be a major, a regular PGA or senior-tour stop, or an amateur event.
This week, one of the 156 entries into the PGA Tour's inaugural tournament in Detroit, the Rocket Mortgage Classic, will add his name to the esteemed list.
"It's so huge, because of this state's and the Metro Detroit area's golf roots, that extend all the way back to the 19th century," said Lynn Henning, a recently retired Detroit News sportswriter who was editor of PGA Magazine from 1989-94 and a senior writer and editor of Golfweek from 1996-98.
"To see that reclaimed and to see the appetite, the hunger for big-name pro golf in Michigan is not only refreshing, but it's deserved."
The PGA Tour returns to Michigan this week, in one of two inaugural tournaments on the PGA Tour schedule this year — the 3M Classic in suburban Minneapolis, set for next week, is the other — and it created a heck of a recruiting tug-of-war.
The Rocket Mortgage Classic runs Thursday through Sunday, the first PGA Tour event in the city limits of Detroit.
It's the first PGA Tour tournament in Michigan since the old Buick Open, a fan-friendly staple in Flint suburb Grand Blanc, folded in 2009, after Woods won for the third time.
"It's huge," said Jack Berry, a longtime golf writer in Michigan who worked for both the Detroit Free Press and, later, The News. "It's almost like it (golf in Michigan) died."
In the United States, only Florida and California have more golf courses than Michigan. That's one reason many golf fans were discouraged when Michigan lost the Buick Open — a staple on the PGA Tour schedule for more than 50 years — due to the poor state of the auto industry 10 years ago.
Since then, the LPGA Tour has returned, first with tournaments in Grand Rapids in Ann Arbor, and then with a new tournament in Midland this July. The Champions Tour, for the 50-and-older crowd, returned last fall, to the same course in Grand Blanc, Warwick Hills, where the PGA Tour used to make birdie after birdie after birdie.
And now, it's the PGA Tour's turn to add to the fun.
"Yeah, it's great fun, it's great excitement," said Vartan Kupelian, a longtime Detroit News golf writer who now writes for PGATour.com.
"They've got a pretty good field, with D.J. (Dustin Johnson), (U.S. Open champion Gary) Woodland, you've got a lot of name players, a lot of players the fans will be able to identify with and recognize.
"You won't be walking around the fairways going, 'Who's that guy?'"
Henning, Berry and Kupelian covered hundreds of golf tournaments in Michigan, big and small.
But they were mostly big, like Nicklaus' win at the Senior U.S. Open at Oakland Hills Country Club in 1991.
Nicklaus beat Chi Chi Rodriguez in a playoff.
"Chi Chi was the perfect foil, who said things like, 'I'm a little mouse and he's a big bear, what chance do I have?'" said Kupelian, who figures he's covered 168 major championships, across all tours. "Any time Jack wins, it's historic."
Then there was Player, the third member of the "Big Three," along with Nicklaus and Palmer. The South African won the 1972 PGA Championship at Oakland Hills.
Player won by two strokes over Tommy Aaron and Jim Jamieson.
"At the 1972 PGA, Player hit this 9-iron over the willow on 16 to 4 feet," Henning said. "It was an incredible shot. It was, for me, the best of the major moments we've had here, and we've had a few."
Most legendary, at least according to the text books, was Hogan's triumph at the 1951 U.S. Open at Oakland Hills, the "monster" Hogan boasted he "brought to its knees." But Nicklaus won here in back-to-back years, the Senior Players in Dearborn in 1990, prior to the Senior U.S. Open in 1991. Palmer, too, won big tournaments in Michigan, among them the 1961 Western Open at Blythefield Country Club in Belmont, where today the LPGA plays the Meijer Classic, and the 1980 U.S. Senior Open.
Woods won the Buick Open three times, including the finale in 2009.
Oh, and there have been Ryder Cups, most notably Team Europe's thrashing of Team USA at Oakland Hills in 2004 — when U.S. captain Hal Sutton thought it was a good idea to team up then-mortal enemies Woods and Phil Mickelson. It didn't go well.
"One guy goes way to the left, and the other guy goes way to the right," said Berry, the 2007 recipient of the PGA Lifetime Achievement Award.
"And they hardly ever met again."
This week, Michigan and the PGA Tour do, indeed, meet again.
PGA Tour's Michigan history
1924: Cyril Walker, at Oakland Hills Country Club, Bloomfield Township
1937: Ralph Guldahl, at Oakland Hills
1951: Ben Hogan, at Oakland Hills
1961: Gene Littler, at Oakland Hills
1985: Andy North, at Oakland Hills
1996: Steve Jones, at Oakland Hills
1947: Jim Ferrier, at Plum Hollow Country Club, Southfield
1953: Walter Burkemo, at Birmingham Country Club
1955: Doug Ford, at Meadowbrook Country Club, Northville
1972: Gary Player, at Oakland Hills
1979: David Graham, at Oakland Hills
2008: Padraig Harrington, at Oakland Hills
2004: Europe d. USA, at Oakland Hills
1958: Billy Casper, at Warwick Hills Golf & Country Club, Grand Blanc
1959: Art Wall Jr., at Warwick Hills
1960: Mike Souchak, at Warwick Hills
1961: Jack Burke Jr., at Warwick Hills
1962: Bill Collins, at Warwick Hills
1963: Julius Boros, at Warwick Hills
1964: Tony Lema, at Warwick Hills
1965: Tony Lema, at Warwick Hills
1966: Phil Rodgers, at Warwick Hills
1967: Julius Boros, at Warwick Hills
1968: Tom Weiskopf, at Warwick Hills
1969: Dave Hill, at Warwick Hills
1977: Bobby Cole, at Flint Elks Club
1978: Jack Newton, at Warwick Hills
1979: John Fought, at Warwick Hills
1980: Peter Jacobsen, at Warwick Hills
1981: Hale Irwin, at Warwick Hills
1982: Lanny Wadkins, at Warwick Hills
1983: Wayne Levi, at Warwick Hills
1984: Denis Watson, at Warwick Hills
1985: Ken Green, at Warwick Hills
1986: Ben Crenshaw, at Warwick Hills
1987: Robert Wrenn, at Warwick Hills
1988: Scott Verplank, at Warwick Hills
1989: Leonard Thompson, at Warwick Hills
1990: Chip Beck, at Warwick Hills
1991: Brad Faxon, at Warwick Hills
1992: Dan Forsman, at Warwick Hills
1993: Larry Mize, at Warwick Hills
1994: Fred Couples, at Warwick Hills
1995: Woody Austin, at Warwick Hills
1996: Justin Leonard, at Warwick Hills
1997: Vijay Singh, at Warwick Hills
1998: Billy Mayfair, at Warwick Hills
1999: Tom Pernice Jr., at Warwick Hills
2000: Rocco Mediate, at Warwick Hills
2001: Kenny Perry, at Warwick Hills
2002: Tiger Woods, at Warwick Hills
2003: Jim Furyk, at Warwick Hills
2004: Vijay Singh, at Warwick Hills
2005: Vijay Singh, at Warwick Hills
2006: Tiger Woods, at Warwick Hills
2007: Brian Bateman, at Warwick Hills
2008: Kenny Perry, at Warwick Hills
2009: Tiger Woods, at Warwick Hills
Michigan Golf Classic
1969: Larry Ziegler, at Shenandoah Golf & Country Club, Walled Lake
1904: Willie Anderson, at Kent Country Club, Grand Rapids
1911: Robert Simpson, at Kent Country Club
1922: Mike Brady, at Oakland Hills Country Club
1930: Gene Sarazen, at Indianwood Golf & Country Club
1957: Doug Ford, at Plum Hollow Country Club
1958: Doug Sanders, at Red Run Golf Club, Royal Oak
1960: Stan Leonard, at Western Golf & Country Club, Redford
1961: Arnold Palmer, at Blythefield Country Club, Belmont
Motor City Open
1948: Ben Hogan, at Meadowbrook Country Club
1949: Cary Middlecoff and Lloyd Mangrum (co-winners), at Meadowbrook Country Club
1950: Lloyd Mangrum, at Red Run Golf Club
1952: Cary Middlecoff, at Red Run Golf Club
1954: Cary Middlecoff, at Meadowbrook Country Club
1956: Bob Rosburg, at Western Golf & Country Club, Redford
1959: Mike Souchak, at Meadowbrook Country Club
1962: Bruce Crampton, at Knollwood Country Club, West Bloomfield