For Petoskey's Joey Garber, winning Rocket Mortgage Classic would mean 'the world'

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Detroit — Lots of the world's best professional golfers are intrigued by what they're seeing so far in Detroit, particularly the away-from-the-greens rolling out of the red carpet, if you will.

Many of them were heading to the fireworks show downtown Monday. There's a swanky event planned for the wives and spouses, there's perks for the caddies, trips to Tigers games are in the works.

Joey Garber of Petoskey donned a Tigers cap during the Puerto Rico Open in February.

That's all fine and dandy.

For Joey Garber, he's just thrilled to be home.

"Never," Garber said Monday, between swings on the driving range at Detroit Golf Club, when asked how often he gets back to Michigan.

"Once a year, for Christmas."

This week might as well be Christmas for Garber, the 27-year-old Petoskey native who is in his first full season on the PGA Tour — and, of course, is in this week's field at Detroit's inaugural PGA Tour event, the Rocket Mortgage Classic.

Garber got into town Saturday, after missing the cut at the Travelers Championship in Connecticut, and played a practice round Sunday. 

It's not his first time playing DGC. He played in a couple of Horton Smith Invitationals when he was in high school, and he loves the look of this course.

"They're ecstatic," said Jason Langwell, executive director of the tournament, when asked about players' reactions to the setup.

"Joey Garber chased me down across the fairway. I thought something was wrong! He was like, 'This place is unbelievable.'"

Garber confirmed as much, saying it's a treat to play a course like Detroit Golf Club — the oldest course in the current PGA Tour rotation, at more than 100 years old. Most Tour courses are much newer, and much more tricked up.

Garber said what you see is what you get from Detroit Golf Club: tight fairways, tricky and fast greens — and it's all right there in front of you.

"It's gonna be a player favorite for just about everybody," said Garber, who stands out from a hundred yards away with his long, flowing hair. "It's an old-style golf course. You've gotta drive it in the fairway, you've gotta keep it below the hole.

"It's different for us, but a good different. It's a good country-club course and we're excited to play and make some birdies."

For what it's worth, Garber sees this week's winning score to be 22 under. He first said perhaps 25 under, but then stepped back a bit. That, after all, would be four rounds in the mid-60s, and that's not easy to do, no matter the course you're playing.

Garber's best showing, in relation to par, this season has been 11 under, which he's done twice. His best finish is a tie for 10th, at the Puerto Rico Open in February.

You can bet he'll be swinging for the fences, and that first victory, this week.

"The world," Garber said, asked what a win would mean. "Literally. I mean, to do it here in Detroit, in a place that's very special to me, would be, just, I don't even know how to describe it. Hopefully I'll make a lot of birdies, and they'll hear some roars."

Garber earned his PGA Tour card with a fine season last year on the Tour, after an impressive collegiate career at Georgia.

He began his college career at Michigan, but transferred after one season. There weren't hard feelings. He just wanted a change, and the south seemed to be a fit. He still remains a Michigan sports fan, and has been following the baseball team's run to the College World Series finals. He was excited to watch Game 1 against Vandberilt after he got off the course Monday.

He also is a big Detroit sports fan, particularly the Tigers, and will throw out the first pitch at Wednesday night's game at Comerica Park. Garber's brothers are coming in for that and the tournament, as well as a boatload of other family and friends.

He figures he's been asked for 50 tickets or so.

"So I'm not able to accommodate everybody, but I'm doing my best if you (read) this," Garber said with a laugh; he's one of four local players in the this week's field, along with longtime PGA Tour player Brian Stuard (Jackson/Oakland), Michigan PGA champion Lee Houtteman and Grand Haven's Matt Harmon, who was added to the field Monday when Abraham Ancer officially withdrew.

"It's gonna be cool. ... For me to be in Detroit, be here when the Tigers are here, to be able to be home and have friends and family around during a tournament week is pretty special.

"It doesn't happen often, obviously."

It's just fantastic timing that in Garber's first full year on the PGA Tour, Michigan landed its first PGA Tour stop since the Buick Open's run ended in 2009.

Garber's rookie season hasn't been the easiest. He's played in 16 tournaments, and missed the cut in nine of them. But there have been some encouraging signs of late, having made four of his last six cuts.

He's made more than $200,000 — and, oh, he's living the dream.

"I am," said Garber, who will play a practice round Tuesday and then participate in Wednesday's pro-am. "We're all blessed to do what we love and to be out here playing on the Tour right now. It's one of the best jobs you can have in the world, so I'm just thankful to be here and hopefully I can be here for years to come."

Twitter: @tonypaul1984