Rocket Mortgage Classic officials offer sneak peek at first-round pairings

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Detroit — The final tee times and pairings for the first round of the Rocket Mortgage Classic won't be released until noon Tuesday.

But officials for Detroit's inaugural PGA Tour stop gave a sneak peek Monday, announcing some of the featured pairings.

Dustin Johnson will be part of a group with Chez Reavie and Patrick Reed in the Rocket Mortgage Classic.

Dustin Johnson, the No. 2-ranked player in the world, 2016 U.S. Open champion and the biggest name in the 156-player field, will be paired with Chez Reavie, who's coming off a dominant performance at the Travelers Championship in Connecticut over the weekend (his first PGA Tour victory in nearly 4,000 days), and Patrick Reed, the winner of the 2018 Masters.

Gary Woodland, who won the U.S. Open earlier this month and held off two-time U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka in the process, will play with Brandt Snedeker and Keith Mitchell, who won The Honda Classic this season. It will be interesting to see how Snedeker plays on the Donald Ross-designed Detroit Golf Club, given Snedeker fired the magic number, a 59, at another Ross course, Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro, N.C., to win the 2018 Wyndham Championship.

Rickie Fowler, the tournament's unofficial host as a Rocket Mortgage pitchman, will play alongside Kevin Kisner, the winner of the WGC-Match Play in March, as well as veteran Charles Howell III, who's having a resurgent season on the PGA Tour.

Then there's Bubba Watson, a two-time winner of The Masters, who will play with Hideki Matsuyama and Billy Horschel. Matsuyama has played in 16 tournaments this season and made every cut, with four top-10s. Horschel won the 2014 FedEx Cup.

The tee times will be released Tuesday; each golfer will play one day in the morning, and one day in the afternoon.

After the 36-hole cut, new pairings will come out, players matched by their standing on the leaderboard.

Pairings for Wednesday's pro-am, which will feature some notable celebrities including Hall-of-Fame running back Barry Sanders, also will be announced Tuesday.

The home stretch

A PGA Tour tournament officially more than a year in the making — but really more like several years, since that's how long Dan Gilbert has wanted to bring big-time golf inside the city limits — is finally here. But that doesn't mean tournament officials can sit back and take a breath. Not yet.

"Blessed stress," said Jason Langwell, the tournament's executive director. "One minute you're feeling stressed out, the next minute you realize you're blessed with the opportunity.

"It's been crazy. You come up with a plan and then, you know, the fans get involved and you realize we need to tweak this or now.

"Right now, it's just kind of tweaking and making some edits."

Langwell said the players' reaction to the golf course has been excellent. It's not often PGA Tour players get to play an old-school course like this — with narrow fairways, trees galore and tricky greens.

This is the oldest course on the PGA Tour, and most are much newer, and tricked out.

"They're jacked," Langwell said. "Literally, everybody I've run into."

Most notable, players have liked the look of "Area 3-1-3," Nos. 14-16, as well as the finishing 18th. Each has a stadium-like vibe, especially the par-3 15th. That hole could get really loud, especially since they added a big leaderboard to the right to block in some sound, and that's what Langwell is hoping for.

Lots of ripple effects

So much goes into putting on a PGA Tour tournament, which for one week provides golf fans a heck of an entertainment option.

But the impact goes much beyond just one week.

"Honestly, I think it's a big driver for getting more local people out to play golf," said Chris Whitten, the new executive director of the Golf Association of Michigan, who formerly was the golf coach at Michigan.

"When the Buick Open was in Grand Blanc, all of a sudden there were a ton of really good amateur golfers coming out of that area.

"It's just a spark."

This is a busy time of year for Whitten, with all the GAM championships going on, but he plans to attend the Rocket Mortgage Classic on Friday.

Chips & divots

Abraham Ancer, the 58th-ranked golfer in the world, pulled out of the Rocket Mortgage Classic on Sunday night, opting instead to take a family vacation to Europe ahead of next month's British Open.

Ancer was replaced in the field by Grand Haven's Matt Harmon, a Tour player who played at Michigan State and was Big Ten player of the year in 2007.

Hudson Swafford also withdrew, and was replaced by Chip McDaniel.

... Course workers still were putting the finishing touches on things at Detroit Golf Club, mostly from an aesthetic standpoint. Workers were installing hundreds of flower beds along the entrances, and even touching up on some paint jobs.

"Now it's just fire drills and putting our fires," Langwell said.

... Fowler will hit the ceremonial first swing at the "Shot for Heroes" area at 1 p.m. Wednesday. Quicken Loans launched "Shot for Heroes" in 2015, and has raised more than $1 million for military-affiliated charities. The "Shot for Heroes" area is located in the tournament's Fan Zone, and open every day, Tuesday through Sunday.

Twitter: @tonypaul1984