Bubba Watson donates $20,000 to First Tee of Detroit in honor of Dan Gilbert

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Detroit – Bubba Watson knew he wanted to do something to give back.

The two-time Masters champion is in town this week for the inaugural Rocket Mortgage Classic at Detroit Golf Club, and after watching Monday’s youth clinic at the club and understanding what Quicken Loans founder and chairman Dan Gilbert has done for the city, he was determined to chip in and try and help out.

Bubba Watson watches the shot of a teammate during the Area 313 Celebrity Challenge on Tuesday.

“With Dan Gilbert, the Rocket Mortgage team, the tournament, I wanted to honor him somehow and the only way I could think of it, because of golf, is I'm going to donate $20,000 to The First Tee of Greater Detroit,” Watson said. “I saw the (youth) clinic yesterday. So, sometime today a check will be going out for 20-grand coming here to Detroit and being here for The First Tee in honor of Dan Gilbert.

“Dan has done so much for the city, means so much to him, and then obviously what his family's going through right now and everything, it was just in my heart to show some love in a different way. So that was my way of trying to help the city and be a part of the city for this tournament.”

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Gilbert, the 57-year-old Franklin businessman, went to Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak on May 25 because he was feeling poorly. He had a stroke while at the hospital early the following morning, Quicken Loans officials have said. Last week, company officials said Gilbert was discharged from the hospital and moved to an in-patient facility, typically the next step in recovery for stroke patients.

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo knows Gilbert well. Gilbert is a Michigan State graduate and donated money to recent renovations at the Breslin Center in East Lansing. He also pushed hard in 2010 to hire Izzo to coach the Cleveland Cavaliers, which Gilbert owns.

Izzo said he’s confident Gilbert will bounce back.

“Thank God he’s making some progress,” Izzo said. “A lot of people need Dan. … The whole state needs him and that’s a lot of pressure. But I’m proud of what he’s done here and knowing him with his tenacity, he’ll get back to rocking and rolling.”

Bubba Watson watches as Paige Spiranac drives off the 15th tee to start the competition.

Izzo was also impressed by Watson’s gesture.

“That’s awesome,” Izzo said. “I think what a lot of athletes don’t get credit for is there are so many things they do and so many people pulling at them. A little here, a little there and it adds up. So many of these guys do so many cool things for so many people.

“It makes me feel good for a superstar like that to care about an area that he has no real connection here. I think that tells you the human element of this thing.”

Watson is also focusing on getting some consistency back in his game. He finished tied for 12th at the Masters but has missed the cut in two of his last four events – the PGA Championship and the U.S. Open.

He won’t have much local knowledge to rely on. Watson has played in the state of Michigan just twice – at the Buick Open in 2008 and two weeks later at the PGA Championship at Oakland Hills. He nearly won the Buick Open that year, finishing a shot behind champion Kenny Perry.

“It was the year I finished second, I hit a shot out of the trees on the 18th hole,” Watson said. “I think Kenny Perry won, is that right? Long time ago. I missed about a 15-footer to force a playoff, so that was the last time I remember playing (in Michigan). I remember that because I wish I would have made the putt, so that one sticks in my head.”

He’ll hope to change his fortunes at Detroit Golf Club and pick up his first win of the season on a course he’s learning about quickly.

“Everything looks good,” Watson said. “There's a lot of bunkers out there you've got to try to avoid. But when you come to a new course, you just try to learn it real fast. We can all play golf, so it just comes down to calming your mind down and focusing on the tee shots.”


Twitter: @mattcharboneau