Detroit Golf Club's layout bucks trend favoring big hitters

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Detroit — Nobody's saying Luke Donald or Mike Weir are going to win this week. Let's get that out of the way.

The odds are long, but fortunately for them, Detroit Golf Club is not.

"Yeah, it kind of puts me in the ballgame when you play a place like this," Weir said Tuesday, after a rather lengthy driving-range session with his swing coach. "A lot of us guys, the Luke Donalds of the world and players like that, we can short game-it hopefully well and score it that way, rather than try to hit 3 irons close to the hole."

Detroit Golf Club's layout could play to the strengths of Mike Weir, a native of nearby Brights Grove, Ontario.

The PGA Tour has become a big-hitter's paradise, a trend that dates to the aftermath of Tiger Woods' dominant performance at the 1997 Masters. He made Augusta look darn near like a par-3 course, and Augusta and many other courses responded by adding length and more length — especially the newer courses.

Detroit Golf Club is different. Yes, there was some yardage added to the old Donald Ross course. You've gotta keep up with the Joneses, the Joneses being technology.

But it's still only playing a little more than 7,300 yards, which is about average for a PGA Tour venue. That said, Detroit Golf Club will play to a par 72, even though some Tour officials made the very strong case for it to be a par 70.

All but one of the par 5s will be reachable by most of the field, two of the par 3s are short irons for everyone, and many of the par 4s are under 400 yards. It's as old school as old-school gets, particularly when it comes to the PGA Tour, whose courses seem mostly GenZ these days. In fact, DGC is the oldest PGA Tour course in rotation.

It's actually why so many pros were intrigued by the idea of coming to Detroit.

"It's certainly one of the main reasons I wanted to come here," said Donald, who added that he also wanted to see the Detroit renaissance — which he got a view of Monday, with a night on the town. "I like to play old-style courses.

"They're not generally as long, they take a little bit more thought, a little more course management. It plays into kind of more of my strengths."

Now, the big hitters still always have the advantage, especially if they find the fairways, which is extra important this week. The rough isn't long, but it is dense. That said, accuracy trumps distance this week, and putting trumps everything. By a mile.

Donald, 41, the Englishman who played at Northwestern, once was the No. 1-ranked player in the world, but hasn't won on the PGA Tour or the European Tour since 2012.

For Weir, 49, the Canadian who grew up in Brights Grove, near Sarnia, on the other side of the Blue Water Bridge from Port Huron, the drought has been even longer. He spent more than two years in the top 10 in the world golf rankings in the early 2000s, on the strength of his 2003 Masters victory, but hasn't won since 2007.

The droughts aren't likely to end this week, if ever — though Weir, counting the days till he turns 50, could get things going on the Champions Tour.

That didn't make the phone call that he was receiving a sponsor's exemption into the Rocket Mortgage Classic any less special for Weir, who has played in five PGA Tour events this season, making one cut.

"Yeah, it means a great deal," said Weir, who was the first lefty to win The Masters, followed the very next year by the second, Phil Mickelson, and then nine years later by the third, Bubba Watson. "I love the course, I played U.S. Amateur qualifying here back in the early 1990s and I got through, so I remember the golf course pretty well. I remember the greens being very difficult, putting's challenging.

"And, of course, being so close to home, hopefully there's lots of Canadian support."

Weir grew up spending a lot of time in Detroit, as a big Red Wings fan — he remains one, even asking which Red Wings were competing in Wednesday's pro-am (Justin Abdelkader, Danny DeKeyser and Jimmy Howard, with Dylan Larkin in Tuesday's celebrity shootout). He also used to attend baseball games at old Tiger Stadium.

He hasn't been fully exempt on the PGA Tour in many years. In 2011, he missed 11 of 13 cuts. In 2012, he missed all 12. So weeks like this are special — as is the best week of the year for him, Masters week, which, as a past champion, he knows he'll be invited to for as long as he lives, and can play as long as feels comfortable.

Chips & divots

In caddie news, Detroit Mercy rising senior Scott Sparks has landed a gig for the week, carrying the bag of Cincinnati touring pro Wes Homan. Sparks is coming off a top-16 showing at last week's Michigan Amateur.

In more caddie news, Gary Woodland's looper, Brennan Little, has major major wins than his boss. Little was on the bag for Weir's win in the 2003 Masters.

... The Oklahoma State posse, Rickie Fowler and newly minted pros Viktor Hovland and Matthew Wolff, played together Tuesday and had a pretty good fan following. Fowler bailed after nine holes to get ready for the celebrity shootout.

... Some quick facts about Detroit Golf Club: average green is 5,150 square feet, there are 87 bunkers, and there is exactly one water hazard.

... Ann Arbor broadcast giant Mike Tirico was on the grounds Tuesday. He'll be part of Golf Channel's coverage Thursday and Friday.

Twitter: @tonypaul1984