10 intriguing, under-the-radar players to watch at Rocket Mortgage Classic
Detroit — OK, so maybe not all the biggest names in golf are here. Most of them, in fact, are not. Tiger Woods wanted to spend time with family, and needed time to let his 43-year-old back recover before next month’s British Open. Phil Mickelson chose to play just about everywhere but Detroit — Connecticut last week, Minneapolis next week. Brooks Koepka, same, though he only wins majors anyway, so why play here?
But there still is enough fire power to get the Detroit golf fans’ juices flowing, as evidence by impressive ticket sales for the inaugural Rocket Mortgage Classic, with Saturday and Sunday rounds sold out before tournament week.
Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler, Bubba Watson, Gary Woodland — those are the biggest names in the field, so they'll have the biggest galleries.
But if you're not a fan of big crowds and are looking for some other intriguing yet under-the-radar golfers to follow around the 100-year-old Detroit Golf Club over the next several days, here are 10 you might want to consider.
Hometown: Sacramento, California
Turned professional: 2017
The skinny: This is one you'll want to watch, particularly if you have binoculars. Not much better way to track his drives. Champ is the longest driver on the PGA Tour, averaging 316.6 yards -- meaning, he'll be wearing out his wedges this week at Detroit Golf Club. The former Texas A&M standout is in his rookie season on the PGA Tour, and he already has a win under his belt, the Sanderson Farms Championship in October. He's struggled lately, though, with seven missed cuts and a withdraw over his last 10 tournaments.
Hometown: Petoskey, Michigan
Turned professional: 2014
The skinny: One of three Michigan natives in the field, along with longtime PGA Tour pro Brian Stuard (Jackson) and Lee Houtteman (Cedar; Michigan PGA champion). Garber is in his first year on the PGA Tour and, as expected, there have been some ups and downs, with seven made cuts and nine missed cuts in 15 tournaments. Garber, who played a season at Michigan before transferring to Georgia, has made four of his last six cuts, though, and did have a tie for 10th at the Puerto Rico Open in February, opposite a WGC event.
Hometown: Oslo, Norway
Turned professional: Last week
The skinny: Definitely one of the most intriguing names in the field, given his prolific amateur career at Oklahoma State, which earned him a sponsor exemption into last week's Travelers Championship and this week's Rocket Mortgage Classic -- the first two tournaments of his professional career. Hovland was No. 1 in the world amateur rankings when he went pro last week, one of the most anticipated pro debuts in recent golf history. He was low amateur at this year's Masters (tied for 32nd) and U.S. Open (tied for 12th).
Hometown: Rotorua, New Zealand
Turned professional: 2009
The skinny: He's still young, but he's been around the PGA Tour for quite some time, including full status the last six seasons. His game is loaded with potential, and you just keep waiting for him to really break out -- beyond his one PGA Tour win, which came in 2015. Lee is the king of starting off hot in tournaments, only to often fade in the closing rounds. That was the case at the PGA Championship, where he opened with a 64, but tied for 36th. His length has improved, to over 300 yards, from 291 last year.
Hometown: Perth, Australia
Turned professional: 2017
The skinny: If this name sounds familiar, it should. He's one of two men in the field (Kenny Perry, Buick Open) who have won a national-level tournament in the state of Michigan, having taken the U.S. Amateur at Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield Township in 2016. He went extra holes to defeat Michigan Wolverine Nick Carlson in the U.S. Amateur semifinals, earning a spot in the 2017 Masters, where he finished tied for 46th. His first year on the PGA Tour has been rocky, but his putting is great, which will be huge this week.
Hometown: Wichita, Kansas
Turned professional: 2004
The skinny: Here's a good story of perseverance. Reavie's first season on the PGA Tour was 2008, and he actually had a win that season -- his only PGA Tour win, until he triumphed Sunday, 11 years later, at the Travelers Championship in Connecticut. He's bounced between the PGA Tour and the Web.com Tour much of his career, with a series of injuries derailing him along the way. But this has been the Arizona State alum's year, with five top-10 finishes, including a tie for third at the U.S. Open, on the strength of a stealthy tee-to-green game.
Hometown: Jackson, Michigan
Turned professional: 2005
The skinny: There will be plenty of fans on the grounds of Detroit Golf Club "wearing the bear" this week, cheering along the popular alum of Oakland University. Stuard has been a regular on the PGA Tour since 2013, and is the ultimate check-casher, topping $1 million in season earnings in five of the last seven years. He broke through for his first and only PGA Tour victory in 2016 at the Zurich Classic in New Orleans, and he made a bid for his second this past April, at the Texas Open, where he finished in a tie for fourth.
HAROLD VARNER III
Hometown: Gastonia, North Carolina
Turned professional: 2012
The skinny: He's in his fourth season on the PGA Tour, and while he hasn't won yet, you get the feeling he's getting darn close — and this week just might be the week. A former standout at East Carolina, he's a long hitter who should make mincemeat out of Detroit Golf Club's par 5s, and he's a good bunker player, another nice trait to have around this Donald Ross gem. Varner has two top-10s this season and made a serious run at winning the PGA Championship, before a final-round 81 sent him spiraling to a tie for 36th.
Hometown: Lake Elsinore, California
Turned professional: 2016
The skinny: Wise was born in South Africa before moving to California as a kid, and then heading to college at Oregon, where he starred at and won team and individual national titles in 2016. He then turned pro and things took off pretty quickly, especially in 2018, when he collected his first PGA Tour victory (Byron Nelson) and was rookie of the year. This year hasn't been great, as he's barely in the top 100 in the FedEx Cup standings, but he can make a ton of birdies (he's seventh on Tour), so he should go low this week.
Hometown: Simi Valley, California
Turned professional: Last week
The skinny: Like Viktor Hovland, this guy is creating quite a buzz in PGA Tour circles. Like Hovland, he played at Oklahoma State, and like Hovland, he made his professional debut at the Traveler's Championship. And like Hovland, he also got a sponsor exemption into this week's Rocket Mortgage Classic. His first year in college, he won the Phil Mickelson Award as the nation's top freshman, and as a sophomore, he claimed three consecutive tournament championships.