Detroit Golf Club 'very comfortable' for Michigan's Joey Garber, and it shows with 67
Detroit — Joey Garber hadn't picked up a baseball since he was 13 years old, give or take. Point is, it's been a minute.
So when he asked to throw out the first pitch before Wednesday night's Tigers game at Comerica Park, he wasn't exactly calm, cool and collected.
"Probably more nervous then," Garber said Thursday, comparing those jitters to those teeing off at the Rocket Mortgage Classic.
"There weren't too many people in the crowd, but there were enough to get me going."
That's not to say Garber, the Petoskey native, wasn't feeling the pressure Thursday in his opening round of the Rocket Mortgage Classic — not that it showed much, as he opened with a nearly flawless 5-under 67 at Detroit Golf Club.
He did all that in front of a nice little gallery, which included 30 to 40 friends and family — plus some fans wanting to watch Garber's playing partner, Viktor Hovland, the newly minted touring professional who appears poised to become a sensation on Tour.
"The butterflies never really went away for me today," said Garber, who's a rookie on the PGA Tour. "They usually do, but not here. This is a big deal for me."
Garber's round got off to a shaky start at the par-4 10th. He found the fairway, but missed the green with a wedge, then hit a poor chip.
But he stepped right up and drained a 28-foot putt.
"That kind of got me settled down a little bit," Garber said.
That was the start of a first-nine 34, followed by a second-nine 33. The card was clean, five birdies and not a single bogey. He had a scare at his 17th hole, No.8 on the course, when he found a bunker off the tee and had such an awkward stance, he had to lay up. Garber then got up and down from 53 yards.
Garber called this one of the best rounds he's played this season, which has included some ups (a top-10 finish) and downs (nine missed cuts, in 16 tournaments). But he still said he left some shots out there, including at the par-5 seventh hole, where he thought he'd made eagle, but the putt slid right by.
"I'm looking forward to tomorrow," he said. "And hopefully those putts will fall."
They may, or they may not.
More of a certainty, though, is that his following will continue to grow as the week goes along, especially if there are more 67s out there for Garber — who played a year at Michigan before transferring to Georgia. He's the 419th ranked pro in the world.
But he came into this week thinking he had an edge, and it seems like he just might. He's played Detroit Golf Club before, in the Horton Smith years ago.
And the memories came flooding back this week.
"It's very comfortable for me off the tees," Garber said. "A lot of guys probably don't see these chutes of trees too often, but I grew up on them. I'm comfortable shaping it around them and trying to get it in the correct part of the fairway."
Garber found nine of 14 fairways, and 14 of 18 greens.
It was on the greens where he thrived, needing just 28 putts. The PGA Tour's ShotLink says he gained more than three strokes in putting, fourth in the field early Thursday.
Garber was four shots off the morning lead in Round 1, and one back of his fellow Michiganian, Brian Stuard, the Jackson native who opened with a 66. Like Garber, Stuard had quite the following, too.
"It's so cool," said Garber, who lives in Georgia these days, but still gets home to see family and friends around the holidays. "A lot of fan help. I'm just trying to kind of harness it and acknowledge all the, 'Go Joeys!'
"It's just very cool for me to be here and playing in my home state.
"It's very, very satisfying."
By that way, that first pitch Wednesday night? It was definitely high, but Garber also brought the heat.
And that carried over into Thursday.