A sunny day for dreaming and autograph-hunting at PGA Tour in Detroit

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News
Fans cluster behind Ricky Fowler as he hits out of the rough on 6 on the first day of the Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit.

Detroit — Seven-year-old Isaac Campbell was hanging around the practice putting green at Detroit Golf Course on Thursday, looking for autographs and being adorable.

"He's at his first golf tournament," said his dad, Mike. "Actually, I am, too."

So were a lot of other people, which made sense. The Rocket Mortgage Classic is the first PGA Tour event ever played in Detroit, bringing with it famous athletes, a national spotlight and throngs of spectators who seemed delighted to be there but sorry they weren't playing.

Mike Campbell, 33, is an infrequent player. He'd made the drive from Warren for the first round of the Rocket Mortgage Classic because Isaac likes the stylish PGA Tour pro Rickie Fowler, and because the event fit with the young man's career goals.

"I want to be a golfer," Isaac said. "And a baseball player and a soccer player."

Seven-year-old Isaac Campbell and his dad, Mike, of Warren, were enjoying their first golf tournament Thursday in Detroit. "I want to be a golfer," Isaac said. "And a baseball player and a soccer player."

It was a gloriously sunny day for dreaming and for autograph-hunting. Will Claxton had signed Isaac's souvenir tournament flag; he's a 37-year-old from Alabama with an unfortunate history of injuries, he hasn't made a cut so far in 2019, and he's probably dreaming, too.

Fowler had been nearby earlier, Campbell said, but Isaac had missed his opportunity because he was too shy to speak up. Another pro stopped and signed, but they couldn't quite make out his name. Bill? Bob? Beau?

Isaac was unconcerned.

"Daddy," he asked, "can we have a snack?"

Attendees didn't have to contend with demonstrators as they did on Wednesday, when some 40 members of Teamsters Local 299 picketed at a club entrance. The golf course’s mechanics and groundskeepers have been working without a contract for a year and are seeking increased pay, more help with health care costs and job security.

In a statement Thursday, Detroit Golf Club president Andy Glassberg said all groundkeepers reported to work and staffers were "putting Detroit’s best foot forward for the world." Later, he added: "We never stopped negotiating with the union. Our latest offer included a 17% increase in pay-and-benefits." 

The beauty of the first languid day of a golf tournament, especially such a glorious day, is that there's always something else to do or watch or eat. Or not watch.

Along the 10th fairway, Dave Pustover of Novi and a friend watched a typically sinewy pro launch a typically long drive. "I didn't see that," the friend said as it soared past, somewhere in the sky.

"I didn't see any of 'em," said Pustover, 62. Truth is, he has trouble spotting the ball unless he's standing on the tee box, and the tournament isn't quite fan-friendly enough for that.

Still, his only regret was that he'd need to leave by 3 p.m. It was his league day at Links of Novi.

Ralph Ellstrom of Dearborn Heights also had golf in his near future. First, he was absorbing some lessons, or at least he hoped he was.

"Their leg action. The way they snap through the ball," he said. At 76, his snapping opportunities are limited, but it was still a good reminder.

Ellstrom retired from the now-defunct Dearborn Gauge Co. Before that — and before tour pros made millions and looked like they leaped from Powerhouse Gym posters — he was an assistant club pro in Indiana.

"I got tired of working Saturday and Sunday while everyone else was having a good time," he said. Now it's his turn: He had a tee time waiting at Warren Valley Golf Course back in Dearborn Heights.

Fans cross over the course on hole 10 during the Rocket Mortgage Classic golf tournament at the Detroit Golf Club on Thursday.

For better or worse, he would not be playing in the shadow of a PGA-level scoreboard.

Digitized and oversized, they're no longer limited to a list of leaders. They'll tell you who's about to take a shot, and how daunting his task is: "Morgan Hoffman 52 yards 3rd shot."

In the Fan Zone, a mammoth playground surrounded by the second, third and fourth holes, the theater-sized screens offer a view so clear it makes following a group of golfers seem almost obsolete.

Exhibitors include the Stretch Zone, where someone will crank on your limbs, and WCSX-FM radio, where someone will crank up the volume. Both are no charge. Nearby is a Shinola tent, offering free looks at $850 watches.

Concession prices are higher than what you'd pay at Kroger but less than what you'd pay at the last outpost in the middle of the Sahara desert, which makes them fairly standard for a major sporting event: $3 Snickers, $4 water, $7 Bud Light, $8 slice of pizza.

The pizza, from a Crispelli's food truck, was rated "delicious" by Austin Roberts, 30, of Canton Township, who also said it was about the size of two normal slices. The golfers, on the other hand, he judged to be smaller than expected.

"You see them on TV, you think they're 8 feet tall," he said. "Then in person, he's a short little guy."

Suitably inspired, Roberts was planning to play all weekend. Just outside the Fan Zone, a Lauren and a Lorron said they had both played Wednesday.

Lauren Kelly of Toledo said she played better back home than her boyfriend, who was grumpy about it. So she disinvited him and came by herself.

He'd been nervous about her coming to Detroit, she said, "but it's beautiful here" — which is what the course and the city hoped people would say.

Lorron James, who lives downtown, had played better than just about anybody. He and his teammates, playing nine holes apiece with pros Luke List and Seamus Power, shot 23 under par and finished second in the pro-am.

James, 36, was watching a threesome putt out on No. 2. He'd grown up along the sixth hole on Detroit Golf Club's south course.

"I've never seen anything like this," he said. More important, the pros were seeing a side of the city they probably hadn't expected.

"A lot of greenery. A lot of beautiful homes," he said.

He said pro Luke List and Paige Spiranac, a golf pro and social media magnet, had both raved about their surroundings.

In a city whose image is still scrambling for bogey, that was a win.


Twitter: @nealrubin_dn

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