RMC tournament director raves about attendance, fires back at critics of low scoring
Detroit — There haven't been many fires, so to speak, to put out when it has come to logistics at this week's inaugural Rocket Mortgage Classic.
Well, except for the AC going out in the media dining center.
"Really," said tournament executive director Jason Langwell, with a sly smirk, "we did that just for you."
So far, so good for Detroit's first PGA Tour tournament, which has seen good crowds, even though nobody's going to publicly provide any official numbers.
All Langwell would say was that Thursday was very good, Friday was going to see about twice as many fans as Thursday, and that the expectation was for both Saturday and Sunday to see twice as many fans as Friday.
Saturday and Sunday's third and final rounds, respectively, are sold out, and have been since before the week began. On Friday evening, Saturday and Sunday tickets were going for about $120 each on StubHub, about twice face value.
"Historically, when the PGA Tour reported (numbers) — they don't anymore — then you saw anywhere from 40,000 to 70,000 people that were coming out throughout the week in likewise markets," Langwell said midday Friday, during a rare break in his day. "We think we're gonna operate on the high end of that range.
"I think we'll continue to see by the time we're done with the week, we'll not only operate on the high end of that bench mark, we may set a new one."
So, in other words, more than 70,000?
"I'm not saying that," Langwell said, with a laugh.
Tickets went on sale March 13 (3-13, get it?), and numbers were impressive early, he said. They spiked when Gary Woodland, a commitment, won the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach earlier this month.
It wasn't long after that the tournament cut off Saturday sales, and then Sunday.
They could've squeezed more through the gates, Langwell said, but that wasn't the goal.
"Our goal was to create a great Detroit experience that was full, but not something to compromise the experience," he said. "We didn't want a Ryder Cup-like (viewing) experience as it relates to 25-deep to be able to see the featured groups.
"It's not just about how many people can you fit on the golf course. It's how many people can you fit around the featured groups where (fans) are able to enjoy it and see it."
Attendance was one thing tournament officials could control. Other things were well out of their control, like the weather (so far, so good), and which players made the cut — three of the biggest names in the field, Dustin Johnson, Gary Woodland and Bubba Watson, won't be around for the weekend. That's not an issue for ticket sales, as Saturday and Sunday are sold out. It's more of a bummer for the title sponsor, Quicken Loans and Rocket Mortgage, given no Johnson, Woodland and Watson probably will mean many fewer eyeballs tuning in on CBS over the weekend.
The tournament, truth be told, could have controlled the scoring, to a point, in how it set up the course, and officials aren't concerned about the low scoring, even if some critics on social media want to complain.
The winner is on pace to shoot 26 or 27 under par, and that's just fine with Langwell.
"Fans love it, players love it," he said. "The Buick Open when it was here, they were consistently shooting in the 20s (under), and back then when they reported, they had 30,000 people a day, every year.
"I've not seen a PGA Tour event suffer from attendance or field strength because they can make a lot of birdies."
Scoring did get a little more difficult Friday afternoon, as the wind picked up and the greens, tough already, started drying out. The back nine, in particular were more trouble than the front, including early leader Cameron Champ, who shot 28 on the front and 37 on the back. Champ was one stroke back of leader Nate Lashley, who was 14 under through two rounds.
The PGA Tour got Detroit Golf Club up to what it considered Tour-standard, adding tees to lengthen the course to more than 7,300 yards. Not long, but not short, either.
It's a par 72, even though it could've been a par 70, like the previous week's Travelers Championship in Cromwell, Conn. switches to for tournament week.
"We could've fiddled with the par all day and tried to drag (scoring) down," Langwell said. "We're not trying to game the system. We think this is a par-72 golf course, and we want to play it in its historical setup. We have no intention of modifying that (the par 72)."
Tough day, in a lot of ways
Brian Stuard had a tough day on the golf course, and not just with his shots.
On the fourth hole, there was some behind-the-ropes distractions, including a woman who had been hit by an errant shot from Stuard's playing partner, Roger Sloan. Also, a young girl had just fainted on a day when the temperatures were in the upper 80s.
"It's tough when you hit somebody to hit the next few shots," Stuard said. "You know, you just hope she's all right, and hope the girl's all right.
The group was clearly distracted, taking extra time between shots. Stuard refocused with birdie on 5 to get things going again after a sluggish start, but it fell apart on the back nine. He shot par 72, but made the cut at 6 under.
His layup at the par-5 14th came to rest in a divot, and he hit that wedge fat. A 100-yard shot only went about 70 yards. That led to a par, one of two he made on par 5s on the back nine. He bogeyed two of his last three holes.
"Pretty terrible today, actually," Stuard said. "I'm pretty disappointed right now. I didn't birdie the par 5s on the back, then to make two bogeys, you can't do that around here."
Chips & divots
Count Nate Lashley among those who doesn't mind the low scores at Detroit Golf Club.
"It's definitely less stressful," Lashley, who knows all about stress as a regular participant in Monday qualifiers and a regular weekly alternate, said after his second-round 67. "Off the tee here, there's not a whole lot of trouble.
"If you hit good shots, you're going to have a good day."
... Hideki Matsuyama, the 31st-ranked player in the world, was at 9 under, tied for 11th. He made his PGA Tour-leading 24th consecutive cut. Matsuyama had been tied with Tommy Fleetwood.
... There were nine bogey-free rounds Friday, compared to 22 Thursday. Brice Garnett is the only player to be bogey-less through two rounds, and was at 8 under.
... There have been two withdrawals during the tournament, including Chris Stroud, who pulled out after an opening-round 73, and Will MacKenzie, who left with a back/neck injury during his second round.