Detroit — The Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit had big names and big crowds.
A big party, though? Not so much.
That’s nobody’s fault, really — except for perhaps winner Nate Lashley, who probably could have loaded the tournament trophy into his car after Saturday’s round without anybody saying a word.
Several of the marquee talents — Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson, 2019 U.S. Open winner Gary Woodland — failed to make the cut, turning the full spotlight to Lashley over the weekend. And while fans in attendance were happy to see Lashley, 36, win the first PGA Tour tournament of his career, some also said the lack of contenders subdued what they hoped would be a rowdy time.
“I thought it would kind of get going on Sunday,” said Jared Dempsey, 21, who attended the tournament at Detroit Golf Club for its final two days.
“You have the leader shoot even, guys kind of chasing him, but kind of disappointing. I mean, it’s fun to watch, but not really the excitement we were hoping for.”
This was most evident on the 15th hole, the projected epicenter of raucous behavior. It’s the middle leg of a novel Area 313 challenge — an eagle on the 14th, a hole-in-one on the 15th and a birdie on the 16th. Suites lined the 15th fairway, a premium-priced “Ultra Zone” hung directly over the green, and the Area 313 Deck, which was open to the public and complete with concession stands, was directly beside the tee box.
Conditions were ripe for a real shaker, said Mitch Elliot, 21.
“I knew on Tuesday or Wednesday they did the (Area 313 Celebrity Challenge) and they were kind of hyping this thing up,” Elliot said. “Kind of disappointed there wasn’t more people in contention on a Sunday, and I think that’s kind of why you didn’t see a lot of big partying going on.
“I was anticipating more of a party.”
Petoskey's Joey Garber shot a final-round 69 and finished tied for 29th at the Rocket Mortgage Classic. He spoke with The News on Sunday. Tony Paul, The Detroit News
Actually, the par-3 ninth hole, with grandstands all open to the public, was much louder.
What they got at the 15th, with so many corporate boxes, was something much quieter, but not necessarily less.
“People who come to these kind of things, they love golf,” said Dempsey, “so watching a great story is something you kind of love as well.”
In a lot of ways, though, the tournament itself — and Detroit’s reception of it — was a great story.
“The fabric of the Detroit sports fan has taken ownership of (this tournament),” said longtime golf fan Neal Ruhl, from beside the 16th fairway on Saturday.
“Look around, it’s full. These bleachers are full and it’s 90 degrees out here.”
Besides, if anyone had hopes that a rebirth of the notorious 17th hole at Warwick Hills would show itself in the first PGA Tour event to return to the region, they’d be overlooking what made the Buick Open’s par 3 popular in the first place.
“Warwick Hills came organically,” said Ruhl, also a local broadcaster who does Oakland basketball and Detroit City FC soccer. “You have to give it time, because that’s the way things work. Nothing grows overnight.
"You plant the seeds, you plant the roots, they grow.”
Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer.