Detroit — Coming into the inaugural Rocket Mortgage Classic, the expectation was that scores would be low. And, oh yes, they sure were.
The question now: Were they too low?
Depends whom you ask.
If you ask tournament officials, they're just fine with all the birdies. Players love to make them, fans love to see them. But if you ask the keyboard warriors on social media, the torching of Detroit Golf Club bordered on an embarrassment.
Here's the stone-cold truth: There were no significant scoring records set over the four days of play in the Rocket Mortgage Classic. While the winning score was 25 under, by Nate Lashley, nobody else was even 20-under par, while 45 players who finished double-digits under par.
Welcome to the PGA Tour, where the hashtag these days is #LiveUnderPar, and it used to be #TheseGuysAreGood. No kidding.
"Fans love it, players love it," said Jason Langwell, executive director of the tournament. "This is what the fans want."
The scoring at the Rocket Mortgage Classic was on par with many of the PGA Tour's comparable tournaments this season. Comparing to 27 other PGA Tour tournaments this season — this is excluding the majors, the World Golf Championships, and The Players Championship — 12 had a champion who finished at least 20 under par.
Two of the champions, Marc Leishman at the CIMB Classic in October and Adam Long at the Desert Classic in January, finished more under par than Lashley, at 26 under. Five tournaments saw at least 40 players finish double-digits under par, including a whopping 66 at the Desert Classic in La Quinta, Calif. Like the Rocket Mortgage Classic, 45 finished double-digits under par at The RSM Classic in November.
Only in two PGA Tour events was the champion single-digits under par — Keith Mitchell at 9 under at The Honda Classic and Paul Casey at 8 under at the Valspar Championship — both early in the spring.
The PGA Tour has a different philosophy than the United States Golf Association, which is obsessed with its champion being around par or even over par (it failed this year, with Gary Woodland winning at 13 under at Pebble Beach).
Yes, Detroit Golf Club, at 7,300 yards or so, is slightly shorter than average for a par-72 on the PGA Tour. The tournament could've gone with a par 70, like the previous week's Travelers Championship does, but what's the point?
The players didn't find the course to be too easy, though they found the weather conditions to be absolutely perfect for scoring.
"You know, the weather was pretty nice," said Brian Stuard, the Oakland alumnus and Jackson native who finished tied for fifth at 15 under. "You get a little wind, that would take the scores down a little bit."
The wind really never showed up over the four days, outside of Friday afternoon, when a storm to the south and north of the course got the flag sticks whipping for a while. Friday afternoon produced the highest scores of any time during the tournament. One night of overnight rain helped soften things up, too.
There were no 59s, though Cameron Champ had us on high alert Friday morning when he shot a front-nine 28. There were no 60s, 61s or 62s. It was 63 that was the low-water mark, shot twice by Lashley, on Thursday and Saturday, and once by J.T. Poston, on Friday. Poston finished tied for 11th.
Meanwhile, world No. 2 Dustin Johnson and Woodland, both U.S. Open champions, both missed the cut, as did Chez Reavie, the previous week's champ, and Bubba Watson. Rickie Fowler finished tied for 46th.
So, no, the course didn't exactly have windmills and clowns' mouths.
"I don't think so," said Sam Burns, when asked if the course was too easy — he finished tied for 42nd, 10 under. "They have options how they can set this place up. Everybody's kind of learning, whether it's the players or the staff. Everybody's learning about how to make it better for the next time.
"They'll know ways to make it harder, if they want to. If not, I still think it's a great test."
In the weeks and months heading into tournament week, there were several changes to the course, including the addition of several tee boxes to lengthen things, and the removing of several trees.
Driving accuracy proved just as important if not more so than distance, and putting was of most importance on those Donald Ross greens. If tournament officials wanted, they could've pinched the fairways even more, grown the rough longer, and got the greens rolling even faster than they were, at about a 12 on the Stimpmeter much of the week.
But they chose not to this season, and might not change much for next year, either. After all, take out the week of Lashley's life, and the winner would've been 19 under, plenty in line with what the PGA Tour produces many weeks.
That said, Langwell said all options will be on the table as he gathers with his team to assess what worked and what didn't for the inaugural Rocket Mortgage Classic.
"We're gonna look at ShotLink data, all the data, see if the tees are in the right place, if the holes are the right length," Langwell said of a tournament that saw 40 eagles and 1,895 birdies. "We may keep it the same, or we may modifty it. But there's no agenda.
"I've not seen a PGA Tour event suffer from attendance or field strength because they can make a lot of birdies."
Langwell has pointed out multiple times that the winning score at the old Buick Open in suburban Flint was consistently in the 20s, and one time it was 26 under par. The Buick was one of the most popular events on the PGA Tour, before its run ended in 2009.
The rest of the story
A look at winning scores from previous PGA Tour events this season, not including majors, WGC events or The Players Championship:
Safeway Open — 14 under
CIMB Classic — 26 under
The CJ Cup — 21 under
Sanderson Farms Championship — 21 under
Shriners Hospitals for Children Open — 21 under
Mayakoba Golf Classic — 22 under
The RSM Classic — 19 under
Tournament of Champions — 23 under
Sony Open — 22 under
Desert Classic — 26 under
Farmers Insurance Open — 21 under
Waste Management Phoenix Open — 17 under
AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am — 19 under
Genesis Open — 14 under
Puerto Rico Open — 15 under
The Honda Classic — 9 under
Arnold Palmer Invitational — 12 under
Valspar Championship — 8 under
Puntacana Resort & Club Championship — 18 under
Valero Texas Open — 20 under
RBC Heritage — 12 under
Wells Fargo Championship — 15 under
AT&T Byron Nelson — 23 under
Charles Schwab Challenge — 13 under
The Memorial — 19 under
RBC Canadian Open — 22 under
Travelers Championship — 17 under
Rocket Mortgage Classic — 25 under