Rickie Fowler, the unofficial tournament host this week in Detroit, met the media Wednesday after playing 18 holes of golf with buddy and Detroiter Kid Rock. Tony Paul, The Detroit News
Detroit — Rickie Fowler has no significant ties to Detroit. Really, no ties at all. He grew up in California, went to college at Oklahoma State, and now lives in Florida.
But for seven days at Detroit Golf Club last month, you'd hardly have known it. So visible during Rocket Mortgage Classic week — he hob-nobbed with his new BFF, Kid Rock; he made a cancer patient's dream come true; and, oh, he also drew the biggest crowds, even if he didn't play particularly well — with nothing but effusive praise for the tournament and the area, you'd think he was running for mayor.
PGA Tour folks and tournament officials long considered him their secret weapon before they brought the first PGA Tour tournament to Detroit, and his performance was considered nothing shy of an ace.
"As we all know he would be, Rickie proved to be a terrific ambassador for the Rocket Mortgage Classic and City of Detroit," said Jason Langwell, executive director of the tournament. "He really embraced the city and the tournament, and we couldn't be happier about everything he did to help it a special week for players, fans and partners."
Fowler, 30, is one of the most popular players on the PGA Tour, even if his resume isn't what it should be — he has just five wins, and hasn't won a major (though he's finished runner-up in three of them, and third in the other) — and always was going to be the ambassador for the Rocket Mortgage Classic.
Fowler, in April 2015, signed a lucrative deal to be a pitchman for Rocket Mortgage, the online wing of mega-home lender Quicken Loans. The deal was Quicken's latest swing into the golf industry, after becoming the title sponsor of The National in suburban Washington, D.C., in 2014 — a deal that lasted five years, until the move to Detroit.
From the moment the PGA Tour announced it was coming to Detroit, Fowler jumped on board, filming short social-media videos to promote the tournament, while working behind the scenes, albeit not in a hard-sell kind of way, to secure the best field.
And then, finally, came tournament week, which was a whirlwind for Fowler, not that he was complaining.
"It's been a really fun week," Fowler said the Sunday of tournament week. "Yeah, I have more obligations than other guys throughout the week, but for me, I mean, seeing what Rocket Mortgage and Quicken Loans, what they're doing in the city of Detroit and surrounding areas, it's great to be able to help out and see a real change in a city.
"I've been soaking it up as the week's gone on."
Many of the professionals in the 156-player field didn't get to Detroit Golf Club until late Monday or Tuesday morning, and even then, they had time to themselves to work on their game and prepare for the inaugural tournament.
Fowler's work week began in earnest Monday, and included more obligations, media and corporate, than most pros have to deal with.
He attended the downtown fireworks show Monday of tournament week, the AREA 313 Celebrity Challenge — with Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson — on Tuesday, played a full 18 holes during the pro-am Wednesday (while the rest of the field only played nine), and kicked off Quicken Loans' "Shot for Heroes" display, during which he surprised Florida teen Anthony Trudel, who's battling cancer, with a new set of golf clubs and behind-the-ropes VIP access during Friday's round.
Fowler also addressed the media every day, patiently answering many of the same questions about Detroit and the RMC, and signed autographs for nearly an hour daily.
"Rickie was ever-present around the golf course and the city," Langwell said.
Fowler's fiancee, Allison Stokke, also embraced the week, and was an ambassador in her own right, participating in a gala at Shinola Hotel in Detroit for the wives and girlfriends of the golfers. Both Fowler and Stokke worked as advisers as tournament officials bounced player, family and caddie experience ideas off them before the event.
On the course, Fowler didn't have his best week, shooting 68-68-72-71 to finish 9-under par, tied for 46th.
But it hardly mattered to the fans, who followed him in droves and made for a successful week, attendance wise. PGA Tour officials raved about a Thursday crowd that was among the best for a non-major this season, Friday doubled that, and Saturday and Sunday both doubled Friday's turnout. More than 80,000 fans were believed to have attended during the week, though the PGA Tour no longer releases official numbers.
Most reviews from Year 1 were positive, especially from the players. They liked the old classic course, even though it played easy — thanks, in large part, to the best four-day stretch of weather in Michigan this year. More big names in 2020 is the goal.
"I mean, first year was a huge success here," Fowler said. "Obviously strength of field
is a nice thing to continue to get better, but I feel like as a first year being in Detroit, strength of field was great. We had a lot of good players here.
"For me, it's just been fun to see it all come together. We've enjoyed, you know — there is some extra stuff that we do through the first few days, but like I said, I think it's hasn't really felt like work or anything like that. ... We want to see it succeed.
"First year's a huge success and we're going to look to make Year 2 even better."