Phil Mickelson, PGA Tour's second-biggest draw, commits to play in Rocket Mortgage Classic

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Detroit — If the Rocket Mortgage Classic is to deliver on its "bigger and better" promise, it's off to one heck of a good start.

The second-year PGA Tour tournament announced Tuesday that Phil Mickelson, the second-biggest name in golf, will tee it up at Detroit Golf Club in 2020, with the competition days set for May 26-29. RMC officials announced the commitment while tournament brass were in San Diego, Calif., for the Farmers Insurance Open, where Mickelson is playing this week, in his own backyard.

"The word is starting to spread among the players that this is a tournament they must have on their schedules," said Jason Langwell, tournament director of the RMC.

Phil Mickelson, 49, has won 44 times on the PGA Tour, including five majors — three Masters, a PGA Championship and a British Open.

Mickelson is considered the second-biggest get on the PGA Tour behind, of course, Tiger Woods. Neither played in Detroit for the inaugural event, with Mickelson opting instead to play the following week at the new PGA Tour stop in Minneapolis.

Along with Mickelson, Rickie Fowler and Bubba Watson were announced as commitments, neither being a surprise.

Fowler is the unofficial host of the tournament and his charity benefits from the Rocket Mortgage Classic, given he's a Rocket Mortgage pitchman. Watson has been overly complimentary of his experience at the RMC in 2019.

Mickelson, 49, certainly is the sunset of his legendary career, but he remains a top draw, which RMC officials hope will boost attendance beyond the successful turnout in 2019, when it sold out the weekend.

He has won 44 times on the PGA Tour, including five majors — three Masters, a PGA Championship and a British Open. He hasn't won since February 2019, when he won the Pebble Beach Pro-Am. He recently dropped out of the top 50 in the world golf rankings for the first time since November 1993.

But Mickelson is hopeful a new diet, which has helped him shred a lot of weight, gets him back on his game. He missed the cut at his only event of this calendar year, the American Express, last week.

Mickelson has never won a sanctioned tournament in Michigan. He was a semi-regular at the old Buick Open in Grand Blanc, where he played five times, finishing as high as tied for fourth in 2000 (he also finished tied for 10th, 29th, 33rd and 48th). At the 2008 PGA Championship at Oakland Hills in Bloomfield Township, he finished tied for seventh. At the 1996 U.S. Open, at Oakland Hills, he finished tied for 94th.

Mickelson also competed in the 2004 Ryder Cup at Oakland Hills, where the Americans were beaten badly by the Europeans, much thanks to the dysfunctional early pairing of Mickelson and Woods, widely considered a gaffe by captain Hal Sutton.

Mickelson also was a regular participant in the old Par 3 Shootout at Treetops in Gaylord. That ran from 1999-2006, with the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino and Fred Couples. Mickelson's appearances were tied to resort owner Rick Smith, who's a friend and instructo of Mickelson's.

His commitment is easily the biggest in two years of the Rocket Mortgage Classic, which in its inaugural year leaned heavily on Fowler, along with other top-tier names such as Dustin Johnson, U.S. Open champion Gary Woodland and Hideki Matsuyama. Nate Lashley won the tournament at 25 under par, six shots clear of second place.

Langwell, the RMC tournament director, had told The News recently that he expected to get bigger and bigger names as the tournament continues on — this will be Year 2 of a four-year contract that's expected to be extended well beyond that — given all the positive feedback he heard from players after Year 1, about the course, the hospitality, the hotels, and the city of Detroit. And Mickelson's commitment could be an early sign that the field will feature bigger names with its new place on the calendar, late May, one week before Jack Nicklaus' star-studded Memorial tournament. The inaugural tournament was in late June in 2019, and will move back during non-Olympics years.

The tournament also is planning other tweaks for Year 2, like more public grandstands, more fan-friendly activities and perhaps a slightly more challenging golf course, with longer rough and trickier pin positions. That's in addition to the millions that's being spent to renovate Detroit Golf Club's storied clubhouse.

Rocket Mortgage Classic

When: May 28-31

Where: Detroit Golf Club

Defending champion: Nate Lashley

Tickets: Available at Daily grounds tickets, $15-60; weekly grounds pass, $180; juniors 15 and younger, free.

Twitter: @tonypaul1984