Rocket Mortgage Classic could be one of Phil Mickelson's last shots to make U.S. Open

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Detroit — Not only is the Phil Mickelson commitment big for the Rocket Mortgage Classic, but the Rocket Mortgage Classic might be just as big for Mickelson.

Mickelson, one of the greatest golfers ever but one who's been on a steep decline over the last year, amazingly isn't yet exempt for the U.S. Open, the last major he needs to complete the career grand slam.

Phil Mickelson is a big draw for golf fans.

The Rocket Mortgage Classic, assuming he doesn't qualify beforeheand, could be one of his last chances to make the U.S. Open field.

The RMC is May 28-31 at Detroit Golf Club, three weeks before the U.S. Open at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y.

Mickelson told Doug Ferguson of the Associated Press on Wednesday at Pebble Beach that he would not accept a special exemption from the USGA into the U.S. Open, if it was offered.

"I am either going to get in the field on my own or I’ll have to try to qualify," Mickelson told Ferguson, ahead of the start of the Pebble Beach Pro-Am on Thursday.

Mickelson, who turns 50 later this year, hasn't won since last year's Pebble Beach Pro-Am, and has fallen to 72nd in the World Golf Ranking, two spots behind Nate Lashley, still a relative no-name, despite his win in the inaugural Rocket Mortgage Classic.

Mickelson's exempt status into the U.S. Open from his 2005 win at the PGA, 2010 win at the Masters and 2013 win at the British Open have long expired.

Essentially, he needs to win a PGA Tour tournament before the U.S. Open, or get into the top 60 in the World Golf Ranking.

And Detroit could be among his last shots, perhaps a key reason Mickelson announced last week that he was coming to the Rocket Mortgage Classic. He'll be in a field that will include Rickie Fowler and Bubba Watson, among many other expected big names. Dustin Johnson, Gary Woodland and Hideki Matsuyama competed last year.

It will be Mickelson's first time playing a tournament in Metro Detroit since the 2008 PGA Championship at Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield Township. He never was a regular at the old Buick Open in Grand Blanc, deferring that spotlight to Tiger Woods, who played every year thanks to his auto sponsorship.

As for the RMC, the tournament boasted some of the best ticket sales for a non-major during the 2018-19 season, with sellouts on the weekend.

And now, officials are bracing for even bigger numbers, thanks to the Mickelson commitment.

"A guy like that, that's a big draw," said Lake Orion's Tom Gillis, a longtime PGA Tour member who now plays on the 50-and-older Champions Tour. "He's great with the fans, he interacts very well with the fans. There's a lot of people that want to see him play.

"Its like when Tiger played Greenbrier a few years back. It's a whole different ballgame. It's a whole different buzz in the air when you've got those top players."

Mickelson has 44 PGA Tour wins, good for ninth all-time. Woods, with 82, is tied for first with Sam Snead. Woods is a big target for the RMC, but he rarely makes his commitments until a couple of weeks out.

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