No Rory McIlroy or Jon Rahm, but stars still figure to be in Rocket Mortgage Classic mix
Detroit — Exactly one-quarter of the 2019 Rocket Mortgage Classic field was made up of international players, 39 out of 156.
That's not a whole lot, and that number is likely to decrease for Year 2 of the PGA Tour's stop at Detroit Golf Club.
Almost certainly, several of the game's biggest international stars, particularly those from Europe, aren't going to make it to Detroit in 2020, given the tournament's move-up date to late May — which puts the event opposite of the European Tour's Irish Open.
Rory McIlroy will play the Irish Open in his homeland, as will Spain's Jon Rahm, who won that tournament last year. That's the current Nos. 1 and 2 ranked players in the world, respectively, out of the mix. Also playing the Irish Open last year were the likes of England's Tommy Fleetwood, Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter, South Africa's Louis Oosthuizen and Mexico's Abraham Ancer.
That's not to say Detroit's tournament organizers aren't optimistic about building on the first-year field, which featured the likes of Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson, Hideki Matsuyama and Gary Woodland.
The RMC already has secured commitments from two top players who in 2019 played the PGA Tour's other new stop, in Minnesota, instead of Detroit: Phil Mickelson, at age 49 still the second-biggest draw in golf, and Bryson DeChambeau, who is the 14th-ranked golfer in the world.
Fowler, as a Rocket Mortgage and Quicken Loans spokesman, also will be back as the unofficial tournament host, as will Watson, and defending champion Nate Lashley, among those committing early.
Recruiting season for tournament director Jason Langwell really picks up early next month, starting with The Players Championship in Florida in mid-March.
That'll be a golden opportunity to continue selling Detroit to the game's biggest names, many of whom could be intrigued by a trip to Michigan for the tournament, which runs May 28-31. The tournament ran in late June last year, but was moved up a month in 2020 so the PGA Tour schedule could accommodate the late-summer Olympics break.
The new place on the schedule puts the RMC the week before Jack Nicklaus' popular Memorial tournament, which is not far down the road in Ohio. So there's a proximity factor that could benefit Detroit as it attempts to put together an above-par field.
The RMC also is sandwiched between two majors, the PGA Championship (two weeks before) and the U.S. Open (three weeks after), a time slot that often appeals to the game's big names who don't like playing the week right after or right before a major.
And then there's the word-of-mouth boost. Detroit received nearly unanimous rave reviews for how its inaugural tournament went off, from the old Donald Ross course, to the Metro Detroit amenities, to the hospitality, including special events for caddies and spouses. That reputation spreads quickly in locker rooms across the PGA Tour.
Among the stars that the RMC figures to make a strong run at:
► Brooks Koepka: He's No. 3 in the world (though his physique is No. 1), and has won four of the last 10 majors he's played — and three of the last seven. Koepka isn't a regular at the Memorial, which might convince him to play Detroit before his regular week-before-the-U.S. Open tuneup, which this year is the RBC Canadian Open.
► Jason Day: He still figures to get to Detroit someday, since he's a huge Cleveland Cavaliers fan and knows owner Dan Gilbert well. With the 2015 PGA champion, though, it all depends on that darn balky back, which often doesn't suit playing multiple weeks in a row. And he's certainly not skipping the Memorial in his adopted home state.
► Dustin Johnson: The No. 5-ranked player in the world came to Detroit last year, though a pair of 71s left him outside the cut, so he missed the weekend. That's not to say he didn't enjoy his stay. Quite the contrary. He stayed the week at Kid Rock's house.
► Patrick Reed: Every soap opera needs a villain, and Reed, world No. 8, plays that role perfectly, given that this past week he was surrounded by multiple cheating allegations — and then just went out and won a World Golf Championship. He played Detroit last year and tied for fifth, but really enjoyed the area, particularly the Shinola hotel. Word is, Shinola sent him a clock to congratulate him on his WGC victory.
► Tiger Woods: Obviously, it'd be a dream for Detroit to get him. His schedule has been condensed as he tries to stay healthy in his mid-40s, but there is one thing to consider: He wants to play the Olympics, which means he'll have to be among the four top-ranked Americans by the mid-June cutoff. He might need an extra good tournament to seal that.
► Justin Thomas: Ranked No. 4 in the world, Thomas won the 2017 PGA, but history suggests he's not very likely, given he seems to prefer hefty layoffs before the Memorial. Perhaps more probable than Thomas is his BFF, Jordan Spieth, who remains a draw, even as he struggles. Spieth has a history of playing the week before Jack's event.
► Xander Schauffele: One of the game's top young stars, he's already won four times on the PGA Tour, and he's only 26. That's gotten him up to No. 11 in the latest world golf rankings, and he might feel compelled to pay Detroit a visit — seeing as how he pulled out of the tournament a year ago, just days before the opening round.
► Matt Kuchar: He typically plays a ton of tournaments, so you figure eventually, Detroit's going to get a visit from Kooch, world No. 16. And he might want to get it out of the way as soon as possible, too, given he's sure to be asked by local reporters about his social-media dustup with Michigan native Tom Gillis. (Here's a refresher.)
Rocket Mortgage Classic
When: May 28-31
Where: Detroit Golf Club
Defending champion: Nate Lashley
Tickets: Available at RocketMortgageClassic.com. Daily grounds tickets, $15-60; weekly grounds pass, $180; juniors 15 and younger, free.