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Rocket Mortgage Classic moved to week of July 4, with no fans allowed

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Detroit — Golf already is considered the loneliest sport.

Now, the PGA Tour will try to put that moniker to the ultimate test, planning to play its next four tournaments — including Detroit's Rocket Mortgage Classic — in front of no fans.

The PGA Tour released its revised schedule Thursday morning, with plans to restart June 11-14 with the Charles Schwab Challenge in Fort Worth, Texas. That will be followed by the RBC Heritage in Hilton Head, S.C., from June 18-21, then the Travelers Championship in Cromwell, Conn., from June 25-28, and the Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit from July 2-5.

The sign outside the Rocket Mortgage Classic last year.

For the Rocket Mortgage Classic, it marks a move from one holiday week (Memorial Day) to another. The tournament originally was scheduled from May 28-31.

Now, it takes the spot on the schedule previously occupied by the World Golf Classic's FedEx St. Jude Invitational, which is moving to July 29-Aug. 2.

The PGA Tour hasn't played since March 12, the first round of The Players Championship. The season was suspended the following day.

"It's been a long couple months, and it's nice to kind of have a date to shoot for now," said Brian Stuard, and the Jackson native and Oakland alum who is a longtime PGA Tour member. 

He had been keeping his fingers crossed that the Rocket Mortgage Classic would, in some way, survive the pandemic, given it's his homecoming.

He finished tied for fifth last year, the inaugural RMC, in front of dozens of friends and family members.

Of course, he won't have that cheering section this time — at least, it's likely he won't, though the PGA Tour is keeping a slight door open to the possibility of that changing, if the health situation improves dramatically over the next couple months.

"It's gonna be strange," Stuard said. "But it's still great that we're gonna get to play there, you know. It's just one of those things where I guess it's gonna be different than it was last year."

Rocket Mortgage Classic and Quicken Loans officials, who previously said they were preparing for "any and all scenarios," issued statements about the PGA Tour's announcement, saying they worked closely with the Tour and Detroit mayor Mike Duggan in deciding how to proceed.

Jay Farner, Quicken Loans CEO, said some of the money raised for charities will be directed toward causes that have been highlighted by the COVID-19 outbreak, including education disparity, internet availability and improved health care.

"They are long-term, generational issues that have been thrust to the forefront as the city and its residents have battled this pandemic," Farner said in a statement. "While we as an organization are focused on the impact on Detroit, these are issues facing many across the U.S.

“Our organization is rooted in a belief that we can impact the outcome. When we saw the community coming together with us to support this event and lift causes that matter, our team decided to find a way to make the Rocket Mortgage Classic happen, and I thank them for their commitment.

“In our country — and around the world — Detroit is a symbol of toughness and innovation, and the Rocket Mortgage Classic will shine a spotlight on our city which remains full of hope and vibrancy.

"Together, we will host a tournament that can be a vehicle for driving significant positive change.” 

The lack of ticket sales won't impact the purse paid out to the players — $7.5 million — which is covered by the title sponsor, though local charities could take a hit. They received more than $1 million last year.

It's long been clear the Rocket Mortgage Classic wouldn't take place its original week, especially given pre-tournament construction at Detroit Golf Club had been halted weeks ago, falling under one of the executive orders issued by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Now, the amount of construction is limited, given there are no grandstands and hospitality tents necessary.

Outright cancellation seemed an option until recently, when reports started circulating that the PGA Tour was trying to save the Rocket Mortgage Classic. There were two big reasons behind that: One, as a second-year PGA Tour tournament, a cancellation would risk halting the momentum that the RMC had built after a wildly successful first year. (Similarly, the PGA Tour kept on the schedule the other second-year tournament, the 3M Open, in suburban Minneapolis.) Two, Quicken Loans' Dan Gilbert has been a longtime sponsor of the PGA Tour, with commitments totaling nearly $100 million, if not more, over the last decade.

Nine PGA Tour tournaments did get the complete cancellation this year, plus the British Open, which won't be played for the first time since World War II.

"Our hope is to play a role — responsibly — is the world's return to enjoying the things we love," said Jay Monahan, PGA Tour commissioner. "Today's announcement is another positive step for our fans and players as we look toward the future, but as we've stressed on several occasions, we will resume competition only when — working closely with our tournaments, partners and communities — it is considered safe to do so under the guidance of leading public health authorities."

The PGA Tour has 14 tournaments on its remaining scheduling, including the PGA Championship (Aug. 6-9). Two other majors that it doesn't sanction, the U.S. Open and Masters, have moved to September and November, respectively.

The PGA Tour is a rare sports sector that has official target dates for restarting amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball haven't identified specific dates.

The Rocket Mortgage Classic, Detroit's first-ever PGA Tour tournament, had by most accounts an excellent showing in its inaugural year, with players enjoying the old Donald Ross design and the amenities provided by the tournament, and fans flocking to Detroit Golf Club, selling out the weekend. Nate Lashley won by six strokes in earning his first career victory. The RMC also came across nice on TV, a big selling point given that's how most will get to view the tournament this year. The tournament will air on CBS.

“The decision to move forward has been an intense and emotional discussion among the key stakeholders who have provided input along the way," Jason Langwell, executive director of the Rocket Mortgage Classic, said in a statement. "In cooperation with the PGA TOUR and our broadcast partners and Detroit Golf Club, we are turning this tournament on its head. As this is a TV-only event with no spectators, we are examining new fundraising capabilities that have yet to be seen on the Tour.

"I, for one, am anticipating great things from the Rocket Mortgage Classic and the impact it will have on the city and its residents.”

Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau, Rickie Fowler and Bubba Watson are among the early commitments to this year's tournament, though the commitments were made before the COVID-19 outbreak. Still, there are those who believe the field could get considerably starry, given the PGA Tour's schedule is so limited and condensed through the end of the season. In other words, "Tiger Woods Watch" has officially begun.

Michigan was scheduled to host five major pro golf tournaments this year, but the Senior PGA Championship in Benton Harbor in May was canceled. The LPGA Tour's Meijer Classic outside Grand Rapids likely is moving to July. The other two tournaments, the LPGA Tour's Great Lakes Bay Invitational in Midland (July 15-18) and the Champions Tour's Ally Challenge (July 31-Aug. 2), remain at their current date.

Revised PGA Tour schedule

June 8-14: Charles Schwab Challenge, Colonial Country Club, Fort Worth, Texas

June 15-21: RBC Heritage, Harbour Town Golf Links, Hilton Head, South Carolina

June 22-28: Travelers Championship, TPC River Highlands, Cromwell, Connecticut

July 2-5: Rocket Mortgage Classic, Detroit Golf Club, Detroit, Michigan

July 6-12: John Deere Classic, TPC Deere Run, Silvis, Illinois

July 13-19: The Memorial Tournament, Muirfield Village Golf Club, Dublin, Ohio

July 20-26: 3M Open, TPC Twin Cities, Blaine, Minnesota

July 27-Aug. 2: WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational, TPC Southwind, Memphis, Tennessee

July 27-Aug. 2: Barracuda Championship, Tahoe Mountain Club (Old Greenwood), Truckee, California

Aug. 3-9: PGA Championship, TPC Harding Park, San Francisco, California

Aug. 10-16: Wyndham Championship, Sedgefield Country Club, Greensboro, North Carolina

Aug. 17-23: THE NORTHERN TRUST, TPC Boston, Norton, Massachusetts

Aug. 24-30: BMW Championship, Olympia Fields Country Club (North), Olympia Fields, Illinois

Aug. 31-Sept. 7: TOUR Championship, East Lake Golf Club, Atlanta, Georgia

tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984