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Thicker rough, slightly longer par 5s to greet PGA Tour players in Detroit

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Detroit — The scene at Detroit Golf Club for next week's Rocket Mortgage Classic are going to look a whole lot different than 2019, the PGA Tour's inaugural stop in the city.

There will be no fans, and thus no grandstands.

The course, though, will look quite similar to last year, when Nate Lashley torched the field to finish 25 under par and to win by a whopping six shots for his first PGA Tour victory.

A view from behind the 18th green at Detroit Golf Club on Thursday.

The notable exception will be the rough, which is a tad bit longer, and a whole lot thicker. Missing fairways or greens on the old, tight, Donald Ross track should be considerably more penal in 2020 than in 2019.

"I was talking to one member out there who landed his ball on one of the par 3s, and spun it back off the front," said Jason Langwell, executive director of the Rocket Mortgage Classic. "And they couldn't find it."

There wasn't much criticism about the first Rocket Mortgage Classic, but what little there was almost exclusively was about the course playing too easy.

That criticism was wildly unfair, when you look at the scores around the PGA Tour.

Last week at the RBC Heritage in South Carolina, 51 players finished the four rounds at 10 under or better (compared to 45 at last year's Rocket Mortgage Classic), with four finishing at 20 under or better (compared to one). Players at 3 under through two rounds missed the cut. And you don't hear folks calling Hilton Head "embarrassing." This week at the Travelers Championship in Connecticut, the first-round leader was Mackenzie Hughes, who shot 60, missing a lengthy putt on No. 18 for the vaunted 59.

The PGA Tour's slogan used to be, "These guys are good," and, umm, yeah, they are.

Helping produce low scores last year at Detroit Golf Club were near-perfect weather conditions. There was barely a breath of wind all week.

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If the wind picks up at all this week, scores should be somewhat higher, particularly because of the approach shots to tough greens. Another factor that should produce higher scores: With no fans and no grandstands, there basically are no borders or backboards around the fairways and greens. Off-line shots are likely to be more magnified this year.

Last year, on the par-4 15th for instance, grandstands were located just feet behind the green, giving players a safety net and, if necessary a free drop, should they fly the green (although it didn't contain one approach from Cameron Champ, who hilariously airmailed the grandstand by some 70 yards).

"It's a completely different up and down," Langwell said.

Outside of the infrastructure alterations for 2020, there are no major structural changes to the course, outside of one new tee box. The routing is the same, with most of the holes from the club's North Course.

The course, according to the official score card, will play 7,340 yards, give or a take a few depending on the day and varying tee and pin locations. Last year, the course officially played 7,318 yards. An additional 10 or so yards was added to three of the course's par 5s, including the monstrous fourth hole increasing to 635 yards from 625 yards.

The official scorecard for the 2020 Rocket Mortgage Classic.

Langwell said after this year's tournament, PGA Tour and Detroit Golf Club officials will sit down and discuss possible alterations to the course, any of which must by approved by the membership. The PGA Tour wants two years of Shotlink data before making any major changes to a tournament course.

The PGA Tour, Detroit Golf Club and Rocket Mortgage, after this year's tournament, will be halfway through the original four-year agreement, which is likely to be extended at some point in 2021.

No more how many birdies and eagles the course yields this year — and make no mistake, tournament officials are sticking with their belief that fans, even if they are restricted to TV this year, want to see birdies.

"Look, it was mid- to high-teens (under par) outside of Nate, and I expect it could be the same this year," Langewell said. "If someone comes out and has an amazing week, we see that every week on Tour.

"I expect it could be comparable to what we had last year."

ROCKET MORTGAGE CLASSIC COMMITMENTS

The course

The official scorecard for the 2020 Rocket Mortgage Classic:

►No. 1 — 397 yards (397 last year), par 4

►2 — 453 (453), par 4

►3 — 393 (387), par 4

►4 — 635 (625), par 5

►5 — 167 (167), par 3

►6 — 461 (469), par 4

►7 — 552 (551), par 5

►8 — 372 (372), par 4

►9 — 207 (207), par 3

►10 — 425 (425), par 4

►11 — 233 (233), par 3

►12 — 459 (459), par 4

►13 — 393 (393), par 4

►14 — 555 (543), par 5

►15 — 160 (160), par 3

►16 — 446 (450), par 4

►17 — 577 (567), par 5

►18 — 455 (460), par 4

►Total — 7,340 yards (7,318), par 72

tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984