Phil Mickelson plans to return in 2022 if schedule permits; he boosted RMC ticket sales

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Detroit — Phil Mickelson hasn't ruled out returning to Detroit in 2022, but he hasn't ruled it in, either.

Whatever the six-time major champion decides, it'll be based on his schedule, and not his extended beef with the media that took over the headlines during Rocket Mortgage Classic week earlier this month.

Jason Langwell, tournament director, told The News this week that he had a conversation with Mickelson as the fan-favorite left-hander made his way to his car after finishing his Sunday round.

Phil Mickelson smiles with a thumbs up after finishing his final round.

"And he couldn't have been more complimentary of the golf course and the experience," Langwell said this week. "I think his return ... the factors of his return will be no different than they would have been had there not been an (article): Does it fit my schedule. 

"Based on that (conversation), if he doesn't come back, it won't be because of that (article)."

Mickelson, 51, played a tournament in Michigan for the first time since the 2008 PGA Championship, and finished tied for 74th, at 3 under.

But he did what he was brought here to do: sell tickets. Mickelson committed to the tournament in late May, making up for having to bail on 2020 because of the shuffled schedule amid COVID-19. The day he committed, Rocket Mortgage Classic officials saw a significant spike in ticket interest, as much as 3-4 times.

That was significant, given the Rocket only was given about a month to sell tickets in 2021, because the state didn't announce the lifting of outdoor capacity restrictions until late May, to start June 1.

Despite that short window — there was three months of lead-up ticket sales in the inaugural year, 2019 (there were no fans in 2020) — attendance finished on par with 2019, Langwell said. Despite several days of poor weather. The PGA Tour has always declined to reveal specific attendance numbers, but it's believed the first Rocket Mortgage Classic drew at least 40,000, and possibly as many as 50,000 spectators.

If the 2021 Rocket came close to that, it was achieved despite limited ticket sales for Tuesday's practice round and AREA 3-1-3 celebrity scramble. Wednesday through Sunday were the only days available for general-admission tickets.

"We felt really good about the attendance," said Langwell, adding that the daily figures were more balanced than 2019. "People were ready to come out."

Langwell said the Thursday figures were larger than 2019, when the PGA Tour was very impressed with Thursday attendance. The biggest days in 2021 were Friday and Saturday.

Interestingly, the Friday round came the day after Mickelson, in a post-round press conference, said he wouldn't come back to Detroit because he was upset with a Detroit News article that chronicled a past gambling connection to a mob-connected bookie from Grosse Pointe Park. He even fired off a series of tweets about his displeasure during the three-hour-plus rain delay Thursday.

Friday's crowd following Mickelson and Rickie Fowler was massive, with many fans wearing custom t-shirts, and many yelling, "Come back, Phil!" and "We love you, Phil!" After the round, Mickelson, talking to the media, changed his tune from Thursday, and said he would indeed come back — "I"m in," he said — if 50,000 Metro Detroiters signed a petition started by a local sports fan, and also if each of the signee performed one act of random kindness for someone in the community. (The petition had short of 13,000 signatures Friday.) The next day, for his Saturday morning round, it was another huge crowd, many fans thanking Mickelson for changing his mind.

He had the fans in his corner — if he'd given any more thumbs-up to the fans, his glove wouldn't have fit — and Detroit Golf Club, too.

"I don't think it benefited anyone," said Mark Douglas, Detroit Golf Club president. "I just thought it was poorly timed; it wasn't news or newsworthy, in my opinion."

Phil Mickelson during his 80 at the British Open on Thursday.

Mickelson's beef seemed to be that it was an old story, though "old news" by definition means it had been previously reported — and this had not — as well as the timing, having been published the Tuesday before the tournament started. Deposition transcripts were unsealed three years ago and discovered by The News while covering a trial last month. He won a $500,000 bet, and was never paid. He was not accused of any wrongdoing in the article. Mickelson also suggested The News should be positively promoting the event.

It's quite likely Mickelson's comments Thursday led to more ticket sales for Friday, and his comments Friday led to more ticket sales for Saturday. Langwell couldn't confirm that, and it was tricky to track because there were no walk-up sales this year. Fans spurred by Mickelson would've had to purchase tickets online. This much is certain: Mickelson drew the crowds, and brought the tournament much more attention nationally.

By week's end, Rocket Mortgage had come to embrace the saga, pushing the petition on fans via flyers and stickers with QR codes spread throughout the golf course. The petition is on the tournament's website.

"The Phil factor," said Langwell, "we saw really out of the gate" when tickets went on sale.

Pushed for comment on the swelling crowds around him Friday and Saturday, Langwell said with a laugh, "It did seem we noticed it from a gallery-management side of things."

Mickelson came to Detroit despite having played the previous two weeks, at the U.S. Open in San Diego and the Travelers Championship in Connecticut. It was the first time this season he played three weeks in a row. Then, after wrapping up his stay in Detroit, he went to Montana to play the TV exhibition with Bryson DeChambeau, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers.

The 2021-22 PGA Tour schedule is due out in the coming weeks. The next season starts shortly after this season ends with the Tour Championship Sept. 2-5. If the next season holds similar to this season, the Rocket would fall two weeks after the U.S. Open and two weeks before the British Open. Mickelson will compete in those, and long has been loyal to the Travelers, which he has won twice.

Whether it was related to the busy schedule, Mickelson opened the British Open on Thursday with a 10-over 80. He finished 12 over Friday. The 2021 PGA Championship winner missed the cut.

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Twitter: @tonypaul1984