Rocket rewind: A look back at the three previous playings at Detroit Golf Club
Detroit — When Dan Gilbert's Quicken Loans signed on to become a major sponsor of the PGA Tour in 2014, including as the title backer of Tiger Woods' tournament in Washington, D.C., the message was clear. Gilbert, the Detroit-based billionaire, was willing to write checks to the tune of $10 million a year or more, but only if the PGA Tour was willing to entertain the idea of bringing a tournament to the city of Detroit.
In 2019, Gilbert's vision became a reality, with the Rocket Mortgage Classic debuting at Detroit Golf Club.
That marked the PGA Tour's return to Michigan for the first time since the long-running Buick Open held its last tournament in Grand Blanc in 2009. It also marked the first-ever PGA Tour event in the Detroit city limits.
This week, the Rocket Mortgage Classic will hold its fourth playing, with many more expected. Last fall, the PGA Tour and Detroit Golf Club signed an extension that takes the tournament at least through 2027.
"Detroit is a special stop on the PGA Tour," PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan told The News in September. "The Rocket Mortgage Classic has simply made all the right moves."
Said Rickie Fowler, a long-time Rocket Mortgage paid ambassador who will be among the headliners in this week's field: "The tournament keeps getting better and better."
Here's a look back at the three previous playings of the Rocket Mortgage Classic:
Dustin Johnson was the headliner for the first playing of the Rocket Mortgage Classic, but the last man standing as the sun set on DGC that Sunday in late June was a little-known 36-year-old from Nebraska whose life to that point was defined by tragedy more than trophies. Nate Lashley dominated at Detroit Golf Club, finishing at 25 under to win by a whopping six shots for his first PGA Tour victory. (Finishing runner-up was a Monday qualifier named Doc Redman, the week propelling his own PGA Tour career.) Lashley's personal story was told all week — in 2004, when he still was in college, his girlfriend and parents were killed in a plane crash. "I think about my parents all the time," Lashley said after tapping in for the victory. "And thinking about them today, I was getting a little emotional even walking up 18, even before I hit my second shot, thinking about my parents. Because without them, I wouldn't be sitting here right now."
Just about every week on the PGA Tour, 156 golfers tee it up — so, while there always will be favorites, there's a reason few people get rich betting on golf winners. Anybody can get hot at any time. That said, this week in early July, a beefy bomber named Byrson DeChambeau arrived in the shadows of Palmer Park and quickly detailed his plan to overpower the Donald Ross course. And that's exactly what DeChambeau, then 26, did, rallying from three shots back to start the final round to finish 23 under and beat Matthew Wolff by three shots for his sixth PGA Tour win. The power display was so impressive, on one 400-yard par 4, he actually waited for the green to clear before hitting his tee shot, afraid he'd reach (he nearly did). Too bad fans, locked out by COVID, weren't there to see it. "I'm sorry, Mr. Ross," DeChambeau quipped afterward. He later signed a deal with Rocket Mortgage, which was voided this year when he departed for the LIV golf tour.
For the first time in its brief run, the Rocket Mortgage Classic became a national story thanks to headliner Phil Mickelson's feud with The Detroit News over a story detailing his past ties to a shady Metro Detroit bookie. Tournament officials were nervous about the story, published on the eve of the tournament's start, but eventually came to embrace it — with Mickelson rallying the fans squarely to his corner, leading to more ticket sales as galleries returned to DGC. But while Lefty made the cut in Detroit, he wasn't a factor on the course. He won't be this year, either, as another LIV guy. Instead, for the first time at the Rocket, there was a playoff — they worked overtime on the holiday — with Cam Davis, Troy Merritt and Joaquin Niemann all at 18 under. Niemann was eliminated on the first hole when he made bogey (he was bogey-free through 72 holes), then Davis, propelled into the playoff by an amazing hole-out bunker shot for eagle at the par-5 17th, and Merritt played four more until Davis, a 26-year-old Australian, finally secured his first PGA Tour title.
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