'It was surreal coming back': A g'day in Detroit changed Cam Davis' life forever

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Detroit — There are people who can't stand watching themselves on TV.

Cam Davis isn't one of those people. At least, he's not when it comes to watching highlights from the 2021 Rocket Mortgage Classic.

"I watched a rerun of that final round maybe three, four times, just to try to soak it in as much as I could," Davis said last month, returning to the scene of his first PGA Tour championship.

"It's cool to have that on camera and relive that every now and then."

Cam Davis of Sydney, Australia, holds up the Rocket Mortgage Classic trophy in 2021.

Davis, 27, a native of Sydney, Australia, will be announced as the defending champion when he tees it up again in Detroit on Thursday. He orchestrated an impressive Sunday rally to get to 18 under and into a three-man playoff, where he held off Troy Merritt on the fifth playoff hole to lift the trophy.

Davis was back in Detroit last month as part of the Rocket Mortgage Classic media day, and couldn't help but notice the different vibe on a quiet Monday compared to the electricity of July 4 a year ago, when fans sprinted from hole to hole during the five-hole playoff.

He enjoyed the hoopla, to be sure, but there was something special about the serenity this time around.

"It was surreal coming back here this morning," Davis said last month. "Last time I was here, this place was absolutely buzzing. To come back with it all quiet, it was kind of nice just to soak in this place."

Davis has played regularly on the PGA Tour since 2018, but before the Rocket Mortgage Classic, he had posted just three top-10 finishes.

The win in Detroit, which came with a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour (talk about a stress reliever), seems to have been a bit of a springboard for his career. This year, he has five top-10s, including a tie for third at the RBC Heritage. He's 78th in the FedEx Cup standings, with the playoffs starting after the conclusion of the Rocket Mortgage Classic.

While many will remember the playoff that Davis won for his first PGA Tour title — it came a week after there was an eight-hole playoff at the Travelers Championship in Connecticut; here, Davis had good looks at putts to win on every hole, and finally took the title when Merritt missed a 6-footer for par — it was one shot in regulation that gave him his chance.

In the bunker at the par-5 17th, Davis holed out for eagle. It was the shot of his life.

"Under the circumstances, yeah," Davis told The News last month. "It's the only reason I'm able to stand here today saying I was able to win the tournament. That was really the big spark right at the end that I needed."

The $1.35 million Davis won for taking the Rocket was nearly as much as he'd won on the PGA Tour all his tournaments before then.

It was quite the windfall, though while the previous two champions at Detroit Golf Club, Nate Lashley in 2019 and Bryson DeChambeau, were rewarded with sponsorships from Rocket Mortgage (DeChambeau has since lost his for joining LIV), Davis wasn't because Rocket doesn't do mortgages in Australia.

Despite the windfall, Davis said there wasn't any big splurge, though he did pop for a big family get-together.

He also got into the Masters for the first time, thanks to the win, and finished 46th in April.

They say that drive down Magnolia Lane is as special as it gets, though pulling into Detroit for the first time since his life changed forever was pretty darn great, too, for Davis.

"This is where a big step in my career as a golfer took place," Davis said. "I'm always going to have a special place in my heart for this golf course and this tournament."

Now, Davis is setting out to avoid the defending-champion jinx at the Rocket.

Lashley, the inaugural champion, missed the cut in 2020, and DeChambeau missed the cut in 2021 — after a highly publicized mid-week split with his long-time caddie.

Davis has had a consistent season, having not missed a cut since May, and missing just one since March.

MORE: Three local players in the hunt at the Shippen, with spot in RMC up for grabs

While the win in Detroit a year ago took a lot of pressure off him, he remains motivated and committed to getting better. That said, on the weeks where he doesn't have it, it's not the end of the world.

All thanks to one special week in Detroit.

"It's a little easier to hold your head high, even when you're at home relaxing," said Davis, who lives in Seattle. "I can look at and see a trophy there, and be pretty satisfied. 

"I've got one. I've still got the drive to get more, but there's a little more satisfaction to see something there."

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tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984