Rocket notes: Players on playoff bubble in better shape than we thought; anyone seen Eminem?

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Detroit — The "defectors," as PGA Tour member and Traverse City resident Ryan Brehm calls them, could prove good business for several players on the bubble for the FedEx Cup playoffs.

While the PGA Tour continues to update its FedEx Cup standings including the players who have gone to the LIV Golf tour or who soon will join LIV, players are receiving a different list every week. That list excludes those players, including 10 players who are in the top 125 in the standings, among them Jason Kokrak and Charles Howell III, who will play their first LIV tour event this week in New Jersey, opposite the PGA Tour's Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit.

Brian Stuard needs a big week in Detroit.

That means Brehm, 36, a Michigan State alum who won for the first time on the PGA Tour at the Puerto Rico Open in March, is better positioned to make the FedEx Cup playoffs for the first time. Brehm is No. 118 in standings available on the PGA Tour website, but No. 111 in the list the PGA Tour sent him. He'll be 109th once Kokrak and Howell are officially suspended by the PGA Tour, which will happen this week.

Likewise, longtime PGA Tour member Brian Stuard, a Jackson native and Oakland University alum, is No. 146 on the publicly released standings, but No. 135 in actuality, given there are 11 players ahead of him who've joined LIV or will be debuting on LIV this week. Stuard also is playing to keep his PGA Tour card.

The top 125 in the standings after next week's PGA Tour stop get into the playoffs. The top 70 get into the second playoff event, and the top 30 make the final event, the Tour Championship.

The money for the FedEx Cup is huge, with $18 million for first, and in the millions for the top 10. Everybody who makes the top 125 gets at least $120,000, and players finishing 126th through 150th get $85,000.

"It's good money, it's good bonuses," said Brehm, adding the higher he finishes, the better his status will be heading into next season. "It'd be nice to get into the bigger events next year."

More: Ready for liftoff: Get all your Rocket Mortgage Classic coverage right here

LIV players who are in the top 125 of the publicly available FedEx Cup standings: Talor Gooch, Kokrak, Matt Jones, Hudson Swafford, Matthew Wolff, Abraham Ancer, Carlos Ortiz, Brooks Koepka, Howell and Pat Perez. Paul Casey is just outside the top 125.

The exclusion of those players in the FedEx Cup standings will have a ripple-down effect, too, giving better status to those who don't earn full PGA Tour membership for 2022-23, as well as better status for those working their way up the Korn Ferry Tour standings.

Back where it all began

Nate Lashley loves returning to Detroit. Hard to blame him. This is where he had his breakthrough win on the PGA tour, during the inaugural Rocket Mortgage Classic in 2019.

"It's great coming back. I love it," Lashley said Tuesday in the tunnel behind the 18th green, following a quick putting session, and before he headed off to throw the first pitch at the evening's Tigers game at Comerica Park. "It was just one of those weeks. I was hitting it really nice. I remember having a lot of really good iron shots coming into the greens, inside 5 feet a lot, and putted well. I just kept my composure.

"That was probably my biggest thing, I was pretty nervous…getting off to a good start (Sunday's final round in 2019) was huge. Being able to maintain. It's pretty easy to go out and get nervous and start making bogeys and not be able to come back from it."

Lashley shot 25 under in 2019 to win by six shots. It remains the best score in the tournament's three-year history. Lashley, 39, hasn't won since the Rocket, but has had some flirtations, and will keep his PGA Tour card for next season. He's inside the top 100 in the FedEx Cup standings, with the playoffs looming.

Lashley has missed the cut in the last two Rockets. He has one top-10 this season.

Asked how his life has changed since his Detroit win, Lashley said the career stability has been huge. Since the win, he's also gotten married and they have a 15-month-old daughter. Financial stability that came with the Rocket win — he won $1.3 million and has been sponsored by Rocket Mortgage ever since — has certainly helped on the family front.

Speaking to The News, he also was asked how he's seen the Rocket grow and change since Year 1. This is the fourth playing of the Rocket Mortgage Classic, which has bigger grandstands and increased capacity, in anticipation for galleries on par with Year 1.

"The fields, I feel like the fields are getting better and better," he said. "And will continue to get better and better. It's kind of nice coming and playing a course like this, tree-lined.

"It's something we don't get to play a whole lot. A lot of guys like it."

That's a rap

PGA Tour veteran James Hahn is back at the Rocket Mortgage Classic for a third year. The first two stops in Detroit didn't go so well, as he missed the cut.

But that hasn't stopped in from embracing the city that produced a hero.

"In Detroit for the PGA Tour event, home to one of the greatest rappers of all time, Eminem," Hahn wrote on Twitter on Tuesday morning. "If he ain’t in your top 5, we can’t be friends. #slimshady #8mile."

Hahn, 40, is known on PGA Tour for his humor — he went viral with his Gangnam Style dance on the green in 2013; he once forget to deposit a nine-figure winner's check — but he's played some solid golf this year. Hahn is inside the bubble for the FedEx Cup playoffs, with three top-10 finishes this season.

He's coming off a tie for fourth place at the 3M Open, winning $315,625, which is direct-deposited now.

Just a pup

Wyatt Worthington II, 32, is living the dream this week at Detroit Golf Club, teeing it up in the Rocket Mortgage Classic after winning the John Shippen National Invitational on Sunday to earn his spot.

So, what would the Columbus, Ohio, teaching pro be doing if he wasn't playing the Rocket?

"So, I just got a new puppy, so I'm going to be taking him for walks and working on the potty training and whatnot. He's a pretty good dog, Australian Shepherd," said Worthington, the second winner of the Shippen, founded in Detroit in 2021 to open up opportunities while breaking down financial barriers for golfers of color. "After that I start my lesson book. At the end of the day I love teaching, and I caddie in the wintertime.

"But I do those things to kind of pay bills and to give myself an opportunity to chase my dream."

"Which is to be on the PGA Tour."

Who needs sleep?

Several of the bigger-named golfers skipped the Rocket Mortgage Classic, perhaps to rest up for the FedEx Cup playoffs, which starts in two weeks.

Not Will Zalatoris, world No. 13 who is ninth in the FedEx Cup standings.

Why? For starters, he's a fan of Detroit Golf Club, despite finishing 77th last year. He enjoys getting to play Orchard Lake Country Club in West Bloomfield, which he did Monday. And, well, he's barely old enough to rent a car.

"Obviously, guys will be resting up for the playoffs, but every shot matters, every point matters," Zalatoris said Tuesday morning. "I'm 25 years old. If you ever hear me talk about being tired, I think I probably need to get my head checked."

The tourney before the tourney

If you want some face time or an autograph from your favorite PGA Tour pro, Wednesday is a good day to show up. It's the pro-am, and almost everybody in the field participates for nine holes.

It's also a more casual atmosphere than when the tournament starts Thursday, so the odds of scoring a signature go up significantly.

The pro-am starts at 6:45 a.m. Wednesday, with the last group going off just before 5 p.m.

Several local celebrities are playing, too, including Fab Fiver Chris Webber.

Admission and parking (at Detroit Mercy) is free Wednesday.

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Twitter: @tonypaul1984