The parallels between the Rocket Mortgage Classic’s growth and defending champion Cam Davis’ progression as a player are strong.
Despite the newly created LIV Golf’s winnowing of the PGA Tour crowd, 2022’s RMC field could still be Detroit’s best yet. Event officials have made a pivotal date change and added multiple new fan amenities, drawing on lessons from the first three years. They also believe interest the LIV tour cultivated has helped sell tickets.
Meanwhile, Davis visited the Detroit Golf Club last Monday as reigning RMC champ. The Australian learned a lot while climbing the leader board during the first three years of the tourney. He missed the cut in the RMC’s first two years, then weathered a five-hole playoff to finally win in Year 3 — his first career PGA Tour victory.
“Every year I was trying to try to come back — because I love this golf course —thinking, ‘Can I just do a little bit better?’ ” Davis recently told the Free Press. “And obviously, last time I did as well as you can do. The tournament had grown each time I’d played out here as well. I’d say it’s a pretty accurate statement. It’s growing as well as I am.”
Davis is a huge fan of golf course architect Donald Ross, which adds motivation for returning to Detroit annually. The DGC is one of fewer than 20 clubs in North America with two 18-hole Ross courses. Davis really loves the greens, which he described as equally “terrific” and “difficult.”
“It’s synonymous with a lot of the best golf courses around this country, and I feel like guys jump at the opportunity to play golf courses like this,” Davis said. “And it’s just cool to see a lot of big names coming out and giving it a crack, because it is a good test.”
Davis’ favorite stretch of the RMC course is known as “Area 313” — holes Nos. 15-17 — the site of his playoff with Troy Merritt and Joaquin Niemann last year. The way fans rallied around him there was further evidence of the RMC’s increasing legitimacy.
“In my experience here, they were really respectful but really enjoying the sport in general,” Davis said. “It was the Fourth of July, obviously it’s the American holiday, but me battling against an American (Merritt) coming down the stretch, it wasn’t like I felt like everyone was judgmental about where I was from, or supporting one person over the other. They were just here enjoying good golf, and we’re both playing really well and getting equally treated.
“And I feel like that’s a really cool environment to be in, because I could have very easily felt like the underdog out there. And I think the fans out here made me feel like I’m a competitor just like he is, and I think that’s a really unique trait for a crowd to be able to do that. It was a very fun, enjoyable afternoon.”
Cam Davis tees off on the 16th hole during the third hole of a sudden-death playoff at the Rocket Mortgage Classic at the Detroit Golf Club in Detroit, Sunday, July 4, 2021.
Davis isn’t the only RMC veteran enamored with the tournament. Rocket Mortgage ambassador Rickie Fowler is back for Year 4, as is Will Zalatoris, a rising star and the runner-up at the U.S Open and PGA Championship earlier this year.
Kevin Kisner is probably one of the field’s most committed golfers. The defending champion at the Wyndham Championship — which runs August 3-7, one weekend after the RMC’s new date, July 28-31 — was expected to skip Detroit in favor of defending his title in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Instead, Kisner will play back-to-back weekends at the RMC and Wyndham. That decision, and the recent commitments of 2021 FedEx Cup winner Patrick Cantlay and former World No. 1 Adam Scott, shows the RMC’s growing allure, Davis said.
CHANGES AT DETROIT GOLF CLUB: 2022 Rocket Mortgage Classic features new viewing areas, youth golf zone
“I just think people are catching on that it’s a great event,” he said. “I mean, you’re not gonna get guys coming along like that if they don’t feel like it’s gonna be a really good opportunity to prove themselves against other good players and play really good golf courses in tournament conditions in front of great fans and stuff.
“I think Detroit’s becoming known for being a good sports city with great fans and all that, and I feel like that’s gonna continue to raise the bar for this event.”
Raising the bar at the RMC is more crucial than ever amid the Saudi-backed LIV Golf’s emergence.
Phil Mickelson and Patrick Reed are former Rocket Mortgage Classic notables siphoned away by the tour offering extravagant purses. So is Bryson DeChambeau, the 2020 RMC champion and an ex-Rocket Mortgage ambassador. They’re just three of 48 golfers who’ve forsaken the PGA Tour for LIV. (Former MSU star and 2021 U.S. Amateur champ James Piot is another.)
“Obviously the competition right now is coming from LIV, and I think a lot of the PGA Tour guys agree that these tournaments are worth playing in, and that’s why they’re staying,” Davis said while discussing the RMC’s continued improvement. “I think continuing to build and improve is just gonna bring more and more big-name players and opportunities to do more and more for the community and all that, so I think it’s only gonna go onwards and upwards from here.”
Davis’ competition for a repeat will still be tough. World No. 16 Tony Finau and former World No. 1s Jason Day and Justin Rose will make their RMC debuts this year, attracted by the date change.
Davis, though, was coming to Detroit whenever the RMC was scheduled for. The date change was as much an afterthought for him as a potential post-victory celebration: Last year, he only had time for a burger and fries from a fast-food restaurant.
Davis’ real prize is the chance to continue growing his game while watching the RMC sprout up around him like a Donald Ross green.
Contact Mason Young: MEYoung@freepress.com Follow him on Twitter: @Mason_Young_0