Rocket Mortgage Classic Preview

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The PGA TOUR heads to Detroit Golf Club this week for the third playing of the Rocket Mortgage Classic.

The inaugural 2019 edition saw Nate Lashley win with a score of 25-under while Bryson DeChambeau reached 23 last year en route to victory. A good old-fashioned birdie fest.

We are just two weeks away from the season's final major so this will be the final tune-up event for some in the field, while others are just hoping to secure some FedExCup Points in hopes of maintaining or improving their status for the upcoming season.

A full field of 156 golfers will tee it up this week with the usual top 65 and ties advancing to the weekend.

The Course

Detroit Golf Club made its debut on the PGA TOUR in 2019 and we've learned a thing or two after seeing it in action two times.

The course is a par 72 that plays to 7,370 yards, an increase of 30 yards, year over year. That can be attributed to a new tee box at the par-4 12th which now stretches to 489 yards instead of 459.

This classical Donald Ross design is generous off the tee but it also has its share of doglegs so you can't just bomb-and-gouge it all over the place, regardless of what Bryson DeChambeau did last year. Yes, what Bryson did was amazing but he also gained 7.8 strokes putting on his way toward winning. Let's not pretend that he dismantled this place from tee-to-green.

In reality, most treat this as a second-shot course, if you will. We'll hear plenty about that in the quotes section but here is a snippet from Brian Stuard, "I think driving it straight here is very important because there’s a lot of — every fairway’s pretty much tree lined and you can — you would rather be 150 rather than 100 in the trees obviously; 150 in the fairway rather than 100 in the trees." The rough gets grown out to 4+ inches for tournament week.

Distance is always a benefit but as long as you can keep it between the pipes this week you'll have a chance to contend. There are lots of scoring holes here, as long as you are playing from the fairway. During both playings of this event the field has averaged 82 percent GIR when approaching from the fairway.

You don't get that high of a GIR rate unless you have lots of short irons and wedges (or huge greens). The greens are Detroit Golf Club are smaller than TOUR average which tells us there are lots of wedges and the greens are receptive. The course received 5 inches of rain in the lead-up this week so we should expect to see them receptive again this year.

The overall scoring environment is very easy which usually brings more golfers into the equation in terms of possible contenders.

For turf, they are dealing with typical cool-season grasses with a bent/poa mix on the fairways and greens with bluegrass rough. The turtleback greens have a lot of tiers and undulations and can be ramped up to 12+ feet on the stimp. Speedy.

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Course Quotes

Sifting through some past quotes, let's try to break down the course to see how it will play.

Cameron Champ: "It’s definitely a finesse-type course. Obviously if you have length it can be an advantage, but at the same time the greens are very slopey and your iron play has to be on as well, as well as putting. I think this is a course where yes, you can shoot very low, but all aspects of the game have to be in the same sequence to do that. "

Kevin Kisner: "I wish we played courses like this all the time. Big rough and you’ve got to work it around the doglegs. You can play conservative or you can go for it. They give you birdie opportunities. We don’t get to play par 72s much, it’s fun to play four par 5s."

Brian Stuard: "I always just kind of attribute it to an old-school, tree-lined, traditional golf course. usually the greens are kind of the test of a Donald Ross course, I would say, and it’s no different here. The greens are very — there’s a bunch of different sections where you want — you would like to keep your ball in the proper section because if you’re not, then you’re going to have a tough time two-putting, so I think that’s an important characteristic of his courses."

Patrick Reed: "It’s one of those courses just by looking at the yardage and looking at the number you’re thinking you are going to go out and shoot a really low number just to have a decent week but the greens are very undulating and very slopy. Just off the greens is very thick and nasty rough. So, it’s going to put a premium on putting the ball in the right spot."

Dustin Johnson: "It’s not real long. The greens are very challenging. Off the tee it’s not too difficult but where it plays difficult will be on the greens. It’s a lot of slope. A lot of different quadrants. You want to be in the right quadrant. We’re going to have a good many wedges so being able to control the spin or it will be difficult to get it close to the hole."

Recap: The consensus seems to suggest the receipt for success here is finding the fairway, attacking on approach, and managing your misses in the right spots. The greens are sloped back to front so overshooting the green is a big no-no here.

Correlated Courses

Looking at grass types, geography, course attributes, and past performance, here are a few courses/events that I think could prove to be a good pointer this week:

Sea Island Resort
Muirfield Village GC
TPC River Highlands
Sedgefield CC
TPC Summerlin

Ideally, we are looking for courses with cool-season grasses, second-shot courses, and easy scoring environments. The courses above don't fit every checkbox but they have shown some crossover links during the first two playings of the Rocket Mortgage Classic.

The Weather

Thursday: Rainy with a high of 78 degrees. Winds at 4 to 8 MPH.

Friday: Mostly Cloudy with a high of 72 degrees. Winds at 4 to 8 MPH.

The winds look calm all week in Detroit but they will need to dodge some rain showers.

Golfers to Watch

Webb Simpson
Torrey Pines was always going to be a tough venue for Simpson so we might want to forgive him for the missed cut in his most recent start. Now he heads to a Donald Ross design where distance is not required. That should be a much better fit. Simpson grew up playing plenty of Ross designs in the Carolinas and he won his first TOUR event on a Ross design (Sedgefield CC). Simpson also secured a top 10 here last year in his tournament debut.

Bryson DeChambeau
He's the defending champ at Detroit Golf Club. Before the week started last year he said this about his strategy, "I think there’s a lot of bunkers that are around like 290, so hopefully I’ll be able to clear those and take those out of play. So, sorry, Mr. Ross, but, you know, it is what it is." That aggressive approach led to 6.7 strokes gained off-the-tee (best in the field) and then he also lapped the field with the putter (+7.8 SG Putting) to seal the deal.

Kevin Kisner
The Georgia Bulldog popped onto page one of the leaderboard last week at the Travelers, but how did he get the job done? He gained 4.2 strokes putting in round two and another 5.2! strokes putting on day four. Will be interesting to see how he follows that up this week. Will that build confidence that oozes into other areas or his game? Will he stay hot with the putter? Will it be a one-off outlier week?

Rickie Fowler
It looks like Fowler was turning a corner to escape his slump with back-to-back top 11s and then a public announcement that he and his wife were expecting baby number one. Then, he went and lost 2.7 strokes off-the-tee and another 2.6 strokes on approach at TPC River Highlands, to miss the cut. As one of his key sponsors, he is the face of the event, so will he be tied up playing the role of tournament host or will he get back on track after last week's disappointing showing? He remains a bigtime wildcard but the flashes of form are certainly starting to show recently.

Doc Redman
He may not show up on my top-20 list below but there is a lot to like here with Redman. He has been T33 or better after all eight rounds played at Detroit Golf Club. That includes a runner-up finish in 2019 and a first-round co-lead last year. More recently, he arrives with five straight cuts made including a T9 at the Byron Nelson and a runner-up finish at the Palmetto.

Brian Stuard
He's not going to leap off the page from a stats point-of-view but this is a home game for Stuard who grew up in Michigan, about an hour away from Detroit Golf Club. Stuard has finished T5 and T30 in two tries here.

Ranking the Field

1. Bryson DeChambeau
2. Patrick Reed
3. Webb Simpson
4. Joaquin Niemann
5. Will Zalatoris
6. Hideki Matsuyama
7. Jason Kokrak
8. Sungjae Im
9. Charley Hoffman
10. Cameron Tringale
11. Jason Day
12. Garrick Higgo
13. Emiliano Grillo
14. Keegan Bradley
15. Max Homa
16. Kevin Kisner
17. Brendon Todd
18. Gary Woodland
19. Rickie Fowler
20. Bubba Watson