Many years ago on a lazy Michigan summer afternoon, I drove a jet ski across Anchor Bay on the tip of Lake St. Clair. It was warm. I was thirsty. Canada is nice. It was glorious.
Some fortunate professional golfer will satisfy more than a whim this weekend at the Detroit Golf Club when the Rocket Mortgage Classic is played, sans fans, on the Donald Ross layout.
Expect low scoring for the fourth week in a row and second consecutive year in Motor City. The conditions will be ideal, as they were on that memorable Sunday between wind and wake. Low 90s, no wind, softish greens. Birdies flying, blue sky and lush green grass ahead. Last week a friend attributed the Tour’s weekly attacks on par to the absence of fans lining fairways. People make pro golfers nervous, too. Hard to argue against that logic.
The field is weaker in Detroit than it’s been the last three weeks. There are seven of the top 25 in the world and 33 of the top 60 on hand to battle the 7,320-yard, par-72 where Nate Lashley cruised to his first PGA Tour title last year, dismantling the field with 28 birdies to produce a six-shot victory. He’s 67th in the FedEx Cup, but hasn’t cashed a check since a T-3 at the Waste Management in early February, a span of six tournaments. He didn’t play last week.
Nobody is too familiar with the layout. In the 156-man field, 88 are making their first appearance at Detroit GC and 33 played last year but missed the cut, which fell at 5-under 139.
Last year, 35 players made at least 20 birdies during the 72 holes. Hitting fairways and greens was easier at Detroit GC, significantly, than it was at the average Tour event. The field hit 72.9 percent of greens (65.3 is Tour average) and 64.4 percent of fairways (60.9). They bombed it off the tee, averaging 296 yards for the week compared to 283 on the season.
What does it all mean? The pros must shoot 5 under a day to have a chance come Sunday. Last year that target would’ve lost by five.
Better open the throttle, boys, pull down the shades and let it ride.
Golfer power rankings
25. Patton Kizzire – Last week, he gained 6.6 strokes on the field tee-to-green and finished T-6. It was only his fourth time gaining shots in that category in a 2019-20 during which he’s missed 9 of 15 cuts and his best ballstriking tournament in two years. Ranked 161st in the FedEx Cup he needs another strong finish if he wants to enjoy the playoffs.
24. Ryan Armour – The 44-year-old Ohio native started strong at the Rocket Mortgage last year (64-69) before fading to a T-44 on the weekend. Has struggled on the greens this season (197th SG: Putting) but was second in that stat last week to finish T-6, his first top-10 since Bermuda in November.
23. Harold Varner III – He’s second in the field over the last 24 rounds in SG: Approach-the-Green, which should create ample birdie opportunities for the former East Carolina superstar. Has made two of three cuts since the restart, finishing T-32 last week at Travelers.
22. Doc Redman – Had the most important week of his career in Detroit last year, finishing as runner-up to secure playing status for the 2019-20 season. Closed with 63 at the Travelers to finish T-11.
21. Brandt Snedeker – Shot 132 on the weekend at Detroit GC last year to climb to a T-5 despite a mediocre ballstriking week. He’s 18th on the PGA Tour in SG: Putting this season, third in SG: Scrambling and averages 4.14 birdies per round (31st).
20. J.T. Poston – Missed the cut last week after finishing top 10 in the two preceding weeks. Hasn’t been sharp with his iron play this season (159th SG: Approach-the-Green) but still ranks 31st in birdie average. Shot 73 in final round to drop to T-11 in Detroit last year.
19. Erik Van Rooyen – Gained 5.4 strokes Tee-to-Green at the RBC Heritage, which could be a sign that he’s back in the ballstriking groove he enjoyed during last summer’s major championships. Top 20 in SG: Approach the Green in field over last 24 rounds.
18. Scottie Scheffler – Quiet since the restart (T-55 Colonial, MC-Travelers) but anytime a bevy of birdies are required he’s a solid selection (ninth on Tour in birdie average). Putted better last week, gaining 2.7 strokes on the field.
17. Peter Uihlein – Struck the ball beautifully in finishing 14th at Charles Schwab, his only tournament in the last three weeks. It was his best finish this season and perhaps a sign that he’s finding the golf course off the tee again. At 159th in FedEx Cup standings, should be motivated.
16. Lucas Glover – Gained 7.3 strokes on SG: Approach last week (fourth in the field) and posted a third top 25 in a row. With just an average week around and on the greens, he’ll be on the leaderboard’s first page.
15. Maverick McNealy – The 24-year-old Stanford grad has been remarkably consistent this season, making 13 of the last 14 cuts with four top 25s. With a spot in the FedEx Cup playoffs secured, he should feel comfortable on the bentgrass / poa annua mixture on the greens. Solid throughout the bag.
14. Rickie Fowler – There’s absolutely no statistical evidence to validate this pick. Fowler missed the cut in Texas and South Carolina and has cashed only two checks since San Diego. Just call it a hunch.
13. Adam Hadwin – Putts his best on bentgrass / poa greens, thrives in calm conditions when the scoring is low. Sounds like a tasty recipe for success at Detroit GC. Needs to tighten up his chipping after losing shots around the green the last two weeks.
12. Tyler Duncan – The RSM Classic champion is enjoying a solid ballstriking stretch, gaining 7.5 strokes on the field Tee-to-Green last week as he played four rounds for the third week in a row. Returning to the familiar greens of the Midwest could help him rediscover his putting touch.
11. Brian Stuard – Made the cut each of the last three weeks with a T-20 at the Travelers his best finish. Ranks 16th in the field in SG: Putting and 10th in SG: Around-the-Green over the last 24 rounds. Tied for fifth at Rocket Mortgage last year.
10. Mark Hubbard – He’s quietly played solid golf the last three weeks, making each cut and firing eight rounds of 68 or better. He’s 37th in the FedEx Cup, which could be a mild surprise to some. Has thrived on the greens in his last five tournaments, gaining 1.8 strokes on the field.
9. Patrick Reed – Streaky putter to the nth degree. When he’s on, he contends. Lost in a playoff at the TOC, won in Mexico and threatened at Colonial because he was sizzling on the greens (gaining nine strokes per week on the field). Rest of the season, he’s been average with the flat stick and nowhere near the leaderboard. T-5 here last year.
8. Tony Finau – Coming off a rare poor week, don’t expect him to miss consecutive cuts. It’s not as if he played poorly at Colonial and Hilton Head (top 35 in each) and thrives on courses like Detroit GC, where the field finds fairways frequently.
7. Rory Sabbatini – Skipped last week after consecutive top-25s to restart the season and returns to a Detroit Golf Club that suited his eye and game a year ago (18 under, T-3).
6. Kevin Na – Has seven top 25s in 14 starts this season, a victory in Vegas and $2.4 million in the bank. Makes first start in Detroit feeling good after a T-5 at the Travelers. In what could turn out to be a putting contest, it’s easy to like the man ranked sixth in SG: Putting this season.
5. Tyrrell Hatton – Hasn’t finished outside the top six in three PGA Tour starts in 2020, winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational and contending at Hilton Head (T-3). Top 10 in the field in SG: Approach-the-Green and SG: Off-the-Tee over last 24 rounds. Leads the PGA Tour in SG: Total in 2019-20 and is second in birdies per round (4.85).
4. Hideki Matsuyama – Woeful chipping and putting crippled Matsuyama in Hilton Head, his only start since the Tour resumed. Still, his ballstriking is impeccable (seventh SG: Approach-the-Green) and he’s comfortable at Detroit GC, logging a T-13 last year.
3. Webb Simpson – Took caution and withdrew late last week after learning a family member tested positive for COVID-19 (he was negative). Ranks third in SG: Approach-the-Green and ninth in SG: Putting vs. the field in the last 24 rounds. The FedEx Cup leader and North Carolina native on a Donald Ross design is a wise play.
2. Bryson DeChambeau – After two pedestrian efforts on the greens, the Mad Bomber finished ninth in SG: Putting last week en route to his third consecutive top 10 since the Tour restart and sixth in a row dating back to L.A. The unprecedented power is remarkable; so are all his ballstriking numbers. He’s the oddsmakers’ favorite this week.
1. Viktor Hovland – Trending upward with three consecutive top 25s since the restart, including a T-11 at the Travelers last week. Finished T-13 at the Rocket Mortgage last year in one of his first pro starts, closing with a 64. Excels in calm, easy scoring conditions. Gained 7.8 shots on approach shots last week.