ROCKET MORTGAGE CLASSIC: A little change to the menu is always nice, and this week we get the rare treat of watching PGA Tour players compete on a totally unfamiliar golf course built by one of the sport’s greatest architects well before anyone in the field was born.
Detroit Golf Club is the venue in question, an ultra-private club located in a residential neighborhood on the north side of one of America’s most maligned cities. Its two courses– the North and South– were both designed by Donald Ross in the early 20th century, and Ross’s brother Alec was the club’s first head professional, a title he held for 31 years. This week’s action will primarily take place on the longer North course, with one exception: No. 1 on the South, a short par-4, will serve as the third hole. The course will measure around 7,340 yards, but with four par-4s that are under 400 yards and two par-5s measuring 550 or shorter, there’s sure to be plenty of birdie opportunities out there.
Like most Ross designs, Detroit Golf Club is defined by its greens– small and undulating, they’ll act as the course’s primary defense, and if early-week quotes from the players are any indication, they’ll be firm and really fast. Other than that, we don’t know all that much about the course– it’s tree-lined and heavily bunkered, the rough will be cut to about 4 inches, so it’ll be an issue, and the grass is a bent/poa mix, which the players have seen a lot of in recent weeks.
This is a new event, replacing the Quicken Loans National, and it’s the first time the PGA Tour has ever staged a tournament in Detroit, so there’s newness, excitement, and unpredictability all around. The field is rather top-heavy, with Dustin Johnson (5.2), Hideki Matsuyama (11.5), and Rickie Fowler (14.5) standing out as the clear favorites, but I’m not looking to swallow a short price this week considering the circumstances. I much prefer in-form, quality players with more reasonable odds… like these three, for instance:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Ryan Moore (38.0)- Though failing to qualify for the U.S. Open was surely a disappointment, Moore is having a solid year that includes a pair of top-3 finishes, and he should be feeling pretty good about the state of his game after finishing 15th at the Travelers last week, a performance that was highlighted by a second-round 64. We can only guess as to how he’ll like Detroit Golf Club, but his history on Donald Ross courses includes a victory at the Wyndham Championship, held on the Ross-designed Sedgefield Country Club, and he does have a nice record in the upper Midwest: his last victory came at the 2016 John Deere Classic, on a course with a lot of surface similarities to Detroit GC, and back in his storied amateur days Moore won the Western Amateur, held annually at Point O’Woods in Benton Harbor, Michigan. So he should be as comfortable as anyone with the venue this week, and considering his recent form, he profiles as a legitimate threat. I’m happy to take a chance on him at nearly 40/1.
Joaquin Niemann (48.0)- Many people, myself included, were expecting big things out of Niemann this year after he came blazing out of the gates in 2018, with four top-10 finishes in his first eight PGA Tour starts. But a cold putter led to a prolonged slump from January to May, with Niemann finishing no better than 37th over a 12-start stretch. One of the most gifted young ball-strikers in the world, he finally began to dominate again tee-to-green at the Wells Fargo a few weeks ago, and now that his putter is starting to come around… look out. After three solid weeks at the Charles Schwab (T31), the Memorial (T27), and the RBC Canadian Open (T31), Niemann broke through with a 5th-place showing at the Travelers last week, carding four consecutive rounds in the 60s for the first time since last November. Now he comes to a place that’s as unfamiliar to everyone else as it is to him, which is a rare circumstance for the young 2nd-year pro– usually he’s competing against guys who have an edge in course knowledge and experience. I think this could be a good spot for Niemann.
Troy Merritt (108.0)- With a new course and a field that isn’t particularly deep, there’s a strong chance that someone unexpected rises up to win this week. If you’re looking at guys 100/1 or longer, you could do a lot worse than Merritt, who has made 5 of his last 6 cuts and is just two starts removed from a T17 at the Memorial. Originally from Iowa, Merritt has played his best golf on similar course styles and similar grasses to what he’ll be seeing this week. His two PGA Tour victories came at the Quicken Loans National in Virginia and the Barbasol Championship in Kentucky, both on classic-style courses featuring bent/poa greens. Plus, those performances both came right around this time of year– July/August. Is that type of logic a bit of a stretch? Maybe. But it’s undeniably true that Merritt is playing good golf at the moment, his best performances have come far away from the bermuda grass of the South, and he’s priced at better than 100/1. That’s enough for me to have a nibble.