Rocket Mortgage Classic
July 2nd – 5th, 2020
Detroit Golf Club
Par: 72 / Yardage: 7,340
Purse: $7.5 million
with $1,350,000 to the winner
So the fourth event since coming back from the three-month break is the Rocket Mortgage Classic. Played at Detroit Golf Club, this event was played for the first time last year and those in the field loved the course. Unfortunately after getting great fields in the first three events (at the Travelers they 60 of the top-100, 33 of the top-50 and 9 of the top-10), this week sees a drastic downturn of players as only 32 of the top-60 are playing as only 7 top-25 players are in the field. This makes a lot of sense, we couldn’t have so many great fields week after week, players do need time off and with this week, and next, it’s a perfect time for the marquee players to take time off before the Memorial.
As for the results from the Travelers a lot of surprises. The first has to be Dustin Johnson, who since finishing runner-up at the PGA Championship last year has been struggling. After he won in Mexico 16 months ago, Johnson started feeling pain in his left knee. It started giving him problems just after that and by the summer he was really struggling. After the Tour Championship in August, Johnson shut it down and on September 5th had arthroscopic surgery on the left knee to repair cartilage damage. The thought was for him to rest and be ready for the Hero World Challenge and the Presidents Cup. He didn’t play in the Hero but made his return at the Presidents Cup. He started to play regularly at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, but in his events after that struggled. Yes, he finished 2nd at the Saudi International, but that field wasn’t very strong still it was his best finish since being runner-up at the PGA Championship, In the months after the PGA, Johnson was only in the top-ten twice on the PGA Tour, his T-7th at the Sentry TofC and T-10th at Genesis. Johnson was struggling with his game and here were the reasons. In 2017 and ’18 he was 9th in Greens in Regulation, in 2019 he was 86th, and going into Travelers he was T-115th for 2020. Other parts of Johnson’s game struggled in 2020, he was 199th in putting inside 10 feet, He was T-90th in this stat in 2017, 118th in 2018 and 177th in 2019. Last week at the Travelers he was 31st in the field making 59 of 66 putts inside 10 feet. Johnson was desperately looking for the answer to his poor putting, he used three different putters between Colonial, Heritage, and Travelers. I will bet a good amount of money that when Johnson tees it up again, probably at Memorial he will be using that TaylorMade Truss TB1 putter that he used to win The Travelers. He felt afterward, that he was finally able to roll a putt on his intended line with that putter. Another key stat for Johnson is his play with the wedge, going into the Travelers he was T-215th in approaches from 50 to 125 yards. This is a key part of Johnson’s game when he’s on his game, his wedge game is near perfect. In 2016 he was 4th in approaches from 50 to 125 yards. In 2017 he was T-7th, in 2018 T-15th and in 2019 T-106th. So you can see that he struggled in this stat in 2019 and before the Travelers. In his win at the Travelers Johnson was 5th in approaches from 50 to 75 yards, T-22nd in approaches from 50 to 125 yards and 14th in approaches from 150 to 175 yards. You can see the strides Johnson was making, he missed the cut at the Charles Schwab and then finished T-17th at the Heritage. But Johnson wasn’t very impressive in his start at the Travelers, after a bogey at 12 he was one over and it seemed he’d have to struggle just to make the cut. He played his last six holes in 2 under for a 69. He then took off with a 64 on Friday, followed by a 61 on Saturday. In 918 rounds in his career on the PGA Tour his previous low was 62 which he shot three times. So his 61 is his career-low score on the PGA Tour.
So what does this victory mean for Dustin, is he now back and a threat each week? Possibly, since 2015 he has not been out of the top-five of the world rankings and since 2010 he has never been higher than 23rd, so he is one of the best players on Tour. In looking at the schedule, he has played ok at the Memorial, was 3rd in 2016, missed the cut in 2017 and was T-8th in 2018. In Memphis, where they play the WGC-St. Jude Championship, Johnson has won twice on the course and was 5th in 2018. So you have to think he will play well. So for the rest of the season, we can expect Johnson’s game only getting better.
Now for Travelers, it was a very hard week to pick players. Just look how those that finished in the top-ten at Travelers and how they did in the two events before:
Win – Dustin Johnson, missed cut at Schwab and was T-17th at Heritage.
2nd – Kevin Streelman, missed the cut at Schwab and Heritage.
T-3rd – Mackenzie Hughes missed cut at Schwab and was T-70th at Heritage.
T-3rd – Will Gordon, was sponsor exemption, the first event since the break.
5th – Kevin Na missed the cut at the Charles Schwab.
T-6th – Ryan Armour was T-74th at the Charles Schwab.
T-6th – Bryson DeChambeau was the only player who did well in events before, 3rd at Schwab and T-8th at Heritage.
T-6th – Patton Kizzire, missed the cut at Schwab and Heritage.
T-6th – Scott Stallings, T-48th at Heritage.
T-6th – Brendan Steele missed the cut at the Charles Schwab.
Other than DeChambeau and possibly Johnson you would not pick any of the other players that finished in the top-ten. Now the question will be if these guys will play good in the coming weeks. I am not going to bet on that happening.
It is interesting to see the players who were favorite coming into the week and seeing how poorly they played. First, there was Rory McIlroy. He may have finished T-11th but he was frustrated with his week that started with a 63 but ended with scores of 68-69-67. You could tell he was frustrated with his play not only this week but his T-32nd at Colonial and T-41st at Heritage. He put a lot of the blame on the fact that he normally wouldn’t play at Colonial and Harbour Town, his game just doesn’t work on those courses. All that made him frustrated as the week and his play got worst at Travelers. He was looking forward to a few weeks off and will return to The Memorial. Tied with McIlroy was Patrick Cantlay who played his first event since the break and his rounds of 66-67-69-65 were good and he will be a shining star. Xander Schauffele was also a favorite and finished T-20th, another disappointing finish when you consider he started the Travelers with a 63. He too will take the week off. Finishing T-32nd was Paul Casey who still is having problems on the greens, he was 55th in Strokes Gained putting as he was T-54th in putting from 4 to 8 feet. He was good in greens hit finishing T-5th and in the greens he missed he was near perfect in getting it up and down and ranked 1st in the field. It doesn’t matter he isn’t playing this week in Detroit. Another not playing in Detroit is Jon Rahm, who finished T-37th at the Travelers after finishing T-33rd at Heritage and missing the cut at Charles Schwab. The big question will be if his game comes around in the coming weeks, he hasn’t shown much yet. The big disappointments are Justin Rose and Justin Thomas. Both of these guys played great at Colonial and Harbour Town and were considered big favorites only to miss the cut at the Travelers. Both aren’t playing in Detroit.
So the Travelers didn’t really help us much, for many it was a terrible week as the favorites folded and those that weren’t playing well perked up at the Travelers.
The biggest player news that came out of the Travelers was the story of Will Gordon. A 23-year-old from Davidson, N.C. he had no status on any tour, in 2020 he had played in six PGA Tour events and his best finish was T-10th at the RSM Classic. Tournament director Nathan Grube gave him a sponsor exemption and Gordon made the best of it and with a birdie on his 72nd hole got a share of 3rd place. That gets him into the Rocket Mortgage and qualifies him for unlimited sponsor exemptions as a special temporary member on the PGA Tour. Could he be a player we look at in the future? I say not, yes he has done well for a 23-year-old with no background on the PGA Tour, but in looking at his stats he is a mid-level player, nothing bad but nothing spectacular. Will Gordon turn into the next Matthew Wolf, Collin Morikawa, Joaquin Niemann and Cameron Champ.