Detroit – Lefty left the 3-1-3. But it has left its mark on and next to the golf course.
Phil Mickelson’s first appearance at a professional golf tournament in the Detroit city limits and his first appearance in Metro Detroit since the PGA Championship in 2008 ended around noon on Sunday. Golf was mediocre as he finished 3 under after a third straight par 72 at Detroit Golf Club. But the show was spectacular, at least if your barometer is crowd size and ticket sales, which it certainly is for title sponsor Rocket Mortgage.
“He moves the needle,” said Ryan Brehm, a native of Mount Pleasant, a Traverse City resident and Michigan state alum, who got to play in a few groups behind Mickelson in the first two rounds of the Rocket Mortgage Classic. “He’s a great ambassador for the game and I know the people in Detroit love him.
“Phil did it brilliantly as he does.”
Mickelson, 51, six-time major winner and 45-time PGA Tour champion, was the clear headliner this week and moved tickets when he officially committed to play in late May. Then he hit the headlines before he even made it when The Detroit News reported on Tuesday about his gambling connections with mob-affiliated bookmaker Grosse Pointe Park. Mickelson was allegedly defrauded of $ 500,000 and was not accused of any wrongdoing.
Mickelson’s team immediately jumped into action, questioning the timing of the story – the transcripts revealing the connections were unsealed three years ago but only discovered by a reporter during a lawsuit last month; the story had never been told publicly – and brought the fans to his corner.
He used his Twitter account, which was only created in 2018, as a megaphone, interacted with fans and the media and fired several tweets on Thursday during a long delay in rain.
“I never understood how powerful social media can be,” said Mickelson, who has nearly 750,000 followers. “If something happened this week, it was nice to have a voice.”
The fans naturally gathered behind him in droves. His gallery on Thursday was loud and loud, and it was even louder on Friday after Mickelson said the night before that he would not be returning to Detroit in 2022 because of the “divisive” report. As he neared the first tee on Friday, fans shouted for support and were encouraged to keep going by playing partner Rickie Fowler, a rocket mortgage pitchman.
After Friday’s round of “Come back Phil!” crying, Mickelson changed his tune and said he would be back – if an online petition started in Detroit got the 50,000 signatures and those 50,000 signatories made an arbitrary gesture for someone in the community. Mickelson himself started this effort with a donation of $ 100,000 to the Detroit Children’s Foundation.
Mickelson, way down the leaderboard, played early Saturday and Sunday, so the audience got on the ground and beyond early too.
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During Sunday’s lap, a plane flew high over the Detroit Golf Club with a sign that read, “Phil, come back in 2022,” signed by Stefan, Dominic, John, and Jeff. Golf Channel displayed the banner in its pre-game coverage. The story went national when Mickelson decided to answer.
“I enjoyed my time here,” Mickelson said after the round on Sunday, before taking some socially aloof photos with the fans and getting on a plane for Tuesday’s TV show match with Bryson DeChambeau, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers in Montana hopped.
“The people were great.
“I didn’t play as well as I wanted … but I really enjoyed the people.”
Fowler said, “Hopefully we can get it back.”
The PGA Tour doesn’t release specific ticket sales numbers, but Rocket Mortgage Classic officials have acknowledged that Mickelson’s involvement in May sparked a significant surge in interest. And it was clear that Mickelson’s crowd on Friday was much larger than it was on Thursday after he decided to speak his mind. That’s no small matter as the tournament had such a short window of time to sell tickets to the tournament – the state didn’t lift fan restrictions until June 1st. In year 1 of the tournament, tickets were sold 3½ months before the opening round. There were no fans in year 2 because of COVID-19.
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Rocket Mortgage Classic officials finally came this week to greet the Mickelson story.
On Sunday, several flyers and stickers were attached to the entire route – a red Detroit D with a QR code in the middle, under the heading: “SCAN HERE TO BRING PHIL BACK”.
With Tiger Woods out injured, Mickelson’s biggest draw in golf – and his legion of fans actually rivals Woods’, given the time Mickelson gives fans. He usually signs a lot of autographs after each round, but this week he shied away from sticking to the PGA Tour’s no-autograph rule amid COVID-19 (several players ignored this rule). But he was taking selfies from a distance and handing out loads of golf balls to kids.
He’s the modern day Arnold Plamer – he’s not as good at that as the best player of his era (Jack Nicklaus in the case of Palmer), but he’s just as popular for his interactions with the galleries.
Mickelson could have given the media, or at least one outlet, a thumbs down this week.
But pretty much everyone else got a thumbs up and a big grin from the man behind the planes.
“We talked about it a bit in the house,” said Brehm, who this week stayed in a house with professional colleagues Joel Dahmen and Mark Hubbard. “I know the folks at Rocket Mortgage, Dan Gilbert and Mark Hollis and Jay Farmer… and all of us players and Michigander, we’d love to see Phil again.
“I think it was unfortunate what happened, how it happened.
“But maybe something good will come of it.”
Twitter: @ tonypaul1984