Rocket Mortgage Classic Tournament Preview

2021 Rocket Mortgage Classic Tournament Preview: Everything You Need To Know About Detroit Golf Club Before Tee Off

It’s been a great last couple weeks for the city of Detroit. They successfully tanked for the #1 pick in the NBA Draft Lottery, a feat that has eluded my woeful Knicks for my entire lifetime, and now they get the Rocket Mortgage Classic back in town. This will be the third time the Rocket Mortgage Classic will be contested since the event’s inception in 2019, and try as they may, they’ve struggled to attract the best players in the world to stop by the Motor City year over year. This week’s field is highlighted by defending champion Bryson DeChambeau, Patrick Reed, Hideki Matsuyama, and Webb Simpson, but those are the only OWGR Top 20 players teeing it up this week.

Like a majority of the world’s best, I have also found other things to do with my life besides sinking into the Rocket Mortgage Classic Thursday-Sunday. I’ll be on vacation down in Mexico this Tuesday through the following Monday, and very pumped to be getting a round in at Mayakoba El Camaleon while I’m there. From a content perspective, that means an early locked card, less articles this week, and a delayed (likely Monday evening) Tournament Preview for next week’s John Deere Classic. I did in part plan my vacation around this week knowing I wasn’t going to care much about the Rocket Mortgage Classic, but it didn’t stop me from putting in all the same frontend research I always do.

If the top of last year’s leaderboard (which featured Bryson DeChambeau, Matthew Wolff, Kevin Kisner, Ryan Armour, and Adam Hadwin), taught us anything, it’s that you don’t need to be a specialist in any particular area to find success here. Instead, I’ll be looking for players who are great in Birdies or Better Gained & Scoring in Easy Conditions, and who have the ability to get a hot putter, especially on Poa greens. Here’s a look through everything you can come to expect at this week’s Rocket Mortgage Classic.

Detroit Golf Club Course Specs

  • Yards: 7,372
  • Par: 72 (4x 3’s / 12x 4’s / 4x 5’s)
  • Greens: Poa
  • Architect: Donald Ross
  • Historic Cut Line: -4
  • Comp Courses: TPC Twin Cities, Sea Island GC, TPC Deere Run, TPC Craig Ranch, Memorial Park
  • Past Winners: Bryson DeChambeau (20), Nate Lashley (19)

Any way you slice it, this course is incredibly easy. The cut line has been -4 each of the first two years the Rocket Mortgage Classic has been contested, average Driving Distance is 16 yards longer here than Tour average, Fairways are easier to hit here than Tour average, players reach the greens in regulation 73% of the time, compared to the typical 65% benchmark, and over 50% of approaches come from inside 150 yards versus the Tour average of 39%. Easy tracks like this always become birdie fests and putting contests, which opens up to a ton of volatility. The last time we saw a pure Birdie Fest putting contest was at TPC Craig Ranch for the AT&T Byron Nelson where KH Lee went on to win, so if that’s any indication, we can expect some randomness this week, especially from longshots who can get a hot putter. Should this become purely a putting contest, the Top 10 players in weighted Total (L36) and Poa (L36) Putting are Patrick Reed, Brendon Todd, Vaughn Taylor, Adam Hadwin, Bryson DeChambeau, Kevin Kisner, Kristoffer Ventura, Max Homa, Chesson Hadley, and Andrew Putnam.

From a Course History standpoint, it’s hard to identify anyone as a “Course Horse” with just 2 years of history to go off of. In fact, only 15 players in this Field have even played all 4 rounds in both of the previous contests. Of that group, Sepp Straka is the only one to finish T15 in both years, though Hideki Matsuyama and Doc Redman trail closely behind with two finishes inside T21. The list of players who have finished inside the Top 10 in either year at the Rocket Mortgage includes Nate Lashley, Doc Redman, Rory Sabbatini, Ted Potter Jr, Joaquin Niemann, Brandt Snedeker, Patrick Reed, Brian Stuard, Cameron Tringale, Bryson DeChambeau, Matthew Wolff, Kevin Kisner, Adam Hadwin, Danny Willett, Ryan Armour, Maverick McNealy, Webb Simpson, Troy Merritt, and Sepp Straka.

When I see a birdie fest track in the Great Lakes region of the US where Bryson & Wolff have finished 1-2, my mind immediately goes to TPC Twin Cities as a comp course. Wolff famously secured his first PGA Tour victory at TPC Twin Cities in dramatic walk-off fashion to defeat Bryson DeChambeau and Collin Morikawa at the 2019 3M Open, and given that both courses feature easy scoring, long rough, fast greens, and an overall deprioritization of ARG/Scrambling, I’ll definitely be taking a close look at recent performance at the 3M Open when zeroing in on my player pool this week. The Top 10 players SG: TOT at TPC Twin Cities are Matthew Wolff, Bryson DeChambeau, Adam Hadwin, Charles Howell III, Robby Shelton, Emiliano Grillo, Alex Noren, Cameron Tringale, Richy Werenski, and Hideki Matsuyama.

Key Stats

  • Recent Form (SG: T2G)
  • Birdies Gained / Opportunities Gained
  • SG: APP
  • Good Drives Gained
  • Par 4: 0-400
  • Par 5 Scoring
  • SG: TOT (Easy Courses)
  • SG: Putting (TOT & Poa)

Stats To Avoid

  • Prox 200+
  • SG: ARG
  • Course History

I had assumed after watching the 2020 Rocket Mortgage and seeing it essentially be a two man race all weekend between Bryson and Wolff, that this course, like Winged Foot, would be a pure Bombers Paradise with OTT and Distance being the end all, be all. Not the case! Looking back at the numbers the last two years, half of the players who have finished Top 20 have done so while gaining less than 1 stroke OTT. Like any other birdie fest, it’s been decided by a combination of Approach and Putting, so because of that, I’m looking more closely at Good Drives Gained than just broad OTT stats.

Taking a look at the most important stats for this week, there are just 10 players who rank out above average in BoB Gained, Opportunities Gained, SG: TOT (Easy Courses), and Poa Putting. They are Patrick Reed, Hideki Matsuyama, Will Zalatoris, Bryson DeChambeau, Si Woo Kim, Lucas Glover, Garrick Higgo, Troy Merritt, Max Homa, and Maverick McNealy.

The Correlation Charts this week are not built on the most stable of data, with just two years to go off of, but most notably, we see a Top 10 jump in Birdies Gained, SG: P, and SG: APP when compared to Tour Average, while Good Drives Gained and Par 3: 225+ also make notable jumps in importance here.

Top 10 Correlated Stats with SG: TOT (Tour Average)
Top 10 Correlated Stats with SG: TOT at the Rocket Mortgage Classic

It’s a small sample size, but for what it’s worth, both past winners came into this event and dominated to an easy victory in their first time seeing the course, so based on that, it’s hard for me to really put any stock behind Course History to handicap success for this event. As is the case with any Birdie Fest event, I’m ignoring SG: ARG, as this figures to once again be inconsequential on a track that yields greens in regulation nearly 75% of the time. The most irrelevant stat indicator at the Rocket Mortgage Classic has been Prox 200+, just one more reminder that this course is in fact, not imposing to the field.

Taking the Top 10 Correlated Stat categories for this week at the Rocket Mortgage Classic, there are 13 players who rate out above average in all ten: Bryson DeChambeau, Cameron Tringale, Jason Kokrak, Webb Simpson, Brandt Snedeker, Lucas Glover, Vincent Whaley, Chris Kirk, Harold Varner III, Max Homa, Pat Perez, Gary Woodland, and Doc Redman.

Spotlight: Bryson DeChambeau

Bryson DeChambeau flashes newfound power in Rocket Mortgage Classic victory

An emotional PGA Tout tweeted this sentiment in February, flustered after Bryson, the #1 Driving Distance and #1 Poa Player in the Field went on to embarrassingly miss the cut at the Genesis, a course that has historically always favored players with Driving Distance who thrive on Poa.

A more level-headed Geoff Feinberg reacted with this:

It looks like I’m only going to make it 4 months before going back on my word; Geoff was right. There is a time and a place for a blacklist. Cameron Tringale and Aaron Wise have a more permanent residence on that list for me after they made a mockery of my outright hopes earlier this season. They do not have the competitive/mental fortitude to win, and I will have no regrets if I ever do miss out on their next wins. But removing myself from the emotional turmoil that was the 2021 Genesis Invitational, Bryson DeChambeau is not blacklist material. He’s not bad, he’s severely volatile. He’s going to win a lot and he’s going to miss the cut a lot. In the world of outrights and GPPs, that type of player should always be in consideration. I’m really not one to dip into the sub-20/1 range for outrights, but lately the favorites have been on a pretty good run which has made me reconsider my old philosophy. Jon Rahm just won the US Open as the favorite, Jordan Spieth nearly won the Charles Schwab as the favorite and set up for an easy hedge opportunity when he didn’t, and the last time Bryson was at the very top of the board as a favorite, he won the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

So with all of that in mind, I’m already committed to betting Bryson DeChambeau outright to win the Rocket Mortgage Classic for the second year in a row, regardless of where his odds land. All of the talk leading into this event last year was that Bryson was going to win it. I agreed with that sentiment, and still didn’t bet him because I thought his odds (~10/1) were un-bettable. I mean, when you think about it, this course has 4 Par 5s and 4 Par 4s inside 400 yards, so that’s 8 holes where Bryson should either be chipping his Approaches from inside 50 yards, or already be on the green for Eagle putts. DeChambeau led the field in both SG: OTT and SG: P at this event last year en route to an easy 3 stroke victory, and while you can’t expect him to gain 7.8 strokes putting every time he comes here, the OTT prowess is more sustainable, and we can expect more positive regression from the irons, which he lost strokes with here in 2020.

At this course, I really only want to consider players who are great at Opportunities Gained, Birdies or Better Gained, Scoring in Easy Conditions, and Poa Putting. There is only one player in this field who ranks Top 30 in each of those categories, and he happens to fall inside the Top 10 of each of them too. Bryson DeChambeau. That’s it, that’s the list.

Bryson cares about winning PGA Tour Player of the Year honors, and as it stands right now with 2 wins this Tour season at the US Open and Arnold Palmer Invitational, he’d be the presumptive front runner if the season ended today in my eyes. But adding one more victory to his 2020-2021 resume would all but lock that award in for Bryson, and there’s no event remaining on the schedule that is more winnable for him than the Rocket Mortgage Classic.

What To Look Out For at the 2021 Rocket Mortgage Classic

Nate Lashley won the inaugural Rocket Mortgage Classic in 2019 with notice on Wednesday that he’d be the last alternate in the field, and runner up that year was Doc Redman, who Monday Qualified to get in. The very next year, Bryson DeChambeau won as the odds on favorite. It doesn’t get any more polar opposite than that in terms of forecasting a winner, but so is often the case on easy, putting contest tracks. As an added wrinkle this year, the Detroit area looks be getting hammered with sustained heavy rainfall all week, which has already lead to speculation that we may be getting a 5-day tournament if weather stoppages become necessary. Wet conditions will only make the scoring easier, and should favor players with longer Driving carry distance such as, and I’m just throwing a name out here, Bryson DeChambeau.

With all the course fit profiles in mind this week, I’m leaning early towards the below player pool, broken out by projected pricing/odds tier.

My model this week puts a premium on Opportunities Gained, Birdies or Better Gained, SG: TOT on Easy Courses, and Recent + Poa Putting, followed by a steady mix of SG: APP, SG: TOT L24, Good Drives Gained, Par 5 Scoring, and Par 4 0-400 Scoring. Surprise, surprise, the top dog this week for me is Bryson DeChambeau. The rest of my model’s Top 10 is rounded out by Charley Hoffman, Jason Kokrak, Patton Kizzire, Si Woo Kim, Cameron Tringale, Troy Merritt, Patrick Reed, Max Homa, and Joaquin Niemann. Hideki Matsuyama and Webb Simpson are also honorable mentions this week, falling just outside at #11 and #12.