DETROIT — Gary Woodland left his news conference and resumed another interview while walking toward the Detroit Golf Club clubhouse when he was stopped in his tracks.
“Hey, Gary!” a man shouted, leaning against a rope. “Can I get a picture real quick?”
Woodland obliged, striking a quick pose with the fan. Earlier in the morning, a crowd gathered to watch him tee off in the Rocket Mortgage Classic Pro-Am.
Two weeks ago, Woodland was able to go about his business in relative anonymity.
He can’t anymore.
Woodland is making his first start since winning the U.S. Open, hoping to keep his game sharp a few weeks before the British Open.
“It’s nice to get back out here this week, get back to the grind, get back to the routine,” he said Wednesday. “It’s a little more difficult. A lot more people around.”
The popular player among his peers has had friends, who have won majors, share some advice as he enters the next phase of his career.
“Sometimes you’ve got to find a way to say, ‘No,’ and that’s easier said than done for me sometimes,” he said.
Woodland’s life changed month when he won his first major title, a three-shot victory over Brooks Koepka that prevented him from winning a third straight U.S. Open. Woodland had won just three times previously on the PGA Tour before his breakthrough at Pebble Beach, which altered the way he is now addressed as the 2019 U.S. Open champion when he’s introduced.
“That doesn’t get old,” Woodland said. “I love hearing it. But it’s one of those deals that playing this week, the guys don’t care. They want to play this week. You’re out here to win. It’s time to move on.”
Buick made a move in 2009 that took away the PGA Tour’s only regular stop in Michigan, ending its sponsorship as it emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
Rocket Mortgage is a division of Detroit-based Quicken Loans. The tournament in the Motor City replaces the Quicken Loans National on the PGA Tour schedule that had been run by the Tiger Woods Foundation in the Washington, D.C., area.
Dan Gilbert, the founder of the company and owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, is not expected to attend the event that marks the the PGA Tour’s first event in the city of Detroit because he is recovering from a stroke he had two months ago.
“For him not to be able to be here, yeah, it’s a bummer,” said Rickie Fowler, who has an endorsement deal with the title sponsor. “I wish he was able to see kind of what he’s helped create.”
The Donald Ross-designed Detroit Golf Club is a short course by PGA Tour standards, but the greens have significant slopes and multiple tiers that may pose a challenge if there are windy conditions.
“Off the tee it’s not too difficult, but where it plays difficult is going to be on the greens,” said Dustin Johnson, the second-ranked player in the world. “It’s a lot of slope, a lot of different locations on the green. It’s all little quadrants and you want to be in the right quadrant.”
In the days leading up to the tournament, a union and the Detroit Golf Club had negotiations on a new contract become public. A union leader says seven employees at the Detroit Golf Club are willing to strike at the start of the Rocket Mortgage Classic if they don’t get a new deal.
Teamsters Local 299 President Kevin Moore said the groundskeepers and mechanics represented by the union want a 45-cent per hour raise as part of a new, four-year deal. Moore was among dozens of protesters, holding signs and handing out flyers, near an entrance to the private golf club on Wednesday. Detroit Golf Club President Andy Glassberg responded with a statement, saying employees were offered a new contract with a benefits package worth 4% more than their current contract and 17% over the length of the deal.