DETROIT — Lefty has left the 3-1-3. But he made his mark, both on and off the golf course.
Phil Mickelson's first time playing a professional golf tournament in the city limits of Detroit, and his first time playing in the Metro Detroit area since the PGA Championship in 2008, came to an end around midday Sunday. The golf was mediocre, as he finished 3 under after a third consecutive par-72 at Detroit Golf Club. But the show was spectacular, at least if your barometer is crowd size and ticket sales, which for title sponsor Rocket Mortgage, it most certainly is.
"He moves the needle," said Ryan Brehm, the Mount Pleasant native, Traverse City resident and Michigan State alum who got to play a couple of 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 of Detroit love him.
"Phil handled it brilliantly, like he does."
Mickelson, 51, the 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 was in the headlines even before teeing it up, when The Detroit News reported Tuesday about his gambling ties to a mob-connected Grosse Pointe Park bookie. Mickelson was reportedly cheated out of $500,000, and wasn't accused of wrongdoing.
Immediately, Mickelson's team jumped into action, questioning the timing of the story — the deposition transcripts that unearthed the ties were unsealed three years ago, but were just discovered by a reporter during a court case last month; the story had never been publicly told — and rallying the fans.
He used his Twitter account — only created in 2018 — as his megaphone, interacting with fans and media, firing off several tweets during a lengthy rain delay Thursday.
"I never understood how impactful social media can be," said Mickelson, who has nearly 750,000 followers. "When some stuff happened this week, it was nice to have a voice."
The fans, of course, rallied behind him, in droves. His gallery Thursday was loud and rowdy, and it was even rowdier Friday after Mickelson had said the night before he wouldn't come back to Detroit in 2022 because of the "divisive" report. As he approached the first tee Friday, fans loudly chanted support, and were egged on to keep going by playing partner Rickie Fowler, a Rocket Mortgage pitchman.
After Friday's round, during which he was serenaded with a whole lot of, "Come back Phil!" cries, Mickelson changed his tune and said he'd be back — if an online petition started in Detroit got the 50,000 signatures, and those 50,000 signers did one act of random kindness for somebody in the community. Mickelson kicked off that effort with a $100,000 donation to the Detroit Children's Foundation.