On Sunday, when PGA Tour journeyman Nate Lashley walked off the 18th green at Detroit Golf Club with a 6-stroke victory and 25-under-par performance in the inaugural Rocket Mortgage Classic, it was a “life-changing” event for him and a metaphor for Detroit’s renaissance.
Lashley, 36, only got into the first PGA event within the Detroit city limits as an alternate due to his 353rd world golf ranking. Once in the field, he made the most of his opportunity by shooting rounds of 63, 67, 63, and a final round 70 to win the event comfortably.
“It’s a career-changing event getting a win out here,” Lashley said in his post-win press conference. “It gives you job security, it gets you into majors, you have two more years to basically get more comfortable and play better golf. So, you really can’t put into words how much this means and it’s just huge for my career.”
It’s a career and life that has had more than its share of travails. In 2004, when he was a junior at the University of Arizona, his parents and girlfriend flew in a small plane from their home in Nebraska to watch him play in an NCAA regional tournament in Oregon. They perished when the plane crashed on the return trip.
Since turning pro in 2012, Lashley has toiled on golf’s minor league circuits trying with varying levels of success to crack the big time. He even took six months off in 2012 to sell real estate but came back the next year. His journey was delayed by a knee injury that cut short his 2018 season.
In a tangible way, Lashley’s seemingly overnight success on the golf course mirrors the comeback story of the city of Detroit. Each had to overcome multiple setbacks in pursuit of the ultimate goal of winning. For the golfer, it was a matter of honing his game by putting in hours of practice time in a bid to be prepared for when fate and luck put him in a position to win. From there, he seized the opportunity and won convincingly against some of the best golfers in the world.
For Detroit, it was years of government mismanagement, malfeasance, and corruption, all of which led to the largest municipal bankruptcy (2012-2014) in the history of the country. The city was more than $18 billion in debt, it had no real way of paying it all back, pensioners were in danger of losing out on what was contractually owed to them, and many of the departments were poorly run and lacked new technology.
But Detroit, under Mayor Mike Duggan (who initially was elected as a write-in candidate), has turned the course and now is often referred to as a “Comeback City.” Consider the amazing turnaround of downtown Detroit, Midtown, and the riverfront over the last decade. Duggan was a major catalyst, but so to were Mayors Dave Bing and Ken Cockrel. Chief development officials like Walt Watkins and George Jackson also played major roles in developing sustainable policies to propel the turnaround.
Business leaders, corporations, foundations, and many others also joined the effort once it became clear that the city was “open for business” rather than certain elected leaders looking for “handouts” or “bribes.”
The path to the city’s renaissance was mostly led by Dan Gilbert, founder and chairman of Quicken Loans Inc., who initially moved around 2,800 workers downtown in 2012. From there, he moved in other companies in his portfolio or created new ones. He also went on a buying spree, acquiring more than 100 buildings that now have been mostly restored and filled with offices, retail stores, residences, and restaurants. Today, there are more than 18,000 people working for the Quicken Family of Companies.
And now, like a plant that is nourished, the growth is spreading to the neighborhoods due to the city’s outreach in repairing streetlamps and other infrastructure along with the organic formation of dozens of new block clubs and the work of community groups, nonprofits like Life Remodeled, and foundations. There’s also business leaders like John Hantz, founder and CEO of Hantz Group, a multi-faceted financial group, who details in an exclusive interview with DBusiness magazine (July/August issue now on newsstands) how profits from tree farming (or another cash crop) can be plowed back into a given area for beautification and infrastructure needs.
All in all, it was a great week for Lashley, who didn’t even know if he would be in the tournament until the last minute. And it was an amazing week for the city to highlight its progress in front of an international audience watching the Rocket Mortgage Classic — a tournament that Gilbert and his colleagues worked hard to bring to the city.