By Dave Shedloski
On a former dairy farm east of Memphis, the PGA TOUR makes its next stop, one with great history and aura. This week’s FedEx St. Jude Classic returns to TPC Southwind, a strong ballpark made tougher when those Memphis winds start to stir.
Home to this event since 1989, TPC Southwind plays 7,239 yards, par 70, with numerous water hazards that add further challenge to the equation. Daniel Berger handled the challenge last year, holding off the likes of Brooks Koepka, Steve Stricker and Phil Mickelson.
This year’s 156-player field features not only all of the aforementioned, but also world No. 9 Rickie Fowler and Adam Scott, ranked 12th in the world. Berger was the fourth St. Jude winner in the past six years to get his first TOUR title in Tennessee, joining Harrison Fraser (2011), Harris English (2013) and Fabian Gomez (2015).
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Once again, some young players of note round out the field, specifically, NCAA Division I champion Braden Thornberry, the newly crowned NCAA individual champion for the University of Mississippi, makes his first PGA TOUR appearance thanks to a sponsor exemption.
CBS Sports’ Ian Baker-Finch, who serves this week as lead analyst in the 18th tower beside Bill Macatee, takes a look at the landscape in Memphis.
What is it about TPC Southwind that makes for intriguing golf?
Since they’ve changed the greens to Bermuda, it’s different from the old days. Not a bad U.S. Open warmup, with greens that are firm and quick. There’s an ample amount of wind. Good ball strikers have done well there, but you better come prepared to play well, because you can get in trouble pretty easily if you’re not sharp.
This event usually draws strong fields before the U.S. Open.
Yes, because it’s a good test. Some players like to play their way into a major. Some like to stay home and prepare. It’s an ideal way to get yourself ready with some good competition and a good golf course. Plus, obviously, this event has a great sponsor, a great town, a great charity … all of the right ingredients.
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Phil Mickelson won’t play in the U.S. Open, so this week he might have extra motivation. Agree?
Yes, perhaps. Not ruling him out of the U.S. Open yet. Maybe there’s some way he can figure it out and play. If he doesn’t go to Erin Hills, this really is his focus, which can help him. He always plays well here — two seconds and a third the last four years — so this will be a great way for him to perhaps get a win again.
Adam Scott returns for the first time in a decade. Is this a good course for him?
Definitely. It’s just like home. This is exactly what the golf’s like in Australia. Hot, humid, Bermuda grass, firm, fast, small greens. It should feel very familiar to him, even though he hasn’t been here in a few years. He’s had top-10 finishes in The Masters and The Players. Even though he hasn’t played much, he’s been right there.
A few young players always get a shot at this event. Is it good to make your first TOUR start on a tough course like TPC Southwind?
It’s an excellent initiation for a young player. Let them be a part of the big leagues. I saw Braden Thornberry at the NCAA, and he showed no fear. I like the way they give a young kid an opportunity to see what he’s capable of doing.
Favorites and dark horses?
My two favorites are Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler. And then throw in Adam Scott, looking to get a good warm-up for the U.S. Open. I don’t know if you call Ian Poulter a dark horse when he was second at The Players, but I like his chances, as he focuses on maybe getting into the top 60 in the world and earning a U.S. Open berth. Kyle Stanley is starting to feel good and getting more confidence on the greens. He could do well coming off a top-10 at the Memorial Tournament.
Journalist and author David Shedloski of Columbus, Ohio, has been covering golf since 1986, first as a daily newspaper reporter and later as a freelance writer for various magazines and Internet outlets. A winner of 23 national writing awards, including 20 for golf coverage, Shedloski is currently a contributing writer for Golf World and GolfDigest.com and serves as editorial director for The Memorial, the official magazine of the Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio. He is the author of three books and has contributed to three others, including the second edition of “Golf For Dummies,” with Gary McCord. He’s a fan of all Cleveland professional sports teams, the poor fellow.