The PGA TOUR’s best and brightest are walking in Memphis this week at the FedEx St. Jude Classic at TPC Southwind. But it will be no walk in the park.
Home to this event since 1989, TPC Southwind plays 7,239 yards, par 70, with numerous water hazards that make precise shot making a must. Wind further complicates the challenge for the 156-player field headlined by world No. 8 Dustin Johnson and former Open Championship winners Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els. In addition to Johnson, 21 other players teeing it up this week have a PGA TOUR victory in the last two years.
Meanwhile, youth will get a chance to challenge these veterans. Lee McCoy of Georgia and Robby Shelton of Alabama make their professional debuts this week. As amateurs they did rather well, with McCoy finishing fourth at the Valspar Championship earlier this year and Shelton tying for third at the Barbasol Championship last summer. Matt NeSmith of South Carolina is playing in his first PGA TOUR event as a pro while Philip Barbaree, the reigning U.S. Junior Amateur champion, is playing in his first PGA TOUR event.
Fabian Gomez of Argentina is the defending champion. He was 288th in the world and 125th in the FedExCup rankings when he broke through. He is among three of the last five winners to make this event his first PGA TOUR victory, joining Harris English in 2013 and Harrison Frazar in 2011.
CBS Sports’ Ian Baker-Finch, who is lead analyst in the 18th tower this week beside Bill Macatee, takes a look at the landscape in Memphis.
This is a sneaky hard golf course, isn’t it?
It is, especially when the wind blows. And if it gets firm, then you have yourself a really tough test and, frankly, one that might actually be a good warmup for what a lot of the guys will face next week at Oakmont.
Phil Mickelson played very well last week at the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide. He seemed relieved to have some personal tribulations behind him. Will that help him going forward?
It will. His focus will be even sharper, and I look for him to be in the mix this week and for the coming events as well.
Young players will be a story this week. Robbie Shelton, Lee McCoy, Matthew NeSmith, plus a couple of good young amateurs. Would you be surprised to see them in contention?
Not at all. These young players today are ready to win right out of the gate. There’s no wait time for them. They play against good competition and have great instruction. And they get experience early. So you can’t discount any of them. When they step on the tee, they are ready to go.
Favorites and dark horses?
I have to go with Dustin Johnson, who has been playing well all season and is coming off another strong week at Memorial. And I do think Phil Mickelson will be a factor. My dark horses are mostly veterans like David Toms and Justin Leonard, guys who have won here before. Kyle Reifers has been playing well. And Colt Knost seems due to be breaking through soon.
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.