This week marks the end of an era and the start of new one for the FedEx St. Jude Classic. Beginning next year this tournament becomes the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational, replacing the Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, Ohio as a World Golf Championships event. TPC Southwind, a 7,244-yard, par-70 track designed by Ron Prichard and Fuzzy Zoeller hosts this event for the 30th time, and once again takes place the week preceding the U.S. Open. Here are five things you need to know about the 61st annual FedEx St. Jude Classic.
Inside the Field
Eight previous FedEx St. Jude champions and 12 major champions are in the 156-man field this week, including five players in the top-20 in the OWGR. Dustin Johnson returns to Memphis after a one-year hiatus and it the field’s highest-ranked player. Brooks Koepka owns two top-3 finishes in three previous trips here. Crowd favorite Phil Mickelson has finished in the top-11 in his last six appearances at TPC Southwind, including three top-3 finishes. While two-time defending champion Daniel Berger will look to become just the 27th player in PGA Tour history to win the same event three years in a row.
How Memphis got a WGC
With the contract between Bridgestone and Firestone Country Club set to expire after the 2018 season, FedEx stepped in and pressured the Tour to give Akron’s WGC event to Memphis, where FedEx is headquartered. FedEx pours in millions of dollars into the FedExCup ever year, and Bridgestone’s sponsorship budget simply couldn’t compete with that. TPC Southwind will have big shoes to fill next year, as the South Course at Firestone has always been a player favorite on Tour. Perhaps none more than Tiger Woods – who’s dominated WGC-Bridgestone with eight victories in 19 starts since 1999.
Preparation for the U.S. Open or just a Warm-Up?
No player has ever won a tournament the week before the U.S. Open and then gone on to win the U.S. Open, and the FedEx St. Jude Classic has been slotted in this position every year since 2007. Nevertheless, TPC Southwind does what it can to replicate specific challenges players will find the following week. In 2010 fairways were narrowed to parallel those found at Pebble Beach. In 2015 fescue was added to give players a bigger taste of Chambers Bay. This year don’t expect fairways to be widened to replicate the chutes at Shinnecock Hills, but you’ll see even more fescue at TPC Southwind than would normally otherwise be present.
What’s Needed to Win at TPC Southwind?
Par-4 Scoring and Bogey Avoidance is always the story at the FedEx St. Jude and will be again this year. If you can finish two or four shots under par each day on TPC Southwind, you’ll be in contention to win on Sunday. Fairways are on the narrow side, but missing them isn’t extremely penal since the rough isn’t very tall. Seven par-4s come in at more than 450-yards and last year played a full stroke over par. Most approaches will be in the 150 to 175-yard range, and Greens in Regulation will be key as Southwind’s greens are among the smallest on Tour. Water is the main course protection coming into play on 10 holes.
Key Holes to Watch
The par-4, 457-yard 9th hole is a long dogleg to the right that plays slightly downhill. The second shot is played over a lake that fronts the green, and only an ideal drive past a large tree in the fairway will give you an open look into the green. The par-3, 157-yard 11th hole is a smaller version of the famous 17th at TPC Sawgrass, and requires a short iron over water to the island green protected by a pot bunker in the front. The par-4, 453-yard 18th hole is an excellent finisher, requiring two perfectly executed shots with water in play off the tee and on approach.
Mickelson has done everything but win at the FedEx St. Jude in his career (as noted above) and is coming into play this week in good form after a T13 finish at The Memorial. At Muirfield Lefty tightened up his accuracy off the tee and on approach, and his putter hasn’t looked this good all year. Mickelson’s ranked 3rd on Tour in Birdie Average, 5th in Sand Save Percentage, and 2nd in Strokes Gained: Putting. Taking advantage of the few scoring opportunities and grinding it out on the rest of the course is key at Southwind, and Phil’s doing that as well as anyone on Tour right now.