This week marks the 30th straight time that TPC Southwind in Memphis, Tennessee has played host to The FedEx St. Jude Classic and the 11th year in a row that it has served as the final tune up for The U.S. Open. The tournament hasn’t ever been a massively star-studded draw, primarily due to its position on The Tour schedule, but this year the field feels particularly diluted. Only nine players ranked in the Top 50 in the world will tee it up here this week and only two that are ranked in the Top 10.
What’s ironic however, is that the golf course is very good and players love it. In 2017 TPC Southwind ranked as the 15th hardest course on Tour and in 2016 it was 10th. The course is extremely fair and rewards good shot-making but will make you work when you miss a fairway or a green. Phil Mickelson will play this week as is always his routine to not take the week off before a Major.
“It’s really a wonderful golf course. I think it’s one of the most underrated courses or the most underrated course we have on TOUR. I like everything about Southwind. I don’t think it gets the credit it deserves, but it’s really a wonderful layout.”
Billy Horschel echoed Mickelson’s sentiments, “I think this is an underrated golf course. I think it’s probably one of the Top-5 golf courses (on Tour) in my opinion.”
And Brooks Koepka lends some insight into who the course might favor, “I think it’s perfect for bombers. A great course. Fairways are 60 yards wide, hundred yards wide, feels like. Hit it over 300 yards, it’s paradise for you.” Koepka is joined by fellow bomber and friend, Dustin Johnson here this week, who won this event in his very first visit in 2012.
But we can feel sorry for TPC Southwind no longer as The Tour has stepped in and given it an upgrade. The course will replace Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio as a host of a World Golf Championship. What was The WGC-Bridgestone at Firestone since 1999, becomes The WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational at TPC Southwind in 2019.
Ron Prichard designed the golf course and called upon Major Champions, Fuzzy Zoeller and Hubert Green for player consultation. As Koepka eludes to, the fairways are generous but neither Driving Distance or Driving Accuracy has proved to be especially crucial in terms of success at this tournament. And this is part of the beauty of TPC Southwind as both bombers and short knockers can get around this golf course without either one having a distinct advantage over the other. What is important off of the tee is efficiency – in the form of Strokes Gained: Tee to Green. Daniel Berger is your two-time defending champion and has led the field for the week in this area, on both occasions. It is a Par 70 and that always equates to needing to be successful on the Par 4 holes. The greens are smaller and feature some shaved run off areas, much like a few players in the field will find next week at Shinnecock Hills.
We can also look to some other golf courses in our handicap of The St. Jude Classic, that feature some similarities. TPC Louisiana is a southern venue, not too far from Memphis, that also features Bermuda grass greens. Colonial Country Club, site of The Fort Worth Invitational and TPC Las Colinas, the former home to The AT&T Byron Nelson, are both Par 70 courses that can be subject to wind. If you look at who has had success at these three courses, you will see many of the same names pop up when you look at TPC Southwind. As far as wind though, it looks like it will not be a factor this week. The forecast calls for hot and humid conditions with breezes well under 10-MPH and a possible thunder shower on Sunday.
Dustin Johnson (+650 Bovada) Johnson won here in 2012 in his first ever trip to the tournament. He is number one on Tour in Strokes Gained: Tee to Green and hasn’t finished worse than 17th in a stroke play event since September of 2017.
Brooks Koepka (+1006 Bookmaker) After sitting out the first half of the golf season with a wrist injury, Koepka has returned in a big way, finishing 11th at The Players Championship and 2nd at Colonial. He has two Top 5’s here in the last three years. Next week, he defends his 2017 U.S. Open title.
Phil Mickelson (+1770 Bookmaker) The last five trips to TPC Southwind read as follows for Lefty; 9th, 2nd, 3rd, 11th, and 2nd. He is number one on Tour in Putting Average.
Billy Horschel (+2500 5Dimes) We’ve noted Horschel’s love for this golf course and it’s easy to see why when you consider his four straight Top 10 finishes here. He was a winner just over a month ago at TPC Louisiana.
Tony Finau (+2500 5Dimes) This is Finau’s first time ever playing The FedEx St. Jude Classic but the tournament has not been shy about crowning first timers. He is 18th in Strokes Gained: Tee to Green and 2nd on Tour in Driving Distance.
Daniel Berger (+2985 Bookmaker) The two-time defending champion will be trying to make it three straight wins in the same tour event for the first time since Steve Stricker did it at The John Deere Classic in 2009 through 2011. He is known as a Bermuda grass putting specialist and has six Top 25 finishes this season.
The Long Shots
Peter Uihlein (+4372 Bookmaker) After a few years of playing on The European Tour, Uihlein has committed full time to The PGA Tour and has rocketed up the world rankings to number 48 with a 5th place finish at The Wells Fargo and another 5th last week at The Memorial.
Braden Thornberry (+9851 Bookmaker) One of the finest amateur golfers in the world, Thornberry qualified for next week’s U.S. Open on Monday. He finished 4th here at TPC Southwind last year, becoming the highest amateur finisher in the event since 1965. The Ole Miss Rebel was the Men’s NCAA Individual National Champion just one year ago.
Shawn Stefani (+12500 5Dimes) Stefani has struggled this season but has been solid in his last three starts. He loves this course and has recorded two Top 10’s in his only five visits.
Henrik Stenson (+1400 5Dimes) The only thing that worries me about Stenson is if his mind is set much more on next week’s big prize rather than the golf tournament in front of him. Everything else matches up however. He is 12th on Tour in Strokes Gained: Tee to Green, number one in Greens in Regulation, 6th in Scrambling, and number one in Par 4 Scoring. He comes off of a 13th place finish at The Memorial and has four Top 10 finishes on the season. He took 19th in the team event at TPC Louisiana at the end of April. Stenson hasn’t played here in six years but did take 13th in 2012. The cream should rise to the top against a weaker field and as well as Stenson has been playing, he should be at or near the top after four days of “Walking in Memphis.”
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