The World Is Watching

July 24th, 2020


(published in The Daily Memphian)

The World Series really has nothing to do with the world. It’s as American as Cracker Jacks and the seventh inning stretch, and it be may be called on account of plague this year.

The Super Bowl is about American football. In the rest of the world, football is about soccer, and any kind of football will look very different this year in empty stadiums if at all.

The NBA, the best in the world at an American game, will play their championship this year in a made-up format in a bubble in the make-believe world of Disney.

The Olympics are off this year, but when they would have been televised another international championship will take their place. Next week, the best in the world in a truly international sport will compete in one of that sport’s nine premier events worldwide.

Right here.

Memphis has been honored to have, and worked like hell to keep, a prestigious PGA Tour stop here since 1958. First called the Memphis Open, it was held at the old Colonial Country Club – a short, tight, old-school layout where Target, Hilton’s operations headquarters, condos, offices and shops are today – about a good drive and a solid five iron from my school, White Station.

If one were so inclined, one could have cut class, crossed the railroad tracks on Southern behind the Knickerbocker restaurant (whose owner, Vernon Bell, co-founded the tournament), slip under the ropes, run across the 9th as Jack Nicklaus was teeing off, see Arnold Palmer drive the short 10th, and Ray Floyd play the whole round in the Memphis heat in a pair of black leather pants. I was so inclined, and I did.

But next week is different.

The tournament evolved into the Danny Thomas Memphis Classic benefitting St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and moved to the new Colonial in Cordova in 1972, the longest track on the tour at the time.

If one were so inclined, one could have blown off work on a Friday in 1977, grabbed a beer and a Pronto Pup, and another beer, and walked with Al Geiberger as he shot the first 59 in tour competition in history. I was so inclined, and I did.

But next week is different.

The tournament has been at TPC Southwind since 1989, and it’s no longer about my memories or yours, sweet as they may be. Keep them, share them, but understand what the city has become since that first tournament in 1958 and what the city might aspire to be going forward. Perhaps nothing else reflects all of that as much as the name of the tournament now:

World Golf Championships – FedEx St. Jude Invitational

World Golf Championships. There are exactly four. The top 50 players in the world qualify and, along with the four golf majors and the Players Championship, this is now one of the nine tournaments professional golfers from every tour everywhere dream of playing in – not just for the money, for the prestige. The money, however, doesn’t hurt. Last year, Brooks Koepka, the number one golfer in the world at the time, won $1,745,000 here.

FedEx. Our biggest headquarters company, the largest employer in Memphis, and a name that has become a verb across the planet, didn’t exist when the Memphis Open began. But then, getting something somewhere, anywhere, absolutely positively overnight didn’t exist either.

St. Jude. The dream of Danny Thomas was still just that in 1958, a dream to treat and cure catastrophic childhood disease. His dream has been coming true since the hospital opened in 1962, and work done here, discoveries made here, have helped push the childhood cancer survival rate from 20% to 80%. It should also be noted that St. Jude was the first hospital in the South to integrate.

Like the event, the naming sponsor and the mission are world-class, and as Memphis as artesian water and barbecue.

“The mission of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is to advance cures, and means of prevention, for pediatric catastrophic diseases through research and treatment. Consistent with the vision of our founder Danny Thomas, no child is denied treatment based on race, religion or a family’s ability to pay.”

There will be few if any spectators at the event and that’s only appropriate. The St. Jude kids who tend the flags and tug at our hearts won’t be there either, and that’s even more appropriate considering possible exposure to Covid-19. But the best at this sport in the world will be there, and appropriate distancing is possible. Trust me, the game of golf causes even the best in the world to hit the ball far from civilization from time to time, and such shots discourage contact and conversation.

But even if we can’t be there, we should join the rest of the world and watch. Even if you don’t like golf or don’t understand it, watch these guys play it like nobody else can.

Come on. You miss sports. You’ve probably been watching curling in the time of plague, or Chinese ping pong, or Swedish cooking shows with subtitles, or bowl games older than your kids.

Next week is different. Next week is live. Next week is here. Next week is as good as it gets this year or any year.

Every swing is our shot on the world stage. Enjoy.

I’m a Memphian, and does anybody have the recipe for Pronto Pup batter?

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