Just like Shane Lowry, golf fans around the world are suffering from a serious hangover this week. But it’s not from drinking Guinness out of the Claret Jug all night long, but rather because the Open Championship was the final major of 2019 and we’re now 262 days away from the next one.
To take a bit of the sting out of this cold and sad reality, fans are at least are treated to a WGC event this week where most of the Top 50 golfers in the world will tee it up in a brand new event on a very familiar golf course. This week Memphis hosts the WGC – FedEx St. Jude Invitational at TPC Southwind.
Here’s everything to know about the tournament before placing any wagers on it.
As of right now, 46 of the Top 50 golfers in the world will make the flight across the Atlantic to head to TPC Southwind to play in this week’s event. The four golfers inside the Top 50 who are skipping this event are Bernd Wiesberger, Francesco Molinari, Rickie Fowler and Tiger Woods. Though it certainly doesn’t make FedEx thrilled that the world’s most popular golfer won’t be playing in its maiden voyage as an official sponsor of a WGC, Tiger is absolutely doing the right thing by skipping this event. Though the golf course is not one that would be taxing on his back like Royal Portrush was, and the warm and muggy temperatures would help with his flexibility, Tiger looked like a man out of gas in Northern Ireland. While he still claims he’ll be back for the playoffs, I wouldn’t be surprised if we don’t see him until the BMW Championship in Medinah, which is the 2nd of three legs of the FedEx Cup.
Thought it’s not confirmed, Shane Lowry likely will be skipping this week’s tournament as well. He reportedly will be returning to his hometown of Clara to hold a rally to commemorate his Open Championship victory. But even if his schedule was clear he has absolutely no obligation to show up to Memphis and has every right to celebrate what likely will be the pinnacle of his career.
Lastly, golf fans and gamblers alike should keep an eye on Matthew Wolff, who is on a rocket ship to stardom after winning the 3M Open in his fourth career professional start. His participation in his first WGC certainly won’t be his last, and this will be a sneak preview into how well his unconventional swing can stack up against the world’s most elite players.
The Golf Course
For 20 years, this tournament was known as either the WGC – NEC Invitational or the WGC – Bridgestone Invitational and held at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio. Firestone Country Club was a regular stop on the PGA Tour since 1962 when it hosted the World Series of Golf, and was host to the 1975 PGA Championship won by Jack Nicklaus. In 1999, the World Golf Championship series of tournaments were born to create a “World Golf Tour”, and the World Series of Golf was rebranded into a WGC event at Firestone.
Meanwhile, the city of Memphis first hosted a PGA Tour stop in 1958, then known as the Memphis Open and played at Colonial Country Club. In 1969, legendary entertainer Danny Thomas struck a deal with the city to attach his St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital as the charitable beneficiary of the tournament, and the hospital has been attached to the event ever since. The tournament also found a permanent home at TPC Southwind in 1988, which has remained as its permanent home.
FedEx first came on as title sponsor in 1986, and after a brief hiatus in the 2000’s it returned as the flagship sponsor in 2009. FedEx, obviously, has a very significant presence on the PGA Tour overall. It is the title sponsor of its playoffs and offers up millions and millions of dollars in prize money to the participants. Outside the players, FedEx probably has the most influence over the PGA Tour of anyone or any organization.
With the reconfiguration of the PGA Tour schedule in 2019, FedEx took over the sponsorship rights of the WGC-Invitational and moved the tournament from Firestone to TPC Southwind. The tournament was moved to the week after the Open Championship so it could properly shine in the spotlight.
This move was a huge benefit for the City of Memphis, the St. Jude Children’s Hospital and FedEx overall. For one thing, their tournament was always the week before the U.S. Open. While a few big names who had associations with the children’s hospital always showed up, the event was one of the weaker tournaments on the schedule by being a week before a major. Now with its affiliation to the WGC’s, the biggest names would certainly show up for the lucrative prize money, which would greatly benefit the hospital, the city and FedEx economically.
Before I continue, I want to get a couple points out of the way:
1. There are a lot of tremendous charities in the United States that are assisted with their association to a PGA Tour event, but St. Jude Children’s Hospital is probably the most important one. We all have watched someone in our lives struggle to fight cancer and see firsthand the emotional and physical toll it has on both them and their loved ones. It is unimaginable to watch an innocent child suffer that same cruel fight. Danny Thomas built the hospital with the idea that “no child should die in the dawn of life”, and the hospital continues with that mission today by refusing to deny any child of treatment on the basis of race or financial status. If you have a moment, please click here and donate to the hospital. You probably have a few extra bucks to spare through Sports Gambling Podcast’s “Operation: Fade Tiger”, and you can make a lot of difference in a child’s life through your bookie’s expense.
2. I have absolutely no beef with the City of Memphis. I’ve taken business trips there, enjoyed Beale Street, eaten authentic Memphis BBQ and had a wonderful time downtown in my visits. It’s a passionate sports town that will defend the greatness of their teams to the death between their love of the Grizzlies and the Memphis Tigers. As someone who lives sandwiched between a small market professional sports town and another where the university sports team is life and death, I know the constant chip that is on their shoulders whenever other larger markets try and talk down to them.
I say both these things because “Memphis Twitter” has not enjoyed being picked on by golf media this week. Notably, CBS Golf Analyst Kyle Porter was taken to the woodshed after his slight against Memphis was not taken too kindly from the good folks of the 901:
Yes, will be really jarring to play for a place like this… pic.twitter.com/zQW3JHRAcx
— russell (@ruw2117) July 20, 2019
This is the culmination of almost 10 months of the city being ragged on for being awarded this tournament. Golf media scoffed at the idea because of the negative perception of TPC Southwind and how it wasn’t worthy of hosting a WGC. They made jokes about how the golf course plays its way past the Initech and Inotrode Office Complex (which, by the way, is a joke I’m 100% guilty of using last weekend) and how the golf tournament should be renamed to the “Swampass Open” because (shocker) late July in Memphis is really, really hot.
When you take cheap pot shots against a sports town with a massive inferiority complex, the backlash like poor Kyle faced is completely expected. It was so much so that he had to go on Gary Parrish’s local radio show to apologize and clarify his comments.
My overall problem with this golf tournament is, surprisingly, not specifically with the golf course. Is TPC Southwind an interesting golf course – definitely not. It is as vanilla as one can expect from a typical TPC layout. These are the products of the golf boom of the 1980’s when building a subdivision around a golf course was all the rage. These golf courses typically have a flat and unimaginative tee-to-green design, with the only “creativity” to be had is an overabundance of water hazards, a fairway bunker guarding the tee-shot landing zone, the occasional dogleg to truly spice things up, and the same back-to-front sloped green guarded by greenside bunkers hole after hole after hole.
I don’t have any holes to spotlight in the column this week because, frankly, there aren’t any. This golf course probably looks exactly like a few in your neck of the woods, so what’s so special about breaking down a 420 yard dog-leg left that you all see at your local public track anyways.
But is it visually and architecturally offensive like some members of golf media are making it out to be – of course not! While TPC Southwind may be boring, there are certainly worse golf courses on the PGA Tour that I have reviewed on this website. Those abominations had features that made absolutely no architectural sense, or had features where it looked like the designer simply was showing off. TPC Southwind is what it is – a no nonsense golf course with the length to handle the best players in the world. There isn’t really another golf course in the area that’s able to accommodate a professional golf tournament with how long the players are today, so whether the snooty golf media likes it or not they’re stuck with TPC Southwind for as long as an event is hosted in Memphis.
That certainly doesn’t mean I’m kosher with this week’s tournament, but it has nothing to do with the city either. There’s nothing “unworthy” about Memphis hosting a golf tournament with a field of the best players in the world. The same goes if this tournament was in San Antonio, or New Orleans, or even Akron that hosted a WGC for years. Just because these places aren’t Chicago or New York, or doesn’t have rich histories of legendary architects that designed true classics, doesn’t mean there aren’t passionate golf fans that won’t show up to the golf course. If anything, I wish the PGA Tour would make more stops to smaller markets because the population becomes electrified anytime a major sporting event rolls into town, especially during the dead of summer.
Rather, my problem with the WGC – FedEx St. Jude Invitational stems more from the fraudulent pretenses that this tournament was moved to Memphis, and the overall joke the World Golf Championship brand has become.
With all due respect to the fine people of Memphis, but any of you who are propping up the St. Jude Children’s Hospital as a shield to justify why your city is lucky enough to host a WGC event this week is either completely naive, hopelessly in denial or willfully lying. We all know why the WGC was moved to Memphis this week, and it was certainly not for charitable reasons nor as some celebration of the city itself. FedEx was forking over millions to the PGA Tour prize pool for their playoffs, yet year after year their own golf tournament hosted in the city of their headquarters was constantly bypassed by the biggest names in the game. For every Dustin Johnson or Phil Mickelson that showed up, there were ten times as many John Merrick’s, Jonathan Byrd’s and Ben Crane’s.
Let’s call it like it is – FedEx bribed the PGA Tour with a bigger purse for its playoffs in exchange for the best players to roll into town on a better date on the schedule to ensure its tournament didn’t have the some low-rent field like it was the Mayakoba Classic and be a television ratings zilch. While I’m happy the hospital will be put in a brighter spotlight this week, we all know deep down who the real winners this weekend are and why this tournament is being played.
Putting all that aside, it’s officially time to acknowledge that the World Golf Championships are an unmitigated failure beyond repair. In 1999, they were formed in partnership with all of the leading worldwide golf associations to create a series of events where the world’s best would gather outside of four majors. The goal was to bring the best players to all corners of the globe with the intention of growing the game through stellar play on the best golf courses there was.
Over time, this intention has became lost, but it didn’t start with FedEx. This is a problem stemming back to the mid-2000’s during the height of the Tiger era. The best international golfers realized that playing in America was much more profitable than playing in any other international tour because of the huge purses Tiger was bringing to the table for everyone. This gave the PGA Tour a much more powerful voice at the table, and soon enough they were the ones that dictated where these tournaments would be held and where the dollars would come from.
The WGC’s have devolved into giant corporate sponsored golf tournaments offering little more than a bloated purse for a guaranteed payday that the players will happily accept. There’s nothing even “world” about it. Sure there are the WGC’s in China and Mexico, but both are places where golf is almost completely inaccessible to the general public. Golf is considered a luxury in both countries, as the vast majority of their golf courses are played at either private clubs that require thousands and thousands of dollars to join or at expensive resorts for tourists. While there is an intention to “grow the game”, it’s for the purpose of growing the game financially and not to inspire someone to pick up a golf club and head to the driving range.
That’s what makes me frustrated about the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Inviational because of the blatantly obvious reasons why this tournament is happening. The WGC brand should be held to a higher standard than normal tournament stops, but they are now hollow, soulless cash grabs. Most fans, however, don’t care about where these tournaments are held or if they fulfill some sort of goodwill mission statement. Even if these were held in parking lots, as long as the best players showed up so will the viewers and so will the corporate sponsorships. And as long as that’s what the international golf associations care about too, the dream of a true “World Tour” on some of the most beautiful golf courses in the world will never come to fruition.
TPC Southwind is a Par 70 golf course and the typical winning scores have been in the low teens over the last 10 years. Proponents of TPC Southwind will claim that the golf course is challenging as evidence by having the most water balls in tournament play since 2003. But just because a golf course has a lot of water doesn’t mean it’s difficult, particularly when the FedEx St. Jude Classic has seen as weak of fields as it has over the last 10 years. We saw this a few weeks ago at the 3M Open where that golf course had numerous water hazards as well, yet the winning score was -21.
When the best players in the world take on a point and shoot golf course with very little tricks, they’re going to eat it up. We saw this in last year’s FedEx St. Jude Classic when Dustin Johnson absolutely nuked the golf course with a -19 winning score. He was lethal with both his driver and his irons all week, constantly setting himself up with good looks for birdie to win the tournament by six over Andrew Putnam.
I expect the same thing this week when we put 50+ golfers on TPC Southwind that are more than capable of having just as good of a ball-striking week as Dustin had. Sure there will be a few golfers who are there just for the safety net of a guaranteed payday and don’t care if they bomb out early, but there will be several golfers with their A game that will pick TPC Southwind apart. The pros love long, straight golf courses with soft bermuda greens, and they should feast on TPC Southwind for four days.
As far as what to focus on for betting purposes, driving and approach stats are king this week. While I expect the rough to be grown a little higher to differentiate itself from a regular PGA Tour stop, that shouldn’t stop the players from hitting driver as much as possible. As long as the players aren’t hitting it all over the map, elite and long players off the tee should fare very well this week. Additionally, most approach shots into the greens are between 150-200 yards, and bettors should look at these relevant approach shot statistics to identify who the contenders will be.