Monday, July 29, 2019

Brooks Koepka: Memphian

Posted By on Mon, Jul 29, 2019 at 10:58 AM

There's an odd sensation to being a Memphis sports fan while away from Memphis. I spent last week on the North Carolina coast, a gathering of family scheduled before the dates of the first World Golf Championships-FedEx St. Jude Invitational were made public. Which means I had to follow, from afar, the greatest gathering of golfers the Bluff City has ever seen.
click to enlarge Brooks Koepka takes the trophy in Memphis. - CBS SPORTS
  • CBS Sports
  • Brooks Koepka takes the trophy in Memphis.
And what an extraordinary event it turned out to be. In pulling away from the world's third-ranked player (Rory McIlroy), Brooks Koepka — the world's top-ranked player, and rising — won his first WGC event, took home $1.7 million, and made a new fan for every dollar earned, it seemed, by all the glowing things he had to say about Memphis, the Southwind course, and especially, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. The greatest golfer in the world relished winning in Memphis.

Emphasis on that last sentence, as the lead-up to this first WGC in Memphis seemed to be dominated by one of the three top-50 players who chose not to make the trip. As one top-10 player after another — Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm — booked a flight to Memphis, social media throbbed with the question, "Will Tiger be here?"

After missing the cut at the British Open — and with health concerns, again — Tiger Woods chose to skip Memphis, again. The finest golfer of the century has yet to play a competitive hole at TPC Southwind, and you know what? It's Tiger's loss. I got called for BS when I suggested at the commitment deadline that Woods needs the Memphis tournament more than we need him, but I was precisely right. Tournament director Darrell Smith and his staff have put on a world-class event for years, and in support of the fight against childhood cancer. For crying out loud, anyone who chooses not to be part of such a weekend is missing more than a paycheck.

Let's pause a moment to relish the international impact of last weekend's tournament. At the end of the first found last Thursday, seven countries were represented among the top 12 players. Koepka and McIlroy were not among them. And it kept getting better. At the end of play Friday, five players were within three shots of the leader, England's Matthew Fitzpatrick, but Koepka still wasn't among them. With a 64 in Saturday's third round, Koepka climbed into second place, behind McIlroy who shot an 8-under-par 62. So two of the world's top three players walked Southwind's 18 holes Sunday, the planet's golf axis tilting here in Memphis. You had to wonder if Woods was watching, wherever he happened to be nursing what ails him.

I got home in time to see the final few holes on TV, to see St. Jude patients greeting the leaders as they finished a tournament the players will remember as much as us fans (even those of us getting updates during a cross-state drive home). There are days that feel like sunshine at the beach, no matter how land-locked we might be at the time. I left the Atlantic coast Saturday, only to find the sunniest moment of my vacation right here in our back yard.

• It's been a slog of a season for the Memphis Redbirds, but two outfielders made some history last week. On Friday night in Oklahoma City, Randy Arozarena became only the third Redbird to hit for the cycle in a Memphis win over the Dodgers. All three cycles have come away from AutoZone Park, Mark Little accomplishing the feat at Colorado Springs in 2000 and Luke Voit pulling it off last year at Iowa. Then on Saturday night, Lane Thomas became only the eighth Redbird to hit three home runs in a game. It's an achievement he can discuss in detail with teammate Adolis Garcia, who knocked three baseballs over the wall last year in a game at Salt Lake.

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