This week (and next): the ten most memorable local sporting events I attended this year.
10) FESJC second round (June 12) — I like to walk the Southwind course before the weekend cut, when you can see a wide range of rising (and falling) PGA talent, young unknowns (Harris English in 2013) on their way to fat Sunday paychecks and players with major titles in their rearview, galleries shrinking as birthdays come and go. I followed former Masters champ Mike Weir for a few holes in the morning, his “gallery” small enough for each of us to hear conversations between the player and his caddie. In the afternoon, I set up camp near the third tee and awaited the arrival of the day’s star trio: Graeme McDowell, Retief Goosen, and Phil Mickelson. (Each man has at least one major title to his credit.) I managed to stay with the mass of humanity following this group for two holes. It’s said but not often seen so vividly: stars sell tickets. Phil Mickelson is a star.
9) Tigers 75, Connecticut 72 (February 19) — For the second straight season, the Tigers beat the defending national champions ... twice. In the first of two wins over the Huskies, three Tigers — Austin Nichols, Kedren Johnson, and Markel Crawford — each played 38 minutes, combining for 51 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists, and seven blocks (all of the rejections by Nichols). UConn star Ryan Boatright was held to seven points in 32 minutes and Memphis earned the victory despite being dominated on the glass (41 rebounds for the Huskies against their 27). This was the Kedren Johnson (21 points, six assists) many saw during his days with Vanderbilt. Such sightings, alas, were too few last winter.
8) Kei Nishikori wins Memphis Open (February 15) — Until Nishikori handled South Africa’s Kevin Anderson (6-4, 6-4), no player had won three consecutive championships at the Racquet Club of Memphis. Nishikori earned his eighth ATP title the hard way, dropping the opening set in his three matches prior to the final. The Japanese baseliner became just the fourth player to win three Memphis titles for a career, let alone consecutively. And he’s the first to proudly raise the tournament’s new trophy: a guitar.
7) Oklahoma 84, Tigers 78 (November 17) — Despite hosting this contest, Memphis was supposed to be little more than a welcome mat for the 8th-ranked Sooners. The nationally televised affair was filling a slot on ESPN’s round-the-clock menu, an introduction for Oklahoma’s preseason All-America, Buddy Hield. Instead, the Tigers took punches and landed a few of their own for the entire 40 minutes, taking the lead with just over 90 seconds to play. Hield scored 30 points, but Memphis freshman Dedric Lawson scored 22 and grabbed 15 rebounds (10 on the offensive end) to steal some spotlight. Had a three-pointer here or a few free throws there found the net for the U of M, we would have seen the Tigers’ biggest upset in quite some time. Instead, we got to know a team with far more promise than any doormat.
6) Colts 35, Titans 33 (September 27) — This is as local as the NFL gets. My first trip to Nissan Stadium in Nashville coincided with rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota’s home debut. The 2014 Heisman Trophy winner out-dueled Indianapolis star Andrew Luck (another Pac 12 product) for three quarters, tossing a pair of touchdown passes to give Tennessee a 27-14 lead after 45 minutes of play. Trouble is, NFL games are 60 minutes. Luck threw two touchdown passes midway through the fourth and Frank Gore dashed six yards for what proved to be the game-clincher with 2:51 left on the clock. I enjoyed the game with a friend I’ve known more than 40 years, which made the result all but incidental.
Check back next week for the Top 5.