WGC Returns to Memphis


TPC Southwind won't be packed with galleries of fans this week, as it typically has been for decades when the PGA Tour comes to town. But make no mistake. With the World Golf Championships-FedEx St. Jude Invitational in town for the second year, Memphis will be the center of the golf universe for four days. The field will include the top eight players in the World Golf Rankings (at the top of the list, Jon Rahm) and 70 others competing for a total purse of $10.5 million and a bounty of 550 FedEx Cup points for the winner.
Defending champion Brooks Koepka. - PGA TOUR
  • Defending champion Brooks Koepka.

Defending champion Brooks Koepka and three other players answered some questions in advance of the most unusual PGA event Memphis has ever hosted.

There's irony in the absence of fans in golf, as silence is expected on each shot. Is it a different kind of silence, though, with no gallery?

Brooks Koepka: I'll tell you what, it's very weird. You're used to so many people following your group and cheering, and even when you hit a bad shot, the little gasp they do, you're used to that. It's a weird feeling. Sometimes when you hit one offline, you can see the crowd kind of scurry over there so you know where it is and it just now becomes a little bit tougher. I've had to do it a few times, but you're searching for a ball over there; that three minutes comes up rather quick. You don't have as many people searching for it. It is weird when you make a birdie and there's no applause, no cheer, no anything. It's kind of an eerie feeling, but at the same time, I'm just happy to be back playing.

Tommy Fleetwood: For me, I've always kind of pictured the atmosphere with crowds and everything, whether it be winning a major or winning a Tour event or anything like that. I always think about what that feeling's going to be, the reaction and interaction with the crowds. I think at times you've seen the emotion from players — which has been just the same — but there's no doubt about it, there's going to be less noise, less ebbs and flows momentum‑wise without the crowd living and breathing it with you. So maybe that does play a big part. Probably be silly to say that it doesn't, but we'll see.

Tony Finau: It's really strange. I thrive on that energy, having them out here. I don't mind the distraction of fans. That dynamic is amazing for our game. I miss that energy.

Rafa Cabrera-Bello: You miss the crowds, obviously. We want silence, but only for the moment before we hit. The rest of the time, we don't mind [the crowd noise] at all. We wish they were here.

Those watching the WGC on television will welcome any live sports in ways they haven't before. Do you feel like the PGA Tour is providing a form of stress-relief by playing during the pandemic?

Cabrera-Bello: I have no doubt it's been good. We have the opportunity to be one of the first sports back out there, as close to normal as it can possibly be. If there are fans who might not otherwise be watching, it will be good to grow the game.

Much of the season's rhythm was lost with the cancellation of the Masters and U.S. Open. Does this put that much more of a premium on a tournament like the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational?

Finau: Every tournament seems to be extremely important. No matter whether you're playing for Ryder Cup points, FedEx Cup points, world-ranking points. They're all extremely important because of how condensed the season has been. You look at every week as a major week.

Cabrera-Bello: We may play fewer majors this year, so that would give more importance to the World Golf Championships, but they'll always be a step down from the majors, unfortunately, for me.

Professional golf in Memphis has long been tied to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. Have you been able to visit the hospital . . . and does this connection distinguish the upcoming tournament on your own playing schedule?

Finau: It's a great tournament. The work they do for St. Jude is amazing. I've been down to visit that hospital. It's pretty cool. Gives you a sense of humility, seeing how grateful those kids are just to have life. I'm looking forward to competing there.

Cabrera-Bello: It's amazing. It's one of the best courses we play all year, FedEx has its headquarters there [in Memphis], and what they do to help the kids [at St. Jude]. When you can manage to save a kid's life, there's nothing better in the world than that. As a recent father, I can only imagine what parents go through when they have a sick kid. All the support — and not just financial, but moral — for St. Jude is truly unbelievable.

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