"Hey," he says, calling maintenance, "these steps on 18 are slick."
"Yeah, they are pretty slick, aren't they?" comes the proud response.
"No, I don't mean they're good slick," Cannon says. "I mean they're slippery! We almost fell on our butts coming up here."
"Oh ... uh, well, we'll come see what we can do."
It's crunch time for the director of Memphis' annual PGA TOUR stop and after 33 years of working the tournament, Cannon has learned to sweat the small stuff. Slick steps during the tournament could mean trouble, and trouble is what he needs to stay one step ahead of. Cannon has seen it all through the years: horrible weather, great weather, miraculous comebacks, temper tantrums, meltdowns, tears of joy. He's been around some of the giants of the game -- Player, Trevino, Norman, Price -- and seen obscure journeymen take home an unexpected victory.
But Cannon doesn't talk about that much. If you look up "modest" in your Webster's Unabridged you'll see Cannon's picture. He prefers to pass along the credit to his staff and volunteers. He prefers to talk about what it feels like to hand a big check over to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital each year. He prefers, in short, to remain well outside the beam of the spotlight. "The story," he says firmly, "is not about me."
Or maybe one of the PGA's young guns will use Memphis to step forward, like last year when Notah Begay snared the trophy with a brilliantly precise 6-iron over water to the 18th green. And what about the other relative newcomers -- David Toms, Frank Lickliter, and Chris DiMarco -- all of whom have played well this year?
The field is rich, perhaps the best ever. Tom Lehman, Lee Janzen, Steve Elkington, Bernhard Langer, and Nick Faldo, who have all won Majors, will lend their luminance to the tourney.
So who will emerge? Who will kiss the trophy? That's the story.
Still, a little more about Phil Cannon couldn't hurt.
"When I was a sophomore at White Station," Cannon says, "I became a volunteer at what was then the Memphis Open. I went to college as a journalism major at Memphis State and worked in the sports information office with SID James Bugbee, who also worked for the tournament. He got me even more involved."
After "cramming four years of college into eight," Cannon stayed in the sports event business, eventually working for the Mid-South Coliseum for a number of years in the 1980s. In 1990 he went to work for the tournament full-time.
So what does a tournament director do the other 11 months and three weeks of the year?
"My old boss used to joke, 'We wake up, play 18 with Arnie and Jack, then go to the office and answer a few phone calls,'" Cannon laughs. "But that's hardly the case. Much of what we do is raise money to fund the purse and our operations."
And there has been more than a little left over. Since 1970 the tournament has donated more than $11 million to the children's hospital.
Cannon, who doesn't play golf, compares his job to running Memphis in May or an outdoor festival. "It's event management and all that that entails," he says. It's crowd control and logistics and food and beverage service -- and keeping the steps from being too slippery.
But the best part of his job, Cannon says, is working with the volunteers. "I always say to the media, 'You want a story? Write about our volunteers. What they do is incredible.' It doesn't hit home until you see it. We had a father and daughter who buried their wife and mother the Tuesday before the tournament started last year. On Wednesday they were here working. It's an amazing group of people."
What's the worst part of his job? Cannon likes it all. Except for one thing. "Every year I'm surprised by the number of people who come out to the tournament and get mad because they have to walk. I'm not sure what they expected, but I would tell Flyer readers, 'Be prepared to walk.'" ·
The Local Angle
Want to root for a hometown hero? There are plenty to choose from at this year's tourney.
The Germantown-based Roberts had the best year of his long career in 2000, with one victory and nine top-10 finishes. Known as the "Boss of the Moss" because of his pure putting stroke, Roberts' victory at the Greater Milwaukee Open made him the oldest winner on tour (at 45) since Tom Watson won at age 48 in 1998. He ranks 87th in 2001 money earnings ($288,937), with his best finish being a tie for fifth at the Sony Open. He is a former member of the USA President's Cup and Ryder Cup teams.
The 31-year-old Barron won nearly $200,000 his rookie year (1997) and finished 108th on the money list for 2000. He currently ranks 181st in earnings, with $52,449 for 2001. His three top-10 finishes in 2000 were a career best.
Playing out of Ridgeway Country Club, Micheel, 31, had his best year on tour in 2000, with three top-10 finishes and four top-25 finishes. His best tournament this year was the BellSouth Classic, where he tied for 11th. He ranks 119th on the money list in 2001, with $193,608 in earnings.
Gossett is ranked 20th on the Buy.Com tour this year, with $45,217 in earnings. After failing to earn his PGA card last year in the seven tournaments he entered, Gossett received a sponsor's exemption to play in this year's FedEx St. Jude Classic. He has finished fifth twice on the Buy.Com tour in 2001. Gossett, who is from Germantown, has played the FedEx classic twice, making the cut as an amateur in 1998 (after shooting a first-round score of 66) and missing the cut as a pro in 1999.
Though now playing out of Philadelphia, Mississippi, Daly, 35, remains a local favorite. The long-hitting, mullet-headed blond won two majors before he was 30, but well-publicized troubles with alcohol, gambling, and his marriage have eclipsed his early promise. He has only won two other times in his career. This year he leads the tour in driving distance (301.4 yds.) and ranks 100th in earnings with $254,260. · -- BV
FedEx St. Jude Classic Facts and Figures
· 44th Annual Tournament
· Title Sponsor: FedEx Corporation (since 1986)
· Beneficiary: St. Jude Children's Research Hospital ($11,498,416 since 1970)
· Economic Impact: According to a recent study, FESJC annually impacts the Memphis-area economy by more than $15 million; 88 percent of attendees are college-educated; 63 percent are at executive-level jobs.
· More than 1,500 volunteers contribute 20,000 hours.
· Attendance: Estimated at 150,000 annually
· Site: Tournament Players Club at Southwind
· The Course: Par 71; 7,030 yards. Eight lakes and three streams affect play on 11 holes.
· Field: 156 golfers. After 36 holes, field will be cut to lowest 70 scorers and ties.
· Purse: $3,500,000; winner's share, $630,000
· Television Coverage:
Thursday, June 7th -- ESPN, 2-5 p.m.
Friday, June 8th -- ESPN, noon-2 p.m.
Saturday, June 9th -- ABC, 3-5 p.m.
Sunday, June 10th -- ABC, 2-5 p.m.
A Reporter's Memories
bobby Hall covered the Memphis stop on the PGA tour for The Commercial Appeal from the late 1960s until last year. He retired from the CA in February and does some part-time work editing the tournament's publications. We asked him to talk about some of his favorite tournament memories.
First on Hall's list was Al Geiberger's 59 in 1977: "In those days," Hall recalls, "we had only a couple of staffers covering the tournament. There weren't any high-tech scoreboards so we didn't have a real idea of what was happening out on the course. I remember the day well because several cars caught on fire out in the parking lot and I had to go out and cover that. By the time I got back, the word was out that Geiberger was doing something marvelous. I was lucky enough to see him play the last hole.
"A million people will tell you now that they saw the whole round, but they didn't because it was only the second day of the tournament and no one knew what he was doing.
"I do remember that he wasn't a flamboyant guy. He made the putt on 18 and kind of threw up his hands and walked off. There really weren't a whole lot of people there."
Hall also witnessed tourney winner Jerry Pate jumping in the lake in 1981. "He pretty much told people as a joke," Hall recalls. "He said, 'If I win it I'll jump in the lake.' As it turned out, of course, he did win and people held him to it. He didn't even hesitate."
Through the years weather has wreaked havoc on the tournament, including torrential rains, blistering heat and humidity, and even tornadoes. "During a tournament in the 1960s," Hall says, "there was a tornado warning. Everybody -- spectators, players, caddies, officials -- swarmed into the lower clubhouse. They were packed in like sardines, Arnold Palmer and everybody else. I remember there were some little old men -- club members -- coming out of the shower wrapped in towels. They walked out of the shower with no clue what was going on and here was this huge throng of people in their locker room."
Two-time winner Nick Price also has a spot reserved in Hall's memory bank. In 1993 the personable South African was on the leader-board every day of the tournament but didn't know if he'd be able to stick around long enough to finish since his wife was in Florida expecting a child.
"Each day," Hall recalls, "at the end of the round Price would say, 'I may get a call and I won't be here tomorrow. If I get a call from Florida, I'm out of here.' But he was kind and cooperative enough to let me call him each night where he was staying and let me know if he was going to be around the next day. He was really a likable guy and very popular here. He had a caddy named Squeaky who died of cancer."
Memorable shots? Hall's seen a few in his time. He followed Greg Norman as he made his three-consecutive-birdies charge to victory in 1997. He saw Notah Begay's pin-point chip shot on the 17th hole last year. But the one that sticks with him the most came in 1990, and it also came on the 17th.
"Tom Kite was stuck behind a tree about 190 yards out. He had to hit a huge banana slice around it to get to the green -- a nearly impossible shot. He hit it to within a couple feet of the hole and made the birdie putt. Kite said at the time it was the best shot he'd ever hit in competition."
How has all the new high-tech equipment affected the game? "How to judge that, I don't know," Hall says. "Sure it's affected the game. People say, 'What if Hogan had this new equipment, how would he play?' But what if these [current players] had to play on the courses he played? Back then they weren't manicured like they are today. Basically, I think a good pro could take a set of clubs off the shelf from Wal-Mart and play scratch golf, but I know everybody, including the pros, wants the top-of-the-line stuff.
"Of course, with my swing it doesn't matter." -- BV
The FESJC --A Brief History
The tournament was founded in 1958 as the Memphis Open with an initial purse of $20,000. It was held at the Colonial Country Club, which was then in East Memphis. Billy Maxwell won the first event and collected $2,800.
In 1960 the name was changed to the Memphis Invitational Open. In 1969 entertainer Danny Thomas agreed to lend his name and influence to the event, which was renamed the Danny Thomas Memphis Classic (DTMC). In that event's first year, 1970, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital became the event's sole charity. Dave Hill won the first DTMC and collected $30,000 from the $150,000 purse.
In 1972 the event was moved to the new Colonial Country Club in Cordova. Lee Trevino won the first tournament at the new layout.
In 1977 the tournament saw two notable events. President Gerald Ford shot a hole in one on the 5th hole during the celebrity pro-am. And just two days later tour veteran Al Geiberger pulled off what Sports Illustrated called "one of the most significant athletic achievements of the 20th century" by shooting a 59. No small feat when you consider that the Colonial course was at that time the longest on the tour. Geiberger's 13-under-par 18 holes still stands (though it has been tied twice since then) as a PGA tour one-round record.
In 1985 the tournament's name was changed yet again -- this time to the St. Jude Memphis Classic. One year later the Federal Express Corporation became the tournament's title sponsor.
In 1989 the tournament moved to its current location at Southwind. · -- BV