This week brings the 2004 FedEx St. Jude Classic, the latest version of a PGA tournament that has existed in Memphis since 1958 and has showcased, and even inaugurated, some notable careers. Ben Hogan has played here and Jack Nicklaus, and Arnold Palmer, and ... well, you name them.
Unfortunately, the list does not include -- and never has -- the one name that symbolizes big-time golf these days: Tiger Woods. Though Woods does not dominate the game as he once did, he is still its premier player -- arguably the best of all time -- and its biggest draw by far. At a time when, to put it candidly, the FESJC no longer features the very top tier of PGA tour contenders, Woods is the one marquee player whose presence could draw the others in.
Tournament director Phil Cannon performs prodigiously to attract a quality field. Among the factors that have made his task more difficult over the years are those of the calendar (often the tournament has been scheduled for mid- to late summer in Memphis' customarily blistering heat) and the perception that the Southwind tournament site isn't among the tour's most challenging. But the prize money for the FESJC -- $846,000 for the winner; $4.7 million in all -- is right up there, and all the tournament requires to claim its place on the leaderboards is a boost of the sort that an appearance by Woods could provide.
This might be a job for Memphis mayor Willie Herenton, who played a significant role in attracting to Memphis the 2002 "Fight of the Century" between then heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis and the number one challenger Mike Tyson. Perhaps the mayor should make it a personal mission to pitch golf's leading player, who, whether he chooses such a role or not, symbolizes diversity in a sport that was once only a game for white "gentlemen."