Mickelson returns to Memphis for FedEx St. Jude Classic

Mickelson returns to Memphis for FedEx St. Jude Classic

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Phil Mickleson added his name to the growing list of commitments for next month's FedEx St. Jude Classic.

The golfer known affectionately as "Lefty" is coming back to Memphis for a 5th straight year.

Mickelson has 3 top three finishes in Memphis and is a crowd favorite.

A three-time Masters Champion, Mickelson is currently ranked 21st in the world.

156 players will tee it up on Thursday, June 8 but there's arguably no bigger draw in the Memphis field than Mickelson. In a recent speech to the Memphis Rotary Club, the tournament director basically said so,

"Phil Mickelson's been huge for the FedEx St. Jude Classic. He's played four straight years. He's played well. He was right in the hunt the last two years. To be able to say Phil Mickelson is coming to Memphis every single year is just great for the event, for the city and St. Jude," Smith told Rotarians last month.

Mickelson is among golf's elite players who help drive television viewership. Here's a statistic that should get your attention: 18.7 million people in 175 countries across the world watched the 2016 FedEx St. Jude Memphis Classic on CBS and Golf Channel.

"They saw Memphis, Tennessee, FedExSt. Jude, and TPC at Southwind, things that make our city special," said Smith, FESJC Tournament Director since 2016.

The 34-year-old made a visit to the Memphis Rotary Club where he reminded the crowd that the 2017 event at the TPC at Southwind marks the 60th consecutive year a PGA Tour event has been held in Memphis.

"We're the 12th longest running event on the PGA Tour," Smith told Rotarians.  The tournament's 60 year celebration hopes to features some big names in the game of golf as well as a rising star on returning to defend his first PGA Tour title. "Daniel Berger is a champion we love," said Smith.

Now that Lefty is coming, the FESJC has a true golf superstar to welcome for its 60th anniversary party. The event has had its share of star studded marquee names win the FedEx St. Jude Title: hometown hero Dr. Cary Middlecoff (1961), Jack Nicklaus (1965), Lee Trevino (1971,'72, '80), Greg Norman (1997) and the world's current #1 player, Dustin Johnson (2012). The tournament has had its share of thrills since Billy Maxwell won the inaugural event in 1958, collecting a cool $2,800. Berger did considerably better than that in his inaugural PGA tour victory last year, pocketing $1,116,000.

The event has called three great Memphis golf courses home. There's "old" Colonial Country Club  (now a Target store, shopping center and office park on Colonial Rd. in East Memphis) where the tournament began 1958-71. It moved to "new Colonial" in Cordova (1972-1988) and finally, the TPC at Southwind in 1989.  Smith told the Rotary Club the 2004 redesign at the TPC at Southwind is a critical development in FESJC history.

"It's the best thing that's happened to TPC Southwind," Smith said.  "The golf course prior to 2004 was a fairly easy golf course by PGA Tour standards. A lot of the guys would show up, they'd shoot 25 under par, they'd finish tied for 10th, and they'd make $100K and go on to the next week. Now the golf course is a really good challenge for the best players in the world. That's important as we try to get the best players to come to Memphis on a yearly basis."

The FESJC takes place at a crucial moment on the PGA Tour schedule each year: the week before the U.S. Open. Smith and his team work every day all year round to invite the finest players on tour and live for moments like today when Lefty confirmed he's coming.

Although the FESJC is "the" golf week every year in Memphis, the tournament has striven to make this annual happening about more than golf.

"We want it to be a celebration of all things Memphis," Smith said.

The Saturday of the Masters Tournament, 1,500 runners trotted out to the TPC at Southwind for the Fairway 5K, finishing on Southwind's final two holes. The FESJC sold out an April event for women business leaders only: Executive Women's Day. Next month, the tournament's seven full time staffers will welcome the key to the event's success beyond stars like Lefty: 1,600 volunteers.

"Without our volunteers, we wouldn't be as successful as we are," Smith told Rotarians. Smith recently awarded one volunteer a 55 year service pin. They come from 28 states, as far away as California and donate 25,000 hours of service throughout the week.

Believe it or not, most PGA Tournaments charge their volunteers $75 apiece for the privilege of serving. But the FESJC doesn't charge its volunteers. Instead, the selfless servants of one Memphis' truly premiere events created their own peer to peer fundraising system called "Hours for St. Jude." The volunteers get friends and family to sponsor them for a gift to the hospital Danny Thomas opened in Memphis in 1962. With sponsorship from Blue Cross Blue Shield, the volunteer program has delivered $500,000 to St. Jude. In addition, the Wednesday Pro-Am this year will feature an opportunity for amateurs to play with two PGA Tour professionals, one pro on the front nine and a different pro on the back. This new wrinkle will give pros more flexibility with their Memphis schedule and amateurs the chance to tee it up with two different PGA Tour personalities.

Big things have happened in this golf tournament in years that end in "7," especially 1977. That's the year former President Gerald R. Ford made a hole in one at "new Colonial." It's the year Al Geiberger shot the first "59" for 18 holes in PGA Tour history and went on to win the "Danny Thomas Memphis Classic." Who knows what history will be made as the players battle for the champion's seersucker jacket this time out? One thing's for sure. It's going to be a party and a joyous celebration of 60 years of golf united with loving service to St. Jude that has invested $33 million and counting in its sacred mission. Welcome back, Phil and your 155 competitors! Let's tee up #60 in Memphis!

The FedEx St. Jude Classic is set for June 5 through 11 at the TPC at Southwind.

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