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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

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At WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational, dreaming is par for the course

I play at golf two or three times a week, often doing no more than trying to make myself better by chipping and pitching in Overton Park or hacking my way through nine holes at The Links at Pine Hill in South Memphis.

Mediocre on my best days playing nine holes, my point of measure is 45 – five strokes per hole. If I get a three on a par three, well, that’s two under par for me. A golf buddy (Scott Hill) from my days at The Commercial Appeal introduced me to that gem and I’ve treasured it ever since.

My “game” is my point of reference as I “cover” the World Golf Championships-FedEx St. Jude Invitational at TPC Southwind this week. Two days in and I already know that I have at least two things in common with some of the best players in the world; specifically, those who are in the Bluff City in pursuit of a chunk of the $10.25 million purse ($1.75 million for the winner).

Frustration and bad shots are not limited to my 45-par peers. I’ve seen a fair amount of both so far. It’s just that most of those bad shots would have been great shots on most days for me. And the great shots I’ve seen? Well, at age 64, I’m still committed to dreaming.

Challenged with breaking news and deadlines, I arrived at TPC Southwind late in the afternoon on each of the first two days. With credentials secured, I located the designated workstation for The New Tri-State Defender and headed onto the grounds.

Two hours later, I’d gotten a feel for the course, following along with the trio of Keegan Bradley, Rafa Cabrera Bello and Aaron Rai. Since I mostly am photographing the tournament, I wanted to get my timing down; namely, not clicking the shutter release prematurely, freaking out the golfers and drawing the ire of men and women with stick signs that say “Hush!”

On Day 2, I was hopeful of photographing some of the more high-profile golfers such as Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Tommy Fleetwood and Xander Schauffele. I mention them because I stumbled across them as I wound my way from the 18th green back to the 16th tee.

Click, click, click, click!

As I marveled at Johnson’s long, perfectly-placed drive on 17, former City Court Clerk Thomas Long caught my attention. He was volunteering “inside the ropes,” following along with Johnson, Thomas and Paul Casey.

Thomas Long “inside the ropes” at the WGC-FedEX St. Jude Invitational. (Photo: Karanja A. Ajanaku)

Click, click!

With a few seconds for banter, Long, who loves the game, said he still is trying to shoot his age. He’s almost 70, which led me to think I’ve got at least six years left to average my 45-par, health permitting.

At day’s end, a 24-year-old pro – Matthew Fitzpatrick, a multiple winner on the European Tour – that I can’t say I’m very familiar with was atop the leader board (-9) going into moving day on Saturday.

His score for the day?

A six-under par 64!

GALLERY (Photos: Karanja A. Ajanaku)

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