MEMPHIS, Tenn. — They’re all alive 10 years later. All 10 of them. One is even getting married.
Allie Allen flashed her engagement ring on stage Wednesday morning with the other St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital patients who’ve had a FedEx Purple Eagle plane named in their honor over the past 10 years. It’s about how long it has been since Allen was first diagnosed with cancer.
She had just gone through a somewhat harrowing build to this week, and to this particular anniversary moment at TPC Southwind. It was Monday that Allen, 23, had an MRI done on her brain for the first time in a year. She was worried because she’d been having seizures. This was the longest she had gone between scans. With her pending nuptials just four months away, the stakes felt particularly high.
Doctors once told her she wouldn’t make it to her high school graduation. She just graduated from Ole Miss and bought a house with her fiancé.
So the first FedEx St. Jude Championship, like so many of the golf tournaments with different names put on by Memphis over seven decades, also became a celebration of life. Allen still has a cyst and still has a tumor, but the results came back Tuesday that everything is stable right now.
Bring on that wedding.
“I’m hitting all the milestones I wouldn’t have imagined,” said Allen, all grown up from those days when a friendship with Zach Randolph first brought her into the city’s consciousness.
That, after all, is the point of all this, beyond all the great golfers this tournament brings to town each year, and beyond the controversy those golfers brought to town with them this year.
FedEx and St. Jude have been naming planes after patients for a decade, and those patients are all on track to be like Allen. St. Jude has been involved with the city’s professional golf tournament for more than 50 years.
How the rest of the week plays out almost seems inconsequential, even if this is the first time Memphis plays host to the FedEx Cup Playoffs.
This tournament will occur in the aftermath of an afternoon in court in which three golfers who bolted the PGA Tour for the guaranteed money of the LIV Golf Series tried to sue their way into making even more money back on the PGA Tour. The PGA Tour may have gotten a decisive win when a federal judge in California denied their request for a temporary injunction in order to play here. But this whole ordeal is shining a light on how off priorities are at the moment.
“It just lets us focus on the important stuff, which is the golf,” said Rory McIlroy.
That’s sort of right.
“It’s actually golf with a purpose,” said ALSAC CEO Rick Shadyac, and boy does it seem like the golf world needs a lesson in that.
Hopefully, Memphis can provide one this week.
Shadyac pointed out that when St. Jude first joined forces with the city’s golf tournament, the survival rate for the most common form of pediatric leukemia was 20 percent. Today that figure is 80 percent.
It’s true there’s no avoiding the discussion of this Saudi-backed competitor of the PGA Tour, of what golfers might be leaving, of how much money is being thrown around in what appears to be the start of an unsustainable battle, of what might happen next.
“You hear so many names, so many rumors, so many things thrown out, and that’s probably what’s been the most annoying part,” said Justin Thomas, who added it has happened everywhere from the putting green to the recent wedding of a friend.
So perhaps it’d be better if names like Riley were mentioned more. He’s the bicep-flexing 5-year-old who had a FedEx plane named after him this year.
Or Mackaylee. She became the first St. Jude patient to get a FedEx plane named after her a decade ago. Today, she’s a teenager.
Or Allie. Her plane still flies over the Carolinas, a symbol for why golf really matters in Memphis.
“We’re all still alive,” she said with the TPC Southwind driving range full of PGA Tour golfers behind her, and an entire life still ahead. “I haven’t stopped smiling.”
You can reach Commercial Appeal columnist Mark Giannotto via email at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter: @mgiannotto