Phil Cannon, the longtime tournament director of the FedEx St. Jude Classic in Memphis, Tennessee, passed away Thursday after a lengthy battle with lung cancer. He was 63.
A statement released by the PGA TOUR said: “We were deeply saddened to hear of Phil Cannon’s passing following his long and courageous battle with lung cancer. Phil was beloved not only in Memphis but across the PGA TOUR, a tremendous and highly respected leader who served 15 years as tournament director of the FedEx St. Jude Classic. Phil contributed so much to so many and he will be remembered as a man of great dignity who willingly gave of himself for the betterment of others. We extend our sincerest condolences to his family.”
Cannon was 14 years old when he first volunteered at the then-Memphis Open Invitational. In 1990, he became a full-time staff member at the event, which by then was sponsored by FedEx, and had changed venues from Colonial Country Club to TPC Southwind.
In 1999, Cannon was promoted to tournament director and remained in that position until a year ago. He then became a consultant to new tournament director Darrell Smith while dealing with his health issues.
In a statement, Smith said, “When Phil was diagnosed, he said he would fight this battle with grace, courage, dignity and a big dose of humor, and I know all who have crossed paths with him can attest to that.
“Phil often said the tournament was far bigger than one individual, but I can confidently say Phil Cannon made an unbelievable impact on the FedEx St. Jude Classic.”
At the time of the transition, Smith told the Memphis Commercial Appeal, “Learning from Phil was a privilege. I tell everybody being tournament director at the FedEx St. Jude Classic is a privilege. I don’t look at it as a job.
“I’ve learned this is more than about golf. It’s about the community. The relationship Phil built with the volunteers is just remarkable. They’d do anything for Phil Cannon. They’d run through a wall for him.”
Cannon was diagnosed with lung cancer in April 2014. Less than two months later, Ben Crane won the FedEx St. Jude Classic.
Asked after his victory about Cannon, Crane said, “Guys don’t ever get better than Phil Cannon. He’s a great guy. … He’s done a great job for this city, for this tournament.”
Bob Winn became friends with Cannon when the two were students at the University of Memphis in the 1970s. Winn worked as a volunteer at the FedEx St. Jude Classic for more than 40 years.
“I learned so much from him as far as organizational skills, management skills, people skills,” Winn told the Commercial Appeal. “He was such a mentor because he has a way of never offending anyone.
“Of the 44-plus years I knew him, I don’t recall anyone ever saying a bad word about him. He was such a people person.”
Cannon’s former college roommate Jimmy Ogle, speaking to the Commercial Appeal, called his friend “a wonderful guy. He loved his work and poured himself into everything he did. And he was respected by the community, whether it was the Memphis community or the FedEx St. Jude community.”
Memorials may be made to his alma mater, the University of Memphis, online at www.memphis.edu/wumr/ or by mail to the University of Memphis Foundation, Department 236, P.O. Box 1000, Memphis, TN 38148-0001 or Youth Programs Inc. (dba FedEx St. Jude Classic).