Jena Sims is a beauty pageant winner, actress, non-profit organization founder and social media influencer with nearly 200,000 followers on Instagram, and she was sitting alone at a picnic table Saturday waiting for her boyfriend to make the turn at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational.
Memphis has become a constant since she began dating Brooks Koepka. She’s been here four years in a row. The first time, she had to be discreet because they hadn’t announced publicly they were a couple. The second time, they had a memorable visit to meet the kids at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. The third time — last year — Koepka won the tournament.
This time her visit comes in the midst of a pandemic that’s completely altered the atmosphere surrounding this event in ways both obvious and subtle.
“I actually get to watch Brooks play golf because usually he’s got such big crowds,” Sims said, “but I miss the ‘Hush Y’all’ signs.”
There is, of course, nobody to hush out here this year. When Phil Mickelson and Justin Thomas and Koepka were charging up the leaderboard during moving day, there were no roars that echoed throughout TPC Southwind.
As third-round leader Brendon Todd (12-under) battled with Rickie Fowler and Byeong Hun An in the final threesome, their emotions were largely subdued.
But this week, when the PGA Tour came to Memphis and most of Memphis wasn’t allowed to be there, is also the first week the Tour’s WAGs (wives and girlfriends) are allowed back on-site since resuming play in June.
So roaming around the grounds the past few days were prominent WAGs like Sims, and Paulina Gretzky (daughter of Wayne, fiancée of Dustin Johnson and owner of 798,000 followers on Instagram), as well as former track and field star Allison Stokke (Rickie Fowler’s wife).
The golfers’ spouses were, in most cases, the only members of the gallery this week. For the last two months, they’d been just like everyone else, forced to watch the PGA Tour on a screen somewhere else.
“This is way more fun than the app,” said Meredith Scudder as she followed her fiancé, Scottie Scheffler, around TPC Southwind.
They still had to deal with restrictions that wouldn’t have been in place without the precautions being taken due to COVID-19. They weren’t given COVID-19 tests upon arrival like the golfers and caddies. They just had their temperatures taken and got asked a few questions about their recent health before entering the property.
It means WAGs still aren’t allowed in the clubhouse as part of The Tour’s bubble policy.
But Sims, for instance, said she took and passed a COVID-19 test last Friday, “out of courtesy for Brooks because I’d been traveling.”
Stokke, meanwhile, spent the first two rounds walking and chatting with Jon Rahm’s wife, Kelley Cahill. On Saturday, Stokke was with Rachel Todd as their husbands dueled for the tournament lead.
Fowler said Stokke hadn’t missed an event pre-pandemic, and so perhaps it’s no coincidence that he’s playing his best golf in a long time with her on the course again.
“It’s definitely been nice to have them back out. Hopefully that’s permanent soon,” Fowler said. “They’re a part of our bubble whether they’re getting tested on a regular basis or not. My wife and I are together every day, so I’d like to have her out here.”
Some, like golfer J.T. Poston’s girlfriend, still get so nervous watching they “try to stay as far away as possible,” Kelly Cox said, standing on the cart path, a good 50 yards from where Poston was putting on the 9th green.
Others, like Kevin Streelman’s wife, found the experience of walking around TPC Southwind with no spectators around to be both “bizarre and peaceful.”
Courtney and Kevin Streelman have been married for 12 years. During most summers, when their two kids are out of school, Courtney can be found on a golf course watching her husband play the game he loves.
So when the PGA Tour informed golfers recently that their spouses were permitted at TPC Southwind this week, the family went to Alabama first to pick up Courtney’s parents and bring them to Memphis, too. They’re on babysitter duty while the Streelmans are back on the course together again.
“For our day-to-day lives, it’s been great,” Courtney Streelman said. “For me to be back out here walking with him, it feels more normal.”
Given how much is different right now, here at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational, here in Memphis, and all over the country, we all could use a little more normal. Even the best golfers in the world.
You can reach Commercial Appeal columnist Mark Giannotto via email at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter: @mgiannotto