Tommy Buford: Distinguished Coach, Tournament Director, Player
It was 1953 and the Rhodes College baseball team was looking forward to getting its top recruit on the field. Unfortunately, the tennis coach spied the player accurately banging tennis balls off of the school’s gym wall. He never played baseball for the Lynx.
That was the beginning of a lifelong career in tennis for Tommy Buford. His impact in Southern tennis is as varied as it is impressive. His accomplishments include being a standout adult player, longtime and legendary coach at the University of Memphis, a pivotal leader in USTA organizations and the tournament director of the Kroger St. Jude Classic, now known as the ATP World Tour’s Memphis Open.
Born in Nashville, Tennessee, he lived most of his life in Memphis. He lived for three years in Jackson, Mississippi.
The Rhodes College website touts Buford as being one of its most successful men’s players. His early victories included winning the Tennessee Intercollegiate Championship in 1956 and 1957. He was inducted into the Rhodes Athletics Hall of Fame in 1997.
College success just got Buford going in competitive tennis. In 1962 he began playing USTA tournaments and defeated Lester Sack, who would be inducted into Southern Tennis Hall of Fame in 2005. From 1970 to 1982, he was ranked as high as No. 1 in doubles for two years and No. 9 in singles in the USTA Southern rankings. Between 1966 and 1983 he was never ranked below No. 7 in Mississippi, with 14 No. 1 rankings. He won the Southern 35s Singles and Doubles, 1974 Southern Closed 45s Doubles and the 1979 Southern Senior Open Championships, along with at least nine state championships.
Playing with his son, Tiger, he won the 1981 USTA Father/Son Clay Court Doubles Championship, an especially proud accomplishment for the elder Buford.
His tenure as University of Memphis head tennis coach began in 1966 and helped Memphis return men’s tennis as an intercollegiate sport in 1967. Leading the Tigers until 1998, he posted a career mark of 441-262-3 over 32 seasons. He guided the Tigers to six Metro Conference titles and five second place finished in the league standings. He had five teams win 20 or more matches in a single season.
Probably his greatest Memphis player was Mel Purcell, who is also being inducted into the Southern Tennis Hall of Fame in 2016.
He was also inducted into the Tennessee Tennis Hall of Fame in 1996 and the University of Memphis’ M Club Hall of Fame in 2005.
Buford began teaching tennis at Racquet Club of Memphis began in 1974. He helped put Memphis on the international tennis map as Kroger St. Jude Classic/US Indoor Tournament Director in the 1980s. The event raised $2.6 million for St. Jude and was voted the leading ATP World Tour event. In 1985 he was voted by tour professional players as one of the world’s top six tennis officials. He represented North American tournaments on the ATP Tournament Council for numerous years, including a turbulent period in which players threatened to strike.
But, Buford had another host of accomplishments as a USTA volunteer. He was the USTA Southern Delegate-at-Large and a Southern Tennis Patrons Foundation Trustee from 1979-84. He was the chair of four Southern committees and a member of another committee.
The United States defeated Argentina in the 1979 Americas Inter-Zonal final and Buford was the event organizer.
At the national level, Buford was a charter member of the USTA League Committee and a member of the Membership Committee for Clubs and the Membership Committee for Individuals. In Mississippi, he was the State President from 1977-78 and a member of the Board of Directors and Tennis Foundation of Mississippi for three years, along with the Tennis Hall of Fame Committee.
He also had a standout career as an official and referee, handling the Southern Senior Championships for 13 years and USTA 55-65 Men’s Clay Court in 1982.
Is Buford slowing down? Last spring, at the age of 81, he coached the Boise High boys’ team to its tenth state championship.
Tommy Buford, Mississippi & Tennessee, inducted in 2016
- The Rhodes College tennis coach recruited him off the baseball team in 1953 and he became one of the school’s most successful players winning the Tennessee Intercollegiate Championship in 1956 and 1957
- Began playing USTA tournaments in 1962 and was ranked as high as number 1 in doubles and number 9 in singles in the South and won the Southern 35’s Singles and Doubles, the 45’s Doubles and the Senior Open along with 9 state championships and won on the 1981 USTA Father/Son Clay Court Doubles Championships with his son Tiger
- Head men’s tennis coach at the University of Memphis from 1966 to 1998 posting a career record of 441-262-3 and winning 5 Metro Conference team championships over 32 seasons
- Began teaching at the Racquet Club of Memphis in 1974 and was the tournament director for the Kroger St. Jude Classic in the 1980’s which raised over $2.6 for St. Jude and was voted the leading ATP World Tour event and had a standout career as an official and referee
- Chaired 4 Southern Tennis Association Committees and was elected Southern Vice President from 1979 to 1983 and a Trustee for the Patrons Foundation
- Charter member of the USTA League Committee and served on several other national committees
- Inducted into the Rhodes Athletic Hall of Fame, Tennessee Tennis Hall of Fame and University of Memphis Hall of Fame