LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — Kenny Perry has a pretty good deal these days, playing on the PGA Champions Tour, and he doesn't like to do much to disrupt it.
He babysits his grandkids on Tuesday. Heads to tour events on Wednesday. Plays in a Pro-Am on Thursday then plays in events.
But this week, the PGA extended him an invitation of a lifetime. Perry is at the PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club by special invitation, and if you were there for his first practice round at the club, you can see why.
It took Perry an hour to finish with autograph seekers after his round. A lifetime of golf is coming to a crowning moment this week, when he plays what he says is his final major in his home state, in front of fans who clearly love him.
"I mean, in my 30 years or whatever, 28 years, 29 years, I never really had to spend a lot of time signing autographs," Perry said. "To me it's a way of saying thank you for 30 years of support and thank you for your love and compassion for me. I enjoyed it for me personally. There were a lot of people yelling out where they were from, Glasgow, Kentucky, Bowling Green, Kentucky, all these little towns that are around Franklin where I live that came to watch and support me this week, so I thought that was neat."
The big question for Perry is, can all that goodwill have a role in willing him into contention at this tournament? And the answer? Why not?
Perry has played Valhalla plenty. He probably knows the course better than any golfer on it. And he has has built this season around peaking at this moment. He looked to be in peak form in last week's Champions Tour 3M Championship, when he shot a 23-under to win the event.
"I was using last week as a warmup to this week. To go in there and play as well as I did, it's really given me a lot of confidence for this week," Perry said. "If I can drive it like I did last week and hit these fairways, you know, I'm going in there with longer clubs than most of the guys, but my iron play is always still pretty good, and if my putter wakes up, I can shoot halfway decent scores here. I've played this golf course a million times so I know it very well, but I'm still learning the greens. But the sight lines and the course management and the way I need to play this golf course for me to be successful, I understand. So I'm looking forward to it. It's going to be a big challenge though, for me, it really is."
He has aches and pains now. He'll turn 54 on Sunday. Just getting around a course isn't as easy as it used to be. He's tried to battle off the affects of age and arthritis, knee pain and other ailments.
"I take, it's a product -- it's Chondroitin, Glucosamine, I don't know how you pronounce all that stuff, fish oil," Perry said. "I'm taking some things that seemed to have helped my knees. I've had two knee surgeries, one on each knee, and what I struggle with is uneven lies. That hurts me more than anything now. I struggle on an unbalanced lie. My knees give way and they hurt me a lot.
"I do a lot of stretching," he said. "I think that's important. I don't really do a lot of heavy weight lifting, but I think you need to be flexible and supple to play golf, you really do. And just by walking and watching what you eat; I have watched what I eat. Try to stay away from a lot of carbs and breads and cheeses and try to keep my weight down. I can get to 240 in a hurry and right now I'm probably 220. That's been good, and I need to keep the weight off my knees as much as possible. Just be smart. Those things have helped me to stay out here as long as I have."
One of the endearing things about Perry is how he has handled disappointment. He said losing the 1996 PGA in a playoff to Mark Brooks still is his most painful moment in golf — even more painful than losing The Masters after holding a two-stroke lead with two holes to play.
He walked off the course at Augusta National and exemplified class and grace in a difficult moment.
"(The PGA loss) taught me a lot about finishing and not getting ahead of yourself and thinking about the prize at the end," Perry said. "… I played very poorly for about a year and was always thinking about that event. But then once I got through it, the loss at the Masters really didn't bother me that bad. I won two weeks later at Hartford. I guess it just made me tougher more than anything.
"You can either fold up and kick the dog, whatever, be sorry for yourself and go on; but I didn't look at it that way. I love playing golf. I love competing, and I love providing for my family. It's been a great career. I've met a lot of people along the way. I've traveled the world. The experiences are what I call scrapbooking. You've got all these things in your life that's made you who you are in your life."
Valhalla also is the site of his greatest experience — the 2008 U.S. victory in the Ryder Cup, his father in bib overalls coming to embrace him after the win.
The galleries following him on Tuesday were loud and affectionate.
This is Perry's moment, no matter how he plays. But he thinks he can play well.
"I guess timing is everything, has been in my career," Perry said. "I get hot and when I get hot, things happen for KP. I just get on these hot runs to where for a month there, I'll play great golf and I'll win golf tournaments and I'll shoot low scores. That's what happened to me last summer in Omaha and at Fox Chapel. I just started shooting 63s and 64s. I can't explain why. I wish I knew why, I would have done it early. That's just the nature of my game."
Has he allowed himself to think about what Sunday might be like, his birthday, if he were within striking distance? You better believe it.
"That would be a Cinderella story to be competitive on your birthday, at 54 years old. I thought about it, but that's dreamland really. I've got a lot more gray hair than I did back in ‘96. The difference, I'm a lot older. I just want to be competitive. If I can somehow make the cut and get out there-- I'm excited about my pairing, I have Henrik Stenson and Ryan Moore, and then I have Bubba (Watson) and Rory (McIlroy) and Martin Kaymer right behind me and I have Tom Watson right in front of me. So they throw me right in the mix of all the great players, so Kentucky is going to see me either have a lot of nerves -- hopefully I can enjoy it and soak it all in, and whatever happens, happens.
"I'm not trying to be the best golfer in the world anymore," Perry said. "I'm just trying to enjoy each and every moment I've got, and that's just kind of how I'm approaching this week. I'm playing good golf. I played great last week, but this is a totally different golf course, and it's going to take a great effort from me just to even be competitive. I've got to really do a lot of things right and not make many mistakes. But if not, you know, that's golf. We all play golf and we all know how tough it is, and we have our moments and we don't have our moments."
Either way, Perry insists, it won't ruin how special this week will be for him, and for his family.
"This is where I love to go, and to me, this is the pinnacle of golf in Kentucky and just excited for the opportunity to go out the back door one more time, as they say, one more time," Perry said.
With about 100 family and friends, and thousands of Kentuckians cheering him on, whatever happens for Perry this week, he won't go through it alone.
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