He was standing in ankle-deep hay right of the 17th fairway in Friday mornings Ryder Cup, having already moved golfs version of heaven and earth just to get this far. There was no chance Perry was going to let another obstacle ' no matter how big or clunky ' get in his way.
Move it! Perry barked. A moment later, as a TV crew scrambled to lower the crane and rev up the truck it was mounted on, he turned to the gallery behind the rope to his right. He waved his arm farther back in the same direction, and lowered his voice.
This being Kentucky, and Perry being from Franklin, two hours south down Interstate 65, the fans couldnt comply fast enough. Maybe because so many of them knew about his piece of unfinished business here at Valhalla.
I was nervous out there, Perry said an hour later, after he and U.S. teammate Jim Furyk hung on to halve their alternate-shot match against Europes marquee duo of Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood.
I never felt that way in my whole life. I had all the crowd chanting my name, it was phenomenal. Im guessing the Euros are kind of getting tired of hearing it, he added. But it was great.
In January, Perry was so far down in the world rankings that his chances of qualifying for the Ryder Cup team were as likely as the Cubs making the World Series.
His odds of being a wild-card pick were longer still. U.S. captain Paul Azinger said he wanted tournament winners, and Perry was already 47, a second-tier player whose best shot to step up in class and win a major went awry at the PGA Championship on this very same course a dozen years ago.
But then he went to work.
As a youngster at the Franklin Country Club, Perry gained a measure of respect not just by winning the second flight of the club championship at 12, but because hed practice until his hands were blistered, then cover them with tape and hit more balls. His father, Ken, was club president and a scratch player besides, and he wasnt going to cede the No. 1 ranking in the family without a fight. After repeatedly coming close, Kenny finally broke through.
He was 14 or 15, the 84-year-old Ken said recently. He didnt provide specifics, simply remembering that soon after, Kenny started shooting subpar numbers all the time. Perry played his first tour event in 1984, won for the first time in 1991 and soon after settled comfortably in the middle of the PGA pack.
Then, in October 1998, while he was in the middle of a winless drought that would stretch on five years, Valhalla was named as the site of this years matches.
He told me that he was going to play for the Ryder Cup in his home state, Ken recalled in an interview two weeks ago.
Good as his word, Kenny stormed out of the gate at the start of the 2008 season, won three times and locked up a spot on the team.
Its unbelievable, Ken added, how many people were pulling for him.
Some of those same people were holding their breath Friday afternoon as Perry prepared to try and free his ball from the jail of rough on 17. He and Furyk were decided underdogs to Garcia-Westwood in the final morning match, but they climbed back from 1-down through five holes to 2-up after 15 by not making a single bogey.
Then the U.S. duo made its first bogey at No. 16 with a chance to close out the match. And Furyks tee shot at the 17th was so wide of the fairway that even with the TV tower no longer obstructing his line, Perry would need a little more magic just to have a chance of saving par. He pulled out a short iron, hacked through the hay and executed a nifty little escape. But after Furyk hit their third shot to nine feet, Perry missed a par putt that would have closed out the Europeans a second time. Teeing off at the 18th with a 1-up lead and Garcias drive in the fairway, Perry picked out a line over a creek on the right and tried to hit his trademark draw.
In 1996, hed aimed for the right side of the fairway, overcooked it, and the right-to-left trajectory carried his tee shot into the left rough. From there, he made bogey and lost the PGA Championship to Mark Brooks in a playoff.
This time, Perrys tee shot went dead straight and into the creek. He and Furyk cobbled together a bogey 6, while Westwood and Garcia went birdie to halve the match.
Afterward, behind the 18th green, the Europeans sounded like theyd won.
Any time you get out of here like that, Westwood said smiling, its massive. We would have taken this, happily, standing on the 17th tee.
A few feet away, Perry wore a blank expression. The effort and his emotions had taken their toll. His kids and a convoy of pals from Franklin were nearby, and his father waited in a golf cart. Perry didnt accomplish what hed set out to do, but there were still two days to go and the consolation of ending Garcias 8-0 mark in foursomes.
They didnt beat us. We didnt lose. And, Perry said, brightening, we finally put a blemish on Sergios record.
Not such a bad day, after all.