The Perks of Success

By Mercer BaggsMarch 25, 2003, 5:00 pm
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Craig Perks is a long way removed from the days when his only recognizable feature was the name on his golf bag.
 
That was more evident than ever when he arrived at The Tournament Players Club at Sawgrass and saw my ugly face on all the posters.
 
It all changed for Perks in the span of an hour. Quicker than you can say 3-2-4. That was the 36-year-old Kiwis finish to capture the 2002 Players Championship.
 
Tiger Woods said about the final stretch of holes at Sawgrass: Anything can happen on the last three holes. Thats where all the drama unfolds.
 
But never had the course, the tournament, or anyone watching ever witnessed what transpired a year ago.
 
After bogeying the 15th to fall one back of Stephen Ames, Perks chipped-in from 20 feet for eagle at the par-5 16th, made a 28-foot birdie putt on the perilous par-3 17th, and chipped-in for par at the par-4 finishing hole.
 
The result, a two-stroke victory and instant celebrity.
 
What I did not expect when I walked in this room Sunday, a year ago, was to get the attention that I would get, Perks said as he sat down in the interview room again on Tuesday.
 
I have the utmost respect now for the best players in the world who have to deal it. Its difficult. Its really hard to have that many demands on your time and still try and give your best effort you can on the golf course.
 
Having reached heights never imagined, Perks had two choices: become complacent or try to improve.
 
He chose the latter.
 
It was, in fact, a simple decision to make. For years he had wanted to make a change in his swing to become more consistent.
 
I was really sick and tired of being sick and tired about my game, he said.
 
Sick and tired of missing the cut well over 50 percent of the time, as he had done on the PGA Tour the previous two years. Sick and tied of having only two or three good events a year.
 
A friend once told me that insanity is doing the same things and expecting different results, and thats what Ive done for nine years, said the nine-time Q-School participant.
 
His problems were on full display in last years final round. He hit only four fairways that Sunday, nearly knocked his approach shot in the water at 16 and couldnt hit the green at 18 even after laying up from the rough.
 
'I knew a change had to be made,' said Perks, who also switched from Taylor Made to Titleist clubs this year.
 
Perks Players perks included fame and $1,080,000, but even more important was the five-year tour exemption. It finally gave Perks some security, and a chance to make the desired adjustments.
 
Without the win I probably never would have done it, he said. Basically, to get better youve got take steps back.
 
And Perks certainly couldnt take that chance while he was grinding, year in and year out, on the Nationwide and PGA tours, just trying to keep his card and earn a living.
 
The win afforded me a chance to really become a far better golfer.
 
In his search to find the proper swing coach, his current caddie, former mini-tour player Rod Erb, introduced Perks to Steve Aumock, a Dallas-based instructor who had been tutored by Hank Haney.
 
In a nutshell, I want to be on one plane or parallel to it at all times. My golf swing got very vertical in the middle of it and I had to kind of flatten out and catch up. Now its a little bit more rounded out, he described.
 
Ive been trying to do something in my golf swing, actually trying to flatten my left wrist, and within two swings we had it as good as Id ever had it.
 
Perks added that he wasn't dissatisfied with his previous coach, but that he needed someone to be there for him at tour events.
 
'Steve is 100 percent in my corner, will really drop anything at the drop of a hat to come be at tournament sites,' he said.
 
Several players have tried to improve upon success by changing their swings. Some have succeeded (see Tiger Woods); some have failed (see Seve Ballesteros).
 
For Perks, the options were easy to weigh.
 
It would have been a risk for me to stay where I was at, he said. I didnt want to be one of those players that had one great week and no one ever heard of again.
 
A year ago, Tiger Woods handed him the Waterford crystal trophy and said, Youre unbelievable.
 
Perks still blushes when reminded of that. He holds Woods in great regard, and said part of his swing metamorphosis has been observing the worlds No. 1.
 
Im not sure if I personally can get to that level, but I want to get as close as I can, Perks said. So weve studied it and Ive tried to do a lot of things in my golf swing that he does, as well. I dont know if Ill ever get there but Ill sure try.
 
Its certainly not a quick fix. Perks said he started to make the changes around the time of last years PGA Championship -- disappointed that he wasn't able to capitalize on his Players momentum. Since then, he has missed eight cuts in 14 starts and hasnt fared better than tied for 13th.
 
Thats a vastly different road than the one he traveled to Ponte Vedra Beach in 2002. Last year, he entered The Players having made all seven cuts on the season, with a tie for fifth at Doral.
 
Last year I was on a pretty decent roll, he said when asked to compare the two timetables. This year I think my game is actually in better shape, but the results certainly arent there.
 
Im just starting to see the benefits of (the swing change) now, but I think the changes I made were really needed for me to get up to that next level and compete out here week in and week out.
 
Perks may not become the first player in tournament history to successfully defend his title, but he wants to make sure hell have several opportunities to win it again in the future.
 
My wife and I still pinch ourselves saying: 'Is this really true?' Perks said. We look at each other and she looks at me and says: 'You are the Players champion.' Its pretty special.
 

FROM THE PGA TOUR
 
Look out for a couple of veterans this week at The Players Championship.
Nick Price (the 1993 champ) has five consecutive top-10 finishes (and a
record-tying nine overall) in the event, while Scott Hoch enters with a
streak that includes five top-10 finishes in his last seven starts at the
TPC at Sawgrass.
 
No one from continental Europe has ever won The Players Championship.
Seven strong competitors will attempt to change that this week--Niclas
Fasth (Sweden), Sergio Garcia (Spain), Per-Ulrik Johansson (Sweden),
Bernhard Langer (Germany), Thomas Levet (France), Jose Maria Olazabal
(Spain) and Jesper Parnevik (Sweden).
 
The field at The Players includes 27 players who have captured a total
of 48 major championships.
 
A truly international event, The Players Championship also includes
competitors from 20 countries outside the U.S.
 
Here's an amazing stat, courtesy of ShotLink, from last week's Bay Hill
Invitational: Tiger Woods won by 11 strokes, however he made only 1 of 34
putts from 15 feet and beyond. He made up for it, though, by sinking 70 of
79 putts from less than 15 feet.
 

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