Humbling week for Kenny Perry

By Rex HoggardSeptember 27, 2009, 12:17 am

ATLANTA – Twelve months ago, adjacent the same oddly placed par-3 closing hole at East Lake, Kenny Perry hit the wall just as squarely as one of those muscle cars he has stashed in his garage.

Physically and emotionally empty, Perry seethed at a Tour official for having the misfortune of telling him his number had been pulled for performance-enhancing drug testing.

Everybody else on Tour has been tested at least once?” snapped Perry, who had already been subjected to numerous testings.

The frustration, although misplaced, was understandable. Perry was fresh off the American Ryder Cup victory and the weight of the entire state of Kentucky had taken a toll.


Kenny Perry at the Tour Championship
Kenny Perry is having a good week thus far at East Lake. (Getty Images)

This was not that guy.

No, the Perry who covered his first four holes on Saturday in 4 under and nearly one-putted East Lake’s front nine (he ruined his perfect outward loop with a three-putt at the sixth), is negotiating a different path this time around.

This Perry is humbled, more so than haggard, by the emotions of receiving the Payne Stewart Award and an ailing mother at home whose health took a turn for the worse this week.

With his son Justin on the bag and wife, Sandy, and daughter, Lesslye, trailing in the gallery, the soon-to-be senior stole Tiger Woods’ thunder on a day that was framed at the outset by threatening skies.

Perry’s 6-under 64 moved him atop the playoff finale leaderboard at 8 under, two strokes ahead of Woods.

Tim Finchem wanted BCS-like tension to grip his playoffs, and Perry’s third round started the discussion. If the 49-year-old holds on for the “W” on Sunday and if Woods finishes no better than a three-way tie for third and the Braves remain three games out of the National League wildcard race, Perry will collect that $10 million windfall, or something like that.

Perry’s birdie barrage eased up after the turn and he saved his round with a 9 footer for par at the 13th, not that he could be certain what hole he was playing after Phil Mickelson, playing a few groups ahead, high kicked the “13th hole” sign in half. Seems about right for a guy who has kick started his season just when it matters.

Not that Perry has been much of a fall guy during his career. All of his 14 Tour titles have come in the spring and summer and even at last year’s Ryder Cup, a charged home game at Valhalla, he was not at his best.

“I’ve never been a great September player,” Perry said. “I’d take September off most years and coach high school golf.”

With almost as many September swoons as the Chicago Cubs and a less-than-stellar playoff record this year (T-52 Barclays, T-46 Deutsche Bank Championship, T-45 BMW Championship), the Southerner began his Tour Championship on Thursday with something akin to a meltdown.

He was so drained by Thursday’s heat and humidity he consumed more water than a camel and still wasn’t right for Round 2. On Saturday, however, he simply sizzled.

Perry’s 64 tied the low round of the week and the lowest round since the club reworked Donald Ross’ greens two years ago. As is normally the case, his play can be traced to Tuesday-Wednesday tinkering. A new putter grip and a slight adjustment in his ball position at address with his driver added up to 202 strokes.

“He’s confident over his putts now, that’s the biggest change,” said Justin Perry, who took over dad’s bag at the Deutsche Bank Championship. “In Boston and at Cog Hill he didn’t putt well. He was hitting it good, but he just couldn’t capitalize on his opportunities.”

On Sunday he will have one of the biggest opportunities of his career, after his Masters near miss this year and that home game Ryder Cup victory last year. He will also have a rare head-to-head with Woods, who he has been paired with just twice on a Tour Sunday.

“He better bring his ‘A’ game is all I have to say,” Perry joked.

Actually, Perry said he’d use the occasion to politic for a Presidents Cup pairing with the world No. 1 – that’s if assistant captain Michael Jordan hasn’t already called dibs on all of Woods’ team openings.

“I’m scrapbooking guys,” he smiled. “I’d love to play one match with him.”

Asked about the possibility of winning the $10 million FedEx Cup jackpot on Sunday, and Perry’s response was subdued, if not predictable.

“It’s not going to change my life,” said Perry, who figures he will use most of the bonus to start a foundation to help others.

Earlier this year Perry said he wanted 20 Tour victories before he roared into the sunset in one of those muscle cars. He eased off on that lofty goal shortly afterwards, likely due to his mother’s on-going health problems and a body that didn’t respond like it once did.

And yet there he was on Saturday, old “lift and smash,” Perry’s nickname during his mini-tour days, splitting fairways and shrugging off his solid play with a boyish grin.

“I don’t understand why I keep playing as well as I do,” Perry said.

The arm-chair sports psychologist among us would guess it has something to do with a renewed clarity of thought brought on by his mother’s illness and the emotions of the Stewart award, which he called humbling.

No, this is not the same Perry who went through the motions last year at East Lake. This time around, the Tour Championship presented by Coca-Cola is getting a boost from a Sarsaparilla guy.

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Confident Lincicome lurking after 54 holes at Founders

By Randy SmithMarch 18, 2018, 2:45 am

PHOENIX – Brittany Lincicome is farther back than she wanted to be going into Sunday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she’s in a good place.

She’s keeping the momentum of her season-opening Pure Silk Bahamas Classic victory going this year.

Her confidence is high.

“Last year, I won in the Bahamas, but then I didn't do anything after that,” Lincicome said. “I don't even know if I had a top 10 after my win in the Bahamas. Obviously, this year, I want to be more consistent.”

Lincicome followed up her victory in the Bahamas this year with a tie for seventh in her next start at the Honda LPGA Thailand. And now she’s right back on another leaderboard with the year’s first major championship just two weeks away. She is, by the way, a two-time winner at the ANA Inspiration.

Missy Pederson, Lincicome’s caddie, is helping her player keep that momentum going with more focus on honing in the scoring clubs.

“One of our major goals is being more consistent,” Pederson said. “She’s so talented, a once in a generation talent. I’m just trying to help out in how to best approach every golf course.”

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Pederson has helped Lincicome identify the clubs they’re likely to attack most with on the particular course they are playing that week, to spend more time working with those clubs in practice. It’s building confidence.

“I know the more greens we hit, and the more chances we give ourselves, the more our chances are to be in contention,” Pederson said. “Britt is not big into stats or details, so I have to figure out how to best consolidate that information, to get us exactly where we need to be.”

Lincicome’s growing comfort with clubs she can attack with is helping her confidence through a round.

“I’ve most noticed consistency in her mental game, being able to handle some of the hiccups that happen over the course of a round,” Pederson said. “Whereas before, something might get under her skin, where she might say, `That’s what always happens,’ now, it’s, `All right, I know I’m good enough to get this back.’ I try to get her in positions to hit the clubs we are really hitting well right now.”

That’s leading to a lot more birdies, fewer bogeys and more appearances on leaderboards in the start to this year.

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Returning Park grabs 54-hole Founders lead

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 2:09 am

PHOENIX – In the long shadows falling across Wildfire Golf Club late Saturday afternoon, Inbee Park conceded she was tempted to walk away from the game last year.

While healing a bad back, she was tempted to put her clubs away for good and look for a second chapter for her life.

But then . . .

“Looking at the girls playing on TV, you think you want to be out there” Park said. “Really, I couldn't make my mind up when I was taking that break, but as soon as I'm back here, I just feel like this is where I belong.”

In just her second start after seven months away from the LPGA, Park is playing like she never left.

She’s atop a leaderboard at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, looking like that’s exactly where she belongs.

With a 9-under-par 63 Saturday, Park seized the lead going into the final round.

At 14 under overall, she’s one shot ahead of Mariajo Uribe (67), two ahead of Ariya Jutanugarn (68) and three ahead of 54-year-old World Golf Hall of Famer Laura Davies (63) and Chella Choi (66).

Park’s back with a hot putter.

That’s not good news for the rest of the tour. Nobody can demoralize a field with a flat stick like Park. She’s one of the best putters the women’s game has ever seen, and on the front nine Saturday she looked as good as she ever has.

“The front nine was scary,” said her caddie, Brad Beecher, who was on Park’s bag for her long run at world No. 1, her run of three consecutive major championship victories in 2013 and her gold medal victory at the Olympics two years ago.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The front nine was great . . . like 2013,” Park said.

Park started her round on fire, going birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie. She was 6 under through five holes. She holed a wedge from 98 yards at the third hole, making the turn having taken just 10 putts. Yeah, she said, she was thinking about shooting 59.

“But I'm still really happy with my round today,” she said.

Park isn’t getting ahead of herself, even with this lead. She said her game isn’t quite where she wants it with the ANA Inspiration, the year’s first major championship, just two weeks away, but a victory Sunday should go a long way toward getting her there.

Park is only 29. LPGA pros haven’t forgotten what it was like when she was dominating, when she won 14 times between 2013 and ’15.

They haven’t forgotten how she can come back from long layoffs with an uncanny ability to pick up right where she left off.

Park won the gold medal in Rio de Janeiro in her first start back after missing two months because of a ligament injury in her left thumb. She took eight months off after Rio and came back to win the HSBC Women’s World Championship last year in just her second start. She left the tour again in the summer with an aching back.

“I feel like Inbee could take off a whole year or two years and come back and win every week,” said Brittany Lincicome, who is four shots behind Park. “Her game is just so consistent. She doesn't do anything flashy, but her putting is flashy.

“She literally walks them in. It's incredible, like you know it's going in when she hits it. It's not the most orthodox looking stroke, but she can repeat it.”

Park may not play as full a schedule as she has in the past, Beecher said, but he believes she can thrive with limited starts.

“I think it helps her get that fight back, to get that hunger back,” Beecher said. “She knows she can play 15 events a year and still compete. There aren’t a lot of players who can do that.”

Park enjoyed her time away last year, and how it re-energized her.

“When I was taking the long break, I was just thinking, `I can do this life as well,’” Park said. “But I'm glad I came back out here. Obviously, days like today, that's the reason I'm playing golf.”

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Joh on St. Patrick's ace: Go broke buying green beers

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 12:57 am

PHOENIX – Tiffany Joh was thrilled making a run into contention to win her first LPGA title Saturday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she comically cracked that her hole-in-one might have been ill-timed.

It came on St. Patrick’s Day.

“This is like the worst holiday to be making a hole-in-one on,” Joh said. “You'll go broke buying everyone green beers.”

Joh aced the fifth hole with a 5-iron from 166 yards on her way to an 8-under-par 64. It left her four shots behind the leader, Inbee Park (63).

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

One of the more colorful players on tour, Joh said she made the most of her hole-in-one celebration with playing partner Jane Park.

“First I ran and tackled Jane, then I high-fived like every single person walking to the green,” Joh said.

Joh may be the LPGA’s resident comedian, but she faced a serious challenge on tour last year.  Fourteen months ago, she had surgery to remove a malignant melanoma. She won the LPGA’s Heather Farr Perseverance Award for the way she handled her comeback.

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Davies, 54, still thinks she can win, dreams of HOF

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 12:22 am

PHOENIX – Laura Davies limped around Wildfire Golf Club Saturday with an ache radiating from her left Achilles up into her calf muscle at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

“Every step is just misery,” Davies said after. “It’s just getting older. Don’t get old.”

She’s 54, but she played the third round as if she were 32 again.

That’s how old she was when she was the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year and won two major championships.

With every sweet swing Saturday, Davies peeled back the years, turning back the clock.

Rolling in a 6-foot birdie at the 17th, Davies moved into a tie for the lead with Inbee Park, a lead that wouldn’t last long with so many players still on the course when she finished. Still, with a 9-under-par 63, Davies moved into contention to try to become the oldest winner in LPGA history.

Davies has won 20 LPGA titles, 45 Ladies European Tour titles, but she hasn’t won an LPGA event in 17 years, since taking the Wegmans Rochester International.

Can she can surpass the mark Beth Daniel set winning at 46?

“I still think I can win,” Davies said. “This just backs that up for me. Other people, I don’t know, they’re always asking me now when I’m going to retire. I always say I’m still playing good golf, and now here’s the proof of it.”

Davies knows it will take a special day with the kind of final-round pressure building that she hasn’t experienced in awhile.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The pressure will be a lot more tomorrow,” she said. “We'll see, won’t sleep that well tonight. The good news is that I’ll probably be four or five behind by the end of the day, so the pressure won’t be there as much.”

Davies acknowledged confidence is harder to garner, as disappointments and missed cuts pile up, but she’s holding on to her belief she can still win.

“I said to my caddie, `Jeez, I haven't been on top of the leaderboard for a long time,’” Davies said. “That's nice, obviously, but you’ve got to stay there. That's the biggest challenge.”

About that aching left leg, Davies was asked if it could prevent her from challenging on Sunday.

“I’ll crawl around if I have to,” she said.

Saturday’s 63 was Davies’ lowest round in an LPGA event since she shot 63 at the Wendy’s Championship a dozen years ago.

While Davies is a World Golf Hall of Famer, she has been sitting just outside the qualification standard needed to get into the LPGA Hall of Fame for a long time. She needs 27 points, but she has been stuck on 25 since her last victory in ’01. A regular tour title is worth one point, a major championship is worth two points.

Davies said she still dreams about qualifying.

“You never know,” she said.