The Man from Franklin


Ah, smell that fall air. The leaves are turning, the apples are coming in. And its time to think about golfs story of the year.
Nothing against the remaining tournaments on the schedule, but the pace slows appreciably after the Ryder Cup. This year especially, with the FedEx Cup winner decided early, Tiger Woods not playing in the Tour Championship, and no other substantial competitions coming, were definitely in the cool-down that follows the hard run of the mid-season.
Kenny Perry
Kenny Perry achieved his dream and more this season. (Getty Images)
No one could be blamed for setting up the Tiger U.S. Open saga as a lock for story of the year. With Rocco Mediate as an engaging co-star and Tigers ACL as the villain (and later, the stress fractures tossed in for added evil), this is a hard one to beat. Another good entry is Anthony Kim, with his two wins, his Ryder Cup performance, and his immense confidence in a world that everyone else seems to have handed over to Tiger. Off-course, theres the whole LPGA/English language fiasco.
But in this year of nominations and elections, my candidate is Kenny Perry.
Heres a guy whos more regular than the gas you used to put in a 69 Camaro. At age 48, he has about as many miles on him, too. Not a classic golf swing, to be sure ' but a very effective right-to-left trajectory. Talk about confidence, though. While we were all watching football games and nursing hangovers New Years Day, Perry was setting a goal. He would make the Ryder Cup team, play in front of his home crowd in Kentucky ' and contribute. He knew it was likely his last chance at this kind of accomplishment, and he took it.
And look what happened. Perry succeeded in a way that has to warm the heart of any true sports fan. But what Kenny Perry understood first and best, so well that he had to wait for the rest of the golf and sports world to catch up, is that setting a goal has a down side. It involves sacrifice. It requires you to smile (sometimes grimace) and ignore the golf pundits, gathered in groups like Saturday foursomes backed up on the first par-3 on an overcrowded Muni. They presumed to harangue Perry for not playing in major championships when he knew it would be better to skip them to manage his schedule toward the goal. You think Perry didnt want to play in our national championship? Sure, he doesnt like the course at Torrey Pines. But the man is as big a patriot as golf has; he understood very well the American pride that attaches to a U.S. Open. But the goal, the single-minded goal
He would not waver, not even when the worst rub-of-the-green of the season robbed him of a chance at victory in Atlanta. In a playoff against Ryuji Imada, Perrys ball rocketed right (what?), hit a tree, and motorcycled across the green and into the pond by the 18th green. Perry was left to stand in the fairway, asking caddie Fred Sanders, Where is it? Where is it? while the TV microphones picked up the shock in his voice. Afterward, he beat a hasty retreat from the scoring trailer with his wife Sandy, needing a moment to compose himself before meeting the press. Dream over, right? Thanks for playing.
Not on your Kentucky life. Two weeks later, Perry was hoisting the trophy at Muirfield Village, winner of the Jack Nicklauss Memorial Tournament over a windy, difficult golf course that he still managed to carve up with that aggressive draw and a solid week of putting. He was driving the ball like Kenny Perry again, confidently and in the fairway and longer than he had 20 years ago. And when he had to make putts, he did. He shot 69 the final day and survived a bogey on 17; this after a disheartening, bogey-pocked 74 in Saturdays third round.
And that was just the beginning. He was ready near Detroit when Woody Austin faltered, and he notched his second win at the Buick Open. He felt the pressure of a rapidly moving calendar at the John Deere, but stepped up anyway, beating Jay Williamson and Brad Adamonis in a playoff for his third trophy of the year. It was the second time in his career he has won three tournaments in a season (2003).
Open Championship? No thanks; dont need the travel. And Kenny had committed to Milwaukee the same week (he won there in 2003). Man of his word. At the PGA Championship in Detroit (heck; thats close enough to Kentucky), his only major of the year, Perry had an eye problem that was bad enough to make him withdraw ' this with the Ryder Cup, his goal, in sight, and his position on the team secured. What if he did all that work ' and had to sit because of he scratched cornea while taking out a contact lens? The feeling in the pit of his stomach must have been dismal.
Not that we ever knew. He never complained. He never bemoaned bad breaks. He never crowed about his progress. Through a happy accident of the schedule, I was the lead Golf Channel reporter at all three of his victories this year. If we reporters asked him about his goals, he would tell us, proudly. But otherwise, it was the usual quiet, pleasant Kenny. Off weeks back in Franklin, Ky., working the counter at his golf course, spending family time, and piling on smiles in the little town where hes a hero but doesnt act like one. No swing doc, no head guy, no entourage. Just Kenny.
Its so rare in sports these days, this lack of self-importance, as to be quaint. Were so conditioned, so resigned to overblown salaries, $9 beers at the stadium, endorsements, seat licenses and such that a guy just setting a goal and doing the work is an anomaly.
Call it an anomaly if you want. I call it an example.
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