LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Having been a part of a horrible loss and a glorious victory at Valhalla Golf Club, Kenny Perry figures he’s just about due for another emotional extreme.
“Hopefully the magic will show up here this week,” he said with a grin.
It was at the Jack Nicklaus layout that Perry lost in a playoff to Mark Brooks in the 1996 PGA Championship, the first of several major championship disappointments in an otherwise sterling career that includes 14 victories on the regular Tour.
And it was also at Valhalla that Perry captured 2 1/2 critical points in the United States’ stirring victory over Europe in the 2008 Ryder Cup.
Now the 50-year-old wants to capture the Senior PGA Championship on the same course, and touch off another wild party with the thousands of familiar faces and others proud of their native son.
“I’m just ready to get going and celebrate with all my home folks here in Kentucky,” he said.
Even though Perry knows the course like his own track back in Franklin, Ky., it sure won’t be easy. The field is first rate, including defending champion Tom Lehman and luminaries such as Tom Watson, Hale Irwin, Nick Price and Mark O’Meara.
Irwin, who won the Senior PGA at Valhalla in 2004, was struck by how many great players are on hand.
“I just came from the locker room and I keep looking and seeing all these really good players go by and I’m thinking, ‘This could really be a great championship,”’ he said.
Heavy rains have turned Valhalla into a long, difficult slog. More rain is expected the next few days. Almost everyone figures someone who’s long off the tee – and Perry is about as long as anyone on the over-50 circuit – will have a distinct advantage on a course where the ball is plugging in the fairways.
“The golf course is going to be a real test,” said Lehman, who beat out Fred Couples and David Frost in a playoff last year at Colorado Golf Club. “It’s playing long, there’s no roll and the wind may be the crucial factor in how high the scores go.”
Even though it appears Perry has a home-state advantage, he’s not playing very well. And his confidence isn’t real high, either.
“I won three times (on the PGA Tour) in 2008, twice in 2009, and then I haven’t even been close. I mean, I’m not even competitive anymore,” he said. “I’m like I just disappeared. I turned 50 (last August) and it’s like I don’t know how to play anymore. I don’t know what happened. So, to me, it would be a huge accomplishment to come in here and beat these guys in front of all my friends and family.”
A variety of aches and pains have sidelined several of the top players in the world: Fred Couples, Bernhard Langer and Paul Azinger. It was Azinger, captain of the U.S. side in 2008, who sprayed the crowd with champagne after the matches were clinched.
Lehman, who also plays on the regular Tour, has won three times on the Champions Tour this year. It’s a common refrain: Players welcome the chance to win against their peers instead of finishing back in the pack to 20- and 30-something phenoms.
“I still feel like I’m competitive out there,” Lehman said. “But I have very, very few chances to win. Even though it’s fun trying to be your best it’s no fun feeling like you’re out there just to finish 15th or 20th.”
John Cook, third on the senior tour’s money list this year, has one big thing in common with Perry: Both have had stellar careers, yet have never broken through to win a major championship.
Cook said patience – and making pars – will be vital this week.
“Normally, we’re (got) guns blazing on our tour,” he said. “If you don’t shoot 15 under for three rounds, you don’t have any chance to win any of our tournaments, except maybe a couple. You start firing at flags on this golf course and you can make yourself look very silly.”
Perry embraces his history with the course. Even though he doesn’t yet have a swing he can depend on, he still thinks he can conjure up enough of a game to finally win a major championship. He’s going to set aside 100 tickets for friends and family.
“It’s going to put a lot of pressure on me; it’s going to make me nervous. I don’t want to get out there and play lousy in front of them,” he said. “But I didn’t play lousy in front of them at the Ryder Cup. That’s where I’ve got more of a positive feel this week.”