THE WOODLANDS, Texas – Kenny Perry had a bad feeling when his putter fell apart in his first PGA Tour event of the year, the SBS Championships in Hawaii.
No, not his putting stroke fell apart. His actual putter went to pieces.
Perry was hitting his final practice putt before teeing off at Kapalua when the putter head fell right off the shaft. His favorite one, too.
Perry turned to his son who was caddying and said, “Justin, it’s going to be a bad year.”
The 14-time winner on the PGA Tour turned 50 on Aug. 10, making him eligible for the Champions Tour, and he’ll make his debut Friday at the Administaff Small Business Classic – hoping that the new scenery will help him rejuvenate his game.
“I’ve had a smile on my face this week,” said Perry, who has played on two Ryder Cup teams and three President’s Cup teams. “It’s neat to get back with the guys you played with in your junior years. They’ve been calling me rookie all week. I have a hard time getting used to that. It’s hard to believe I’m 50.”
Perry missed the cut in three of the last five PGA Tour events he played, then spent six weeks off to rest and prepare for the senior circuit.
“It seems I went flat this year,” Perry said. “In all the years I was on the tour I felt like I needed to win. I didn’t feel like I needed to win this year. It was just a letdown. We’re going to rekindle the fire this off season and see what happens.”
Perry already is feeling better after taking time off.
“It’s been a neat two days since I’ve been here,” he said. “I’ve had all the guys coming up and welcoming me to this tour – Hale Irwin, Curtis Strange, Mark O’Meara, Ben Crenshaw. It’s the who’s who of golf. All these guys I’ve looked up to my whole career and who made me the player I am and they’re all here playing.”
Perry was a member of the 2008 Ryder Cup team and had a good year in 2009 with victories at the FBR Open and the Travelers Championship. He tied for second in the Masters and fourth at the Tour Championship, before everything suddenly unraveled.
“I’d kind of gotten burned out,” he said. “I threw everything I have at the ’08 Ryder Cup and it seemed from then on I’ve lost focus. … I had a good 2009 but this year has seemed to be just a mediocre year. I didn’t have goals. I was just plodding along.”
Perry said equipment problems contributed to his poor 2010 season, starting with the demise of his beloved putter.
“It’s been magic for me the last three years,” Perry said. “It all started right there at Kapalua. I went into a funk putting this year. I re-shafted that putter four times, sent it back to Ping and it never looked the same again.”
Perry said he has changed every club in his bag except his 3-wood.
“It threw me for a little bit of adjustment, trying to figure what I can use and what I can’t and I never got comfortable with anything this year,” Perry said. “I didn’t drive the ball, I didn’t hit my irons well, so it was a new learning curve for me.”
With all his hard luck this year, Perry likes what his Champions Tour friends are saying.
“Their advice to me was that you’re going to have fun,” Perry said. “It’s totally different from the PGA Tour. I feel that. They’re relaxed and laid back and having a good time. I’ve been on the tour for 25 years and it’s a welcomed relief.”
Steve Lowery also is playing in his first Champions Tour event. A victory by either newcomer would mark the 16th time a rookie won his first event. Tom Pernice Jr. last accomplished the feat when he won the 2009 SAS Championship.
John Cook edged Jay Haas by one shot to win the Administaff event last year, when he sank a 12-foot birdie putt on No. 17 to take the lead for good. Bernhard Langer, the Charles Schwab points leader, and second-place Fred Couples are also playing this week.
Perry has four exempt years remaining on the PGA Tour, but his focus is only on this week.
“You’ll probably see me splitting time,” Perry said. “If I keep having a lot of fun like I’m having this week, I might branch on over this way more.”