Making a race of It


The name in the cell phones caller ID window was a familiar one.
It was a good friend who also happens to work for a golf equipment company. And, yes, this is a true story. The friend was ringing me up from the putting green at the TPC Deere Run prior to the start of the John Deere Classic.
I have, he said, somebody here who wants to talk to you.
And just who, I asked cautiously and with mock self-importance, is it that wants a minute of my precious time?
Oh, I think youre going to like this call, the friend said.
My interest was sufficiently piqued. And my attention was full.
The next voice I heard was the unmistakable twang of the hottest golfer in the world. You could have knocked me over with a feather.
Is this Brian? Kenny Perry said.
It is, I said.
This is Kenny Perry, Kenny Perry said.
Kenny, I said. Whats up?
(We reporters are such engaging conversationalists)
Hey, Brian, Kenny Perry said. I just wanted to say thanks. Youre the only guy out there in the media who understands what Im doing and why Im doing it.
By way of background, Kenny Perrys name has probably been mentioned more than that of any other golfer since Tiger Woods shut his season down because of a bum left leg.
He acquired a persistent band of critics after he decided to skip the U.S. Open in June because, he said, he didnt like the golf course and, he said, making the U.S. Ryder Cup team was more important to him than playing in the U.S. Open. This was especially so, he said, because the September matches were scheduled for Valhalla Golf Club which is located in Perrys home state of Kentucky.
Next thing anybody knew, Perrys band of critics was legion. Thats because Perry opted out of next weeks Open Championship in England because he committed, months earlier, to play in the U.S. Bank Championship in Milwaukee.
And now it wasnt just golf writers questioning his priorities. Players also jumped on the bus. So did general sports columnists at daily newspapers across the country. Perry, for his part, was beginning to feel like he had been thrown under that very same bus.
I had been on record as writing and saying on GOLF CHANNELs airwaves that I had no problem with Perrys priorities. The Open Championship, in my opinion, is a wonderful event with terrific history. The Ryder Cup, in my opinion, is a more compelling competition.
Perry said he appreciated my support. I said I appreciated his appreciation.
End of conversation, for now.
But not end of story.
For Sunday at the John Deere Perry won for the third time this year. Only Woods, with four victories in the six events he played this season, has more. It happened in a playoff. And, truth be told, but for a couple of dodgy chip shots in regulation, Perry would have won on the 72nd hole.
But, among other things, Perry jumped to No. 2 on the FedExCup point standings. And hes now officially a lock for Paul Azingers Ryder Cup team. He also ranks No. 2 on the TOUR money list and is just .02 strokes behind Woods in the scoring race.
All of a sudden were looking at a Player of the Year race on the PGA TOUR where the frontrunners are Woods and Perry, two players who each skipped two majors. What were the chances of that scenario unfolding when 2008 began?
Sure, Trevor Immelman still has a chance to get back into the POY picture next week at Birkdale or at the PGA Championship in Augusts at Oakland Hills, although Immelmans recent form doesnt suggest he will.
Anthony Kim, with wins at Wachovia and the AT&T National, is still a remote possibility as is Phil Mickelson -- with two TOUR victories to date in 2008.
But right now its Kenny Perry and Tiger Woods for Player of the Year. And Perrys got two months of big events to build his case. Woods is done for the year.
And yours truly, is a contrary voice in the media wilderness where the engendered ill will generated in the court of public opinion has turned on Perry like a snipe hook on the 18th hole at TPC Sawgrass.
To be sure, there must be other Perry sympathizers out there. My respect for him was born of his respect for the Ryder Cup and his willingness to stand on his principles and take the heat.
Now its starting to look like the heat is making him a better player. And thats starting to make Kenny Perry a golf hero to me'not, by the way, just because he called me on the phone.
The real heroes in our world, of course, are people like the really good teachers in our public school systems. Or the soldiers fighting to preserve our freedoms and commitments in nasty war theaters like Iraq and Afghanistan.
Tiger Woods is still the No. 1 golf hero for reasons that are too numerous to list in this space. Annika Sorenstam and Lorena Ochoa are golf heroines. Now Kenny Perry is on my short list.
And if you dont think he belongs there, watch for yourself how hes received next week in Milwaukee. That reception will be just a preview of the wild enthusiasm that will greet him at Valhalla.
Underneath all the controversy, Kenny is a good guy. Plain and simple.
Theres a handful of guys like him on the PGA TOUR. Guys like Joe Durant and Mike Weir and Tom Lehman and Rocco Mediate and Steve Flesch and Jay Williamson and Olin Browne and Davis Love III. And thats just naming a few. Guys who wouldnt know how to big time somebody even if you offered them a million bucks to do so.
The text message late Sunday afternoon from my friend at the equipment company said this: Did you see KP signing autographs before the playoff?
Enough said.
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