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Catching up with Kenny Perry

Editors Note: Before capturing his 13th PGA Tour win on Sunday at the FBR Open, Kenny Perry sat down with Golf Channel business reporter Casey Bierer for an exclusive interview. Kenny reflected on his magical 2008 season, including his Ryder Cup experience, and looked to the future.

Kenny Perry wins the 2009 FBR Open
Kenny Perry poses with the trophy after his victory on the third playoff hole during the final round of the FBR Open on February 1, 2009. (Getty Images)

Casey: What a year for Kenny Perry! You could probably bail out the automakers with a percentage of your winnings. Put the year in perspective for us if you can.
Kenny: Ah, unbelievable. Magical. That was kind of my word Ive used all year. Who could think a guy, 48, probably ranked 100th in the world, set a goal to make the Ryder Cup team at Valhalla where I lost the 96 PGA Championship and tried to re-write the history that I have, that people remember me for in the state of Kentucky. That was something. I had such a burning in my gut, in my belly, I had to get to Valhalla. I had to do it.
Casey: Well, I probably dont have to tell you, its one thing to say it, its an entirely different story to actually do it. Was there some eureka moment for you?
Kenny: The magical moment was at the AT&T against Ryuji Imada. I hit the tree and the ball goes back in the water and I lose in a playoff. The next day in the paper, Paul Azinger says youve got to win to make my team. That really hit me hard and it was the perfect thing I needed at the time because I knew I was playing great. The summer was coming, I had the Memorial and Colonial to play; tournaments where Ive always had success. And thats how I set my year up. I set my whole year up to where I could earn enough points to make that Ryder Cup team. Or at least put myself in position. I may not have made the team. Theres no way anybody could predict me winning three times in five weeks or whatever it was and go on and have the success I had at the Ryder Cup. But, it was a goal, it was a dream. Actually, I guess it was more of a dream than it was a goal because I was on the outside looking in and to be able to set a plan and to see it come to fruitionits just mind boggling. Its just a...
Kenny Perry
Perry shakes hands with Sergio Garcia at the Ryder Cup.

Casey: Its a Cinderella story?
Kenny: It really is a Cinderella story. I told my wife, Sandy, you know what? Cinderella may not get the slipper here but I sure as heck am going to try my heart out.
Casey : And you make the team...
Kenny: I make the team and then it becomes a situation of be careful what you ask for. Ive got to perform in front of all my family and friends. And, how am I gonna perform? Am I just gonna lay down and get beat up pretty bad here or am I going to get the job done?

Casey: Well, history will show it worked out pretty well for you, wouldnt you say?
Kenny: I played beautiful golf that week. Its probably the best golf Ive played all year. Going 2-1-1 was incredible. I know I cost Jimmy and I the first match when I hit it in water on the 18th hole. And you know me and the 18th at Valhalla. Theres history with me and that 18th hole. For some reason it hates me. Well, we were one up coming into that hole, so we end up tying that match. The next morning Jim and I get a full point.

Casey: Now, what kind of support were you experiencing during all this?
Kenny: Well, just to give you an idea, I got a call the night before my singles match from a good friend of mine. He told me he was going to say a prayer for me to be calm. To feel a sense of calm. And it hit home with me the next day. It was just magical. And Ill never forget, standing on the 7th tee box, Henrik looked at me in his Swedish kind of way and said, Youre going to make this tough on me, arent you? And I told Henrik,This is kind of my swan song. This is my match. Lets just play hard and see what happens. I will never forget that. It was the best golf experience of my life.

Casey: You won the match and your dad was there to see it.
Kenny: Isnt that something? I was able to win the match and my dad, walking up on the green on the 16th hole. What a great memory. Coming up in his bib overalls, cigars there in his front pocket and his grin ' it's the biggest grin in the world ' and he gave me a big hug. He said, this is one of the greatest gifts you could have ever given me. It was just a special moment for him. And, I had Sandy there, three kids all around me on the green. They all gave me big hugs. You know, people didnt know why I would sacrifice a British Open or a U.S. Open. Heck, I wasnt even in at the U.S. Open. I would have had to qualify for it. Well, what I experienced that day at Valhalla was why I played the year the way I did. I was determined to change the history of my life there at Valhalla and I did and people will always remember that Ryder Cup. To me, thats more important than anything else I could have done in golf.
Casey: You set an incredible goal for yourself and you did it. What did you learn about yourself that you might be able to apply going forward?
Kenny: Ive never been goal-oriented. Ive never set any kind of goals on the Tour. And I guess I learned a good lesson about that. But what people have to understand is, the goal of making the Ryder Cup was based on playing tournaments where Ive had a lot of success: Memorial, Colonial, the Buick, John Deere. These are all tournaments that are right in my wheelhouse in the summertime. Ive never had much success at Augusta. Ive never had much success at the U.S. Open. I did lose a PGA (Championship) in a playoff. And at the British, probably my best finish is either 10th or 12th. So I had a goal and a dream, yes, but I also had a plan of sorts. I was going to play tournaments on courses where I had a lot of past success and make as many points as I possibly could, trying to make the Ryder Cup team. I just happened to play amazing golf and won a bunch of tournaments.
Casey: You mentioned you play well at certain tournaments and at certain venues. Why?
Kenny: You know, I always try and figure that out. The Memorial was my first win in 1991 and that will always have a special place in my heart. People might not know, but, its kind of a tradition on Saturday night at Memorial for all the guys to get around a table and we say thank you to Jack and Barb for a great week, for all theyve done. We just kind of pour our hearts out to them. And the first time I came back to Memorial as defending champion, on that Saturday night, I thanked Jack for building Muirfield because thats what made me who I am. I can be playing poorly, but, for whatever reason I step on the grounds there and my golf swing comes back. Its a mental thing. I dont know. I just have so much confidence there. And when I go to Colonial or the Buick, they say horses for courses and for whatever reason, and I am living proof of that.

Casey: I watch you hit balls, driver especially, and you still absolutely crush it. How much longer can you compete on the PGA Tour?
Kenny: I think I still hit it just as far as everybody except for maybe J.B. Holmes or Boo and a few guys like that. I can still hit it 300 some yards no problem. 'Ya know, Ive just got to be thankful. Im just an old country boy, just naturally gifted with strong hands and arms and some good feel. I can still pound that ball out of the dirt. I think Ive got six more years exemption on the PGA Tour can play til Im 54. So, I actually believe in my heart that I can be competitive all the way til Im 54 on the regular Tour.
Casey: How much does your equipment come in to play in terms of staying competitive with length and playing at the level youre playing at?
Kenny: Being fit in to the right equipment is everything. Ive been with TaylorMade since 1991. And they have been improving technology every year since. I think in 1991 I led the Tour in driving distance at around 293 yards or something like that. I was over 120 mph club head speed. Now, all these years later, if I get to 115 mph Im really swinging hard at it, but, Im averaging 300 yards plus. Im swinging with less speed but Im hitting it farther. So, technology has come a long way and its helped me. And the people who help me at TaylorMade are wonderful. Its amazing what they can do to make you a better golfer. I wouldnt have been as good as I am without these guys, no doubt.
Casey: What are your thoughts on Tiger coming back?
Kenny: He needs to get back and he needs to get back in a hurry (laughs). And he needs to play well. With the economy the way it is, golf still is pretty healthy, but you know, we need him back. I really like him. I really enjoyed getting to know him on the Presidents Cup teams and Ryder Cup teams Ive been on with him. And, can you imagine winning a U.S. Open on one leg? I tell Rocco that Tiger beat you with one leg (laughs). You know, Tiger is just a marvelous player. Hes fun to be around, hes fun to watch, and he has definitely raised the bar in golf and actually he has made me a better player. Hes made me work harder.
Casey: Do you have a Tiger story?
Kenny: Yeah, actually. Ill never forget, we were at the Presidents Cup over in Ireland and we had just won the Presidents Cup. I mean, like, we JUST won. And theres Tiger coming out of his hotel room. Hes got his Nike tank top and shorts on and I ask him what he is doing and he tells me he is going to workout. I mean, come on, we just won the Presidents Cup. He just he never stops. Its amazing.
Casey: What are Kenny Perrys goals now?
Kenny: Id like to win 20 times on the PGA Tour. Is that possible? Im 48 years old. Im going to have to win eight more times to get to 20. I thought that was pretty cool when Davis won at Disney and got his 20th victory, so, that is a goal of mine. Is that reachable? Probably not, but, it is a goal. Its a dream like the Ryder Cup. And, Id somehow like to win a major. How many do I have left? I know Ive got four I can play next year. You know, that would just be the cherry on the cake if I could win a major. Thats what they base youre career on how you play in the majors. Ive always been kind of a late bloomer. I have won nine times in my 40s and you know what? may be crazy but I still think I can pull this thing off. I really do.

Kenny Perry
Perry driving at the PGA Championship at Oakland Hills (Getty Images).

Casey: Youve made a lot of money playing golf. But, its not about the money anymore, is it?
Kenny: I have done very well financially and I am happy to be able to do some extremely worthwhile things with the money for my family and my community. I feel like God has blessed me in so many ways. I feel like He has helped me along this journey. But, absolutely, golf anymore is not about the money. Its about how people are going to remember me. And I just hope people remember the person that I am and what Ive always tried to do. I always try to do the right thing.
Casey: Your dad started you off playing golf at seven years old. What does it mean to you to have him be able to see the things you have accomplished?
Kenny: Everything. Ill never forget. Im seven years old and Dads always smoked those big ole cigars. And, were sitting on the driving range at my little country club back in Franklin. I can always remember the smoke coming off his cigar and its always blowing across. Hes sitting on a towel and hes teeing balls up, one after another. About 20 balls in a shag bag. Id hit them as fast as I could and then run out and pick them up and run back and Id say, Dad, lets do it again. Hed sit there with me for hours. That was our time together. And he always told me, Son, he says, Youre never going to be good until you believe in yourself. You do not believe in yourself enough, that youre good enough. Youre just as good as anybody, but, you have to believe in yourself. He kept preaching that to me from a young age on and when I finally won at Memorial I got to tell him he was right. You know, Im just a little shy, just a little reserved. But I finally believed enough in myself and I won. And, he taught me that. And, this has just been a magical story. I cant believe Ive made it 22 years on the PGA Tour.
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