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The mourning after

Kenny Perry
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Kenny Perry will not be granting any interviews in the aftermath of his first Champions Tour title. He won’t be happily summarizing the breakthrough performance, won’t be excitedly describing the thrill of victory.

Nor will he be working on his game, fine-tuning an already-proficient swing that helped him to the winner’s circle on Sunday afternoon.

He will be laying his sister to rest instead.

Kay Perry passed away after a lengthy battle with breast cancer on Saturday night, exactly two years to the day after their mother Mildred died from cancer, too.

An emotional man who was immediately stricken with grief, news of Kay’s death left Kenny with the ultimate quandary: Continue competing in the SAS Championship, where he was tied for the lead entering the final round, or withdraw from the tournament and return to Kentucky to start the grieving process with his family?

“I had all night to kind of ponder on what I should do,” Perry later confided. 'I didn't sleep a lot, thought about just getting on a plane and heading home.”

Nobody would have blamed him for choosing that route. Except for his father, Ken, who convinced Kenny to continue playing in the memory of Kay.

“Dad talked me out of coming home. I wanted to come home and he talked me out of it,” he explained. “He called me, he said, 'Son, you just need to go out there and represent Kay today.'

“He's a tough man. He's really a neat father.”

And so the mourning golfer with the tough father soldiered on. He played the final round, just hours after receiving the news. Played while thinking about his sister, who passed away around 9 p.m. the night before at age 59. Played while thinking about his mother and the uncanny coincidence that they would both succumb to the same disease on the first day of October.

He thought about them after the birdie on the third hole and again after another on the sixth that moved him into the lead. Thought about them when he carded a double-bogey on the par-5 12th and when he erased it with an eagle five holes later.

“The eagle fell in the bottom of the cup on 17 and I felt like I know they were watching,” he said. “I felt I had some help there.”

And he was certainly thinking about them when a final-hole bogey clinched his initial victory on the senior circuit.

Perry was outwardly emotional afterward, his eyes welling up with tears during post-round interviews. It eerily brought to mind memories of Dana Quigley winning the Northville Long Island Classic in 1997, only to find out on his way to the scoring trailer that his father had passed away that afternoon.

It’s a wonder these guys could even bring the club back, let alone prevail over a field of competitors with such weighty personal issues rattling around in their minds.

“I really wasn't thinking a lot about winning,” Perry later said. “I just wanted to make her proud.”

Others were thinking about it, though. The newest champion was regaled with a reserved, truncated ceremony on the final green and an uncommonly brief interview session with the media.

It was there that he was able to reflect on what had just occurred – and how the grave circumstances may have actually helped his cause.

“I was very calm all day, I had no nerves,” he explained. “Normally I'm a little jumpy, a little jittery, tense. Today I was just – I felt like I was on a low, I was really down. I was kind of depressed and my swing was in rhythm, it wasn't fast and I had great control of the golf ball.

“So yeah, I could definitely say it contributed to my success today.”

Perry will now skip at least the next two tournaments on the Champions Tour schedule. Following the funeral services, he will help his father get Kay’s estate in order and simply spend time with family away from the game.

When he returns, he will be greeted by an awkward yet earnest chorus of both condolences and congratulations from his peers, each coming hand-in-hand with the other.

“With what happened last night with his sister, it's the right thing,” said Jeff Sluman, who finished one stroke behind Perry. “I won't probably see him, but congratulations to Kenny. Couldn't be happier for him and his family.”

If it’s a delicate state of concern for his fellow players, it’s multiplied tenfold for Perry himself, who never imagined his first win on the tour would come accompanied by such somber undertones.

In the aftermath of the victory, it took only one sentence for him to perfectly sum up the emotions of the weekend.

“I’m excited to win,” Perry said, his eyes red and watery, “but I'd rather have my sister back.”