Commentary

Revenge will have to wait for Perry

Originally Published: September 19, 2008
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Kenny Perry loves Kentucky, and the feeling is boisterously mutual. But if there is one patch of home-state soil that has it in for the Franklin native, it's the 18th hole at Valhalla Golf Club.

[+] EnlargeKenny Perry
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesKenny Perry walks along the water hazard that claimed his ball during the 18th hole of Friday's foursomes matches.
"The 18th hole hates me," Perry said, managing a laugh Friday afternoon when he surely didn't feel like laughing.

When Perry is on the tee, a fairly benign finishing hole becomes 547 yards of Southern spite. It's the place where his joyride inevitably ends with his vehicle impounded. It's the sad country song on Mr. Positive's iPod.

Twelve years ago, Perry came to No. 18 pumping his right fist to an adoring crowd and holding a 2-stroke lead in the PGA Championship. He went home the runner-up to Mark Brooks.

On the 72nd hole of that PGA, Perry overcooked a draw to the left and took a bogey, and he was forced into a playoff when Brooks birdied the hole. They played 18 again in the playoff, and Perry yanked another drive left, throwing away the best chance of his life to win a major.

Here in the 37th Ryder Cup on Friday, the cheers chased Perry to the 18th tee at Valhalla once again. Standing up there with that beautiful bluegrass vista spread out below him and thousands of supporters standing around him, Perry had a chance to get a little payback.

He pulled out his driver, stood over his ball, made his characteristic lift-and-smash swing … and felt his heart sink. One more time.

Perry backpedaled to the end of the tee box, watching his drive, trying to body-English it into the fairway. When it landed, Perry emitted an uncharacteristic display of frustration, slamming down his clubhead on the tee box that hates him.

He'd done it again -- only the other way. This time, he blocked his drive out to the right, splashing it into one of the cascading ponds that line that side of the hole.

Talk about drivin' and cryin'.

Just like that, Perry and playing partner Jim Furyk had let a near certain victory evaporate against the European power couple of Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood. Up two holes with two to play, the Americans had to settle for a frustrating half point instead of a rewarding whole.

You could tell how that tie felt shortly after it was over. Perry and Furyk were standing just off the 18th green with ESPN course reporter Dottie Pepper, waiting to be interviewed. As Pepper waited for her cue to start, an awkward couple of minutes passed.

Nobody spoke. Perry looked one way, Furyk looked the other. As the Americans pondered what could have been, the only noise was the sound of the blimp buzzing overhead.

The good news for the Yanks was that they'd finally derailed the Garcia freight train. He'd been 8-0-0 in Ryder Cup foursomes.

"They didn't beat us," Perry said. "We didn't lose. We finally put a blemish on Sergio's record."

But the painful thing was how close they had come to hanging a loss, not just a tie, on Garcia. Twice, the Perry-Furyk team had putts to win the match, on Nos. 16 and 17. Twice, they couldn't convert, keeping the Euros alive.

In an otherwise splendid American morning filled with star-spangled stars, this tie became a blemish. It slowed what had been a surprising American avalanche.

"Anytime you can get out of jail like that makes a massive difference," Garcia said.

Perry handed them the get-out-of-jail-free card. After spending four hours bathing in adulation from the home fans, Perry spent 40 minutes rinsing it off with some regrettable closing shots.

The Americans were handed a two-hole lead on No. 15, where Garcia shockingly Eurotrashed an easy 120-yard approach into the creek to the right of the green. On the par-4 16th, they had the Europeans in a bunker in two when Perry faced a tricky decision in a collection area just off the green: chip or putt?

He putted, but not with great success. Perry left Furyk with a 10-footer to end the match, and he couldn't shut the door.

On 17, Perry had no more than 6 feet to halve the hole and end the match. He pushed it aggressively past on the right edge.

"Man, I wish I could hit that putt over again on 17," Perry said.

No doubt. Because it would have kept him off the tee at 18.

Until that point, the day had unfolded like a Perry dreamscape -- once he calmed the squadron of butterflies inhabiting his stomach.

"I told Jimmy, 'You're going to have to play the first couple holes and let me settle down a little bit,'" Perry said. "I was nervous out there. I never felt that way my whole life.

"They love me here, and I appreciate it."

Perry got a chance to high-five his dad, 84-year-old Ken Perry, who was wearing his trademark bib overalls in the gallery. His kids also were in the gallery, as was his best friend from back home in Franklin. He was the crowd favorite from the moment he laced up his spikes and walked to the first tee, helping accentuate the hillbilly, home-course advantage the Americans enjoyed.

It was Rupp Arena loud much of the day Friday, especially around Perry's foursome. After the ninth hole, one fan drawled at Garcia from close range, "That's it, Sergio! Keep missing those putts, baby!" Garcia ignored it, but Westwood turned and stared down the fan.

On the 11th hole, Perry's teammates got into the act. After Perry and Furyk had hit their approaches onto the green, Boo Weekley stood in front of the grandstand and hollered, "All right, now! When they get close, y'all got to give it to Kenny right here!" Then Weekley and his country cousin, J.B. Holmes, threw their hands in the air like football players, urging on the "U-S-A!" chant.

On the 13th fairway, a group of Europeans dressed as leprechauns launched one of those famous "Ole" songs. Lucky charm this; it quickly was drowned out by a more powerful "U-S-A" chant.

That had to please Perry, who said last week that he didn't want to hear the "Ole" song even once. Now he has to avoid repeating his own sad song at the 18th hole the rest of this weekend.

"Maybe I'll have a good feeling one time on 18," he said, hopefully.

Lord knows, he's due.

Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.