Commentary

Perry needs a history lesson when it comes to passing on major championships

Originally Published: July 7, 2008
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

The decision is his and his alone, among the numerous perks afforded affluent and successful golfers. Kenny Perry can do what he pleases when it comes to his schedule.

[+] EnlargeKenny Perry
Marc Serota/Getty ImagesAs the saying goes Kenny ... you can't win (major championships) if you don't play.
But pass on the British Open?

This isn't skipping Honda to play Bay Hill or the Nelson to play the Colonial. This is a major championship we're talking about.

And one he could win.

It became official on Sunday with the conclusion of the AT&T National tournament. Perry had earned an exemption to next week's British Open at Royal Birkdale by virtue of a special money list that included six tournaments, one of which Perry won. The top two players on that list not otherwise exempt could punch their ticket to the game's oldest championship. U.S. Open runner-up Rocco Mediate got the other spot.

But Perry, who was not eligible for the Masters this year and raised a few eyebrows when he declined to try to qualify for the U.S. Open, said after his victory at the Buick Open that he wasn't going to England, no matter what. Instead, he'll play the U.S. Bank Championship in Milwaukee, which is staged at the same time.

"Well, I'm sure the sponsors -- I've already committed to their tournament,'' Perry said of playing in Milwaukee. "That just wouldn't look good, in my opinion, to be committed and then just stone them to go play in the British Open. That ain't right. I'm not going to do that. … I'm going to stand by my word. I committed to them the first of the year and that's where I'm going.''

Huh?

That's like telling your brother you have to skip his wedding reception because you had already told the neighbors you'd be at their picnic.

A Milwaukee columnist actually praised Perry for keeping his word.

Let's get something straight about commitments to golf tournaments. They are required!

It is not as if Perry committed to the U.S. Bank Championship as a gesture of goodwill. In order to play, you must commit. It is usually the very best of the best -- Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson -- who wait until the last minute to commit, so as not to get hopes up and feelings hurt if they change their mind. Many players often commit to every tournament they think they will play, simply so they do not forget to do so. It is common for players to withdraw in the days leading up to the tournament. Mediate did it after his playoff loss to Woods at the U.S. Open, deciding to skip the Travelers Championship. It happens all the time.

And why is it that Perry passing on the British Open is even allowed? By rule, a player eligible for a World Golf Championship event cannot play in the opposite event the same week. Nor can one eligible for a PGA Tour event drop down and play on the Nationwide Tour. Would a baseball player rather suit up in the big leagues or in Triple-A?

One of golf's feel-good stories this year, Perry was outside the top 100 in the world when the season began. His unabashed goal was to make the U.S. Ryder Cup team, which will play in his home state of Kentucky in September. He loaded up his schedule with tournaments he liked on venues where he performed well in order to achieve this goal.

And when he won the Buick two weeks ago, he was all but assured of a spot on the team, meaning perhaps other goals could also be achieved.

Perry, who turns 48 next month, is such a good guy that he probably really would feel bad about turning his back on Milwaukee. He seems like the kind of person you'd want as your neighbor, your golf buddy, your friend.

But being a good guy doesn't get you a pass on skipping a major. Spots in the four biggest tournaments are simply too coveted to be blown off by someone who is exempt.

The hair on the back of Woody Austin's neck still rises whenever the subject is broached. He got roasted last year when he qualified for the British Open and elected to stay home and rest after a hectic summer of golf. He finished second to Tiger Woods at the PGA Championship, leading many to wonder how he might have fared at Carnoustie.

A generation ago, Lee Trevino skipped the Masters three times in five years, frustrated because he felt Augusta National did not suit his game. None other than Jack Nicklaus chastised the Merry Mex for the decision to bypass the Masters, telling him he was too good of a player not to be there. Years later, Trevino admitted he made a mistake. And it's interesting to note that in 1971 -- the second year he skipped the Masters -- Trevino went on to win the U.S. Open, the Canadian Open and the British Open.

And that leads us back to Perry, who would likely have a legitimate shot to win at Royal Birkdale. Why not? With Woods out of the picture due to injury, it's pretty much anybody's tournament to win. Perry, Mickelson and Anthony Kim are the only players other than Woods to have won multiple times this year. But the British Open is by far Mickelson's worst major -- he's had just one top-10 -- while Kim has never played in the tournament. Perry, meanwhile, has no worse than a tie for 16th in his past four appearances in the event.

Despite his age, Perry remains one of the longest hitters in the game, averaging 295.4 yards off the tee to rank 25th on tour. He is also 10th in greens in regulation, hitting 68.87 percent. If his putter gets hot -- typically what holds him back -- who knows what might happen on the Birkdale greens.

Not that this is even an issue, but Perry can't even use the excuse of transportation or expense. He is playing in this week's John Deere Classic, which is offering an all-expenses-paid charter for anyone in the field who is headed to the British Open.

Five years ago, Perry was on a similar run of good play. He won the Colonial and Memorial in consecutive weeks, tied for third at the U.S. Open, then won Milwaukee, which then was the week prior to the British Open.

Although he complained that links golf was not his favorite, and that he didn't particularly care for playing in the tournament, Perry headed to Sandwich, England, and found himself in contention through three rounds. Perry shot a final-round 73 and missed a playoff with Ben Curtis by four strokes. He tied for eighth.

But you can't win if you don't play.

Perry is playing -- but in Milwaukee, where they don't give a Claret Jug to the winner.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com