Commentary

After major absence, Perry hunting win

Originally Published: April 10, 2009
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The phone rang so often at Ken Perry's home in Franklin, Ky., on Friday afternoon and evening that he wondered whether he would ever get any peace.

Then again, this was a bad news-good news scenario if there ever was one.

After all, Mr. Perry's son is leading the Masters.

[+] EnlargeKenny Perry
Harry How/Getty ImagesKenny Perry's past at the Masters includes a best finish of T-12 in 1995. In 22 rounds at Augusta before this week, only twice did he shoot in the 60s. Perry doubled that total through 36 holes this week.

"Can you believe that?" Mr. Perry said after watching Kenny shoot 5-under-par 67 at Augusta National to tie for the second-round lead with Chad Campbell. "I've told him before I thought he should be wearing that green jacket. He just never putted that Masters course very well.

"But he's playing better than he has in his life."

It's hard to argue with dad on that one.

In the past 11 months, nobody -- not even Tiger Woods (who, of course, was injured for most of that time) -- has won more tournaments on the PGA Tour than Perry's four.

After winning three times last year but playing just a single round in the major championships, Perry is competing in his first Masters since 2005 and acting as though he owns the course.

A 68 on Thursday -- which matched the Kentucky native's best score at Augusta in nine tournament appearances -- was bettered by one on Friday when he didn't make a bogey. Perry put himself in position to become golf history's oldest major championship winner, by a little less than four months over Julius Boros, who won the 1968 PGA Championship.

At 48, Perry is not supposed to be doing these things.

"Everything is a bonus now, it really is," Perry said. "I'm just going through each and every day enjoying life a little bit. I think I can win. I'm not going out there very casually. I'm burning inside, wanting to kick everybody's butt.

"I've got a will inside of me; my dad taught me, he beat on me so bad as a kid [in] any kind of game, sport, whatever, he beat me so bad, cried all the time because he just beat on me. And then he would laugh in my face as he was doing it."

Perry said that with admiration, not malice. His father didn't beat him in the physical sense. But when it came to athletic endeavors, the old man figured it would toughen his son, and those lessons the younger Perry started learning 40 years ago are still paying off today -- although Ken Perry, 85, prefers to stay out of his son's ear these days.

"I've been watching him since he was 7 years old," Mr. Perry said. "I'm afraid I might say the wrong thing to him now and put something in his head that he doesn't need. I just want him to keep it going."

Most golf fans know that Perry's sole mission in 2008 was to make the U.S. Ryder Cup team and play the matches in his home state of Kentucky.

Perry owns his own golf course -- Country Creek -- in Franklin. He still gives 5 percent of his earnings -- a pledge he made more than 25 years ago to a sponsor -- to Lipscomb University. And he set up his schedule specifically to try to achieve his Ryder Cup goal, though he caught some grief along the way.

Perry didn't qualify for last year's Masters, then skipped qualifying for the U.S. Open. Despite being exempt for the British Open, Perry went to Milwaukee instead. Then he withdrew after one round of the PGA Championship with a scratched cornea.

But he made the U.S. Ryder Cup team on the basis of a strong summer that saw him win the Memorial, Buick Open and John Deere Classic. Then he had the week of his life at Valhalla, helping the U.S. team to a resounding victory.

"The experience I had with my dad and my wife and kids at the Ryder Cup, will be one I'll never forget," said Perry, who went 2-1-1. "I still get goose bumps talking about it.

"It was probably the greatest three days of my life, ball-striking-wise. Very similar to the way I'm hitting right here. And I putted beautifully that week."

After accomplishing such a goal, what's next?

How about a major championship win?

That would be the ultimate in irony, considering that Perry all but shunned a couple of them last year. He has 13 PGA Tour victories and, with some $28 million in career earnings, has made more money than any player who has not captured one of the Grand Slam events.

"I'm one of the biggest competitors out here," Perry said. "I hate to miss any of those big tournaments. I love the atmosphere. I love the roars that you get, especially here at Augusta. The roars are unbelievable.

"[But] last year was my plan, I drew it out early in the year, and I was not going to deviate from it. And I took a lot of heat from it for skipping those two majors. … But I just wanted to stay on course and get ready for the Ryder Cup. That's what I was after."

Perry's best finish at the Masters was a tie for 12th in 1995. He had shot just two rounds in the 60s in the 22 rounds he had played here before this week, and now has two in a row.

Hitting 29 of 36 greens in regulation helps. So does taking fewer than 30 putts in each round.

"He's just been playing good," said his longtime caddie, Fred Sanders. "This is the first year he's been ready to play early in the year. He played through Christmas and continued on. He's been playing great for about a year.

"He hit the ball perfect. He maybe missed two shots today. If we can make some putts, we'll have some funs this weekend. We're still having fun and we haven't been making many."

Kenny Perry recalled the first time he beat his dad at golf. It came at Franklin Country Club when he was 14. The old man had him 1 stroke down with one hole to play and it was a par-3.

Kenny holed a 4-iron for an ace to win by 1.

"It finally turned," Kenny said. "And I let him have it."

Ken Perry chuckled at that memory Friday, then welcomed the idea of his phone ringing on Sunday, knowing exactly what that would mean.

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

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com