Dublin, OH — Three years ago Kenny Perry arrived at Muirfield Village Golf Club with one thought absolutely certain, the 2015 Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide would be his last event on the PGA TOUR, however multiple factors have led to the 57-year-old teeing it up in an all too familiar venue.
Perry, a three-time winner of this event, had shoulder surgery and missed six months of PGA TOUR Champions action. This will be his fifth start of the season having competed in the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf at Big Cedar Lodge, the Insperity Invitation, Regions Tradition and KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship.
Additionally, prior to his shoulder surgery, Perry won the 2017 U.S. Senior Open and thus earned an exemption into this year’s U.S. Open which will be played at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton, NY, June 11-17.
“I just need some rounds,” Perry explained. “I have a lifetime exemption here having won three times, plus I signed with Jack (Nicklaus), so I have the Golden Bear on my shirt, and I’m representing him. I just needed to come out and play some tournaments. I played the Senior PGA last week and then Regions Tradition and then Houston. This will be my fifth start, so I am just trying to get some reps in before the U.S. Open.”
Perry’s commitment to this tournament, which was announced a couple of days prior to the firm 5 p.m. Friday deadline, makes plenty of sense given his success.
Part of that preparation began with an 18-hole practice round Monday in temperatures which approached 95-degrees Fahrenheit.
Perry played the practice round despite having a 10:17 tee time Sunday morning at the Senior PGA Championship, which also was in 90-degree heat.
This is Perry’s third consecutive week playing in a tournament, which will help the rhythm he is hoping to obtain for Shinnecock Hills.
“I don’t really have to prepare other then just having my body and mind ready,” said Perry. “If I can physically hit it to where I need to hit it, I’m going to be okay because I know where to put it and how to place it. Physically if I can’t do that, it’s going to be a long week.”
As far as expectations go, Perry believes he have a successful week, but also admits that things will need to go his way.
“I need my driver to do well and hit it straighter and more accurate than they do,” he said. “If I do well with my driver and putter, then I have a chance to be competitive. I don’t know if I have a shot to win, to be realistic, I’m 57, it’s hard to beat a 20-something when you’re being outdriven by 50 yards.”
Given that Perry is coming back from major surgery, his bag is filled with clubs that are familiar with him. This, he stated is intentional.
“There’s nothing new in the bag, because I’m trying to play with stuff where I know what it does,” said Perry. “It gives me a baseline so I don’t want to throw a new wrench into it. The clubs I use go the distance I need them to go, I just have to work on direction with them.”
Perry’s success at the Memorial Tournament is adorned all across Muirfield Village, whether it is by one of the entrances, with a plaque in the media center or even the customary handshake tournament host Jack Nicklaus gives the winner as he comes off the 18th green Sunday. In fact, when it comes to this event, only Tiger Woods has won more often than Perry.
Now, Perry also has a memory every time he competes as he wears Nicklaus’s polos which feature the signature Golden Bear logo.
“I was asked if I would like to wear the clothing and I jumped at the opportunity,” a smiling Perry said. “I have always looked up to that man. He’s a great role model, (his wife) Barbara is great and he has great kids, a great family. I just hope more than anything I don’t let him down. I just want to do a good job with the Golden Bear on my chest. I just want to do good things for him, he’s a great man and he’s meant a lot to me in my career. It was great getting to shake his hand three times, after coming off of 18 victorious.”
In the past four starts, Perry has achieved some good results and most importantly, he is having fun.
“I’ve been enjoying these last few events,” said Perry. “It’s been 35 years of work and a labor of love.”
Three years ago when Perry was playing at the Memorial Tournament, he made a single guarantee, that Justin Thomas would become the top-ranked player, in fact Perry spent almost as much time talking about him as he did his own game on that Tuesday afternoon.
When Perry came to the Muirfield Village clubhouse Monday, there was one person in particular that he was looking for. Thomas. Upon finding the latter, Perry was quick to offer a high five and a big smile.
“I told you he was going to be the next superstar out here and sure enough he is number one in the world,” Perry said. “I could just see it. The kid’s hungry, he’s talented and has beautiful golf swing. He has great manners and is just a great kid. He’s a Kentuckyan and I have to pull for all of my Kentuckyans.”
Perry is an individual that consistently showed it was possible to win PGA TOUR events in his 40’s now he expressed optimism that the same can occur for those who are 50-years-old or above.
His belief is strengthened by Steve Stricker, who has found consistent success while juggling both the PGA TOUR and PGA TOUR Champions.
“I think a guy in the 50’s can still win out here,” Perry stated. “I think Stricker can still win out here if he is motivated enough.”
Generally speaking, Perry believes the breakthrough for a PGA TOUR Champions eligible player to get into the winner’s circle has yet to come due to a loss in motivation, citing himself as an example of that from 2010-14.
“We lose our motivation to really strive out here and continue to beat our heads against the wall and practice,” said Perry. “You get out on the Champions Tour and it’s more of a social tour, relaxing a more enjoyable. I turned 50 in 2010 and was exempt out here until 2014, so I was juggling just like what Strick is doing, and I really didn’t do well in either one. He’s still competitive out here and really competitive on our tour, so good job to him.”