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Major Motivation

Kenny Perry enters this week's PGA still smarting over playoff loss in 1996

August 11, 2003|Thomas Bonk | Times Staff Writer

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — What was Kenny Perry thinking? Wasn't the PGA Championship waiting there for someone to step forward and win it and all Perry did was take a seat?

It has been seven years since the 1996 PGA Championship at steamy Valhalla Golf Club, so that means that Perry has had a long time to wonder about what he did. Perry has thought about how close he came, why he spent so much time in the CBS broadcast booth chit-chatting when he might have been getting ready for a possible playoff. And when that playoff did come, why Mark Brooks won and he didn't.

This was one major title that Perry let get away. He took his defeat sitting down.

Of course, that's not the way Perry sees it. Now that he's experiencing the best year of his career and there's another PGA Championship this week at Oak Hill Country Club, it may be time for Perry to put that Valhalla experience to rest, once and for all.

If only everybody else would do the same.

"Everybody has felt like I screwed that one up in 1996, which I think they're totally wrong in how they printed that scenario out, which has hurt my feelings a little bit," Perry said.

Perry finished three groups ahead of Brooks, closing with a four-under-par 68. That was good enough to make a playoff because Brooks ended with a birdie at the 18th for a two-under 70.

But as Brooks was finishing up, Perry was in the television tower above the 18th hole for about 30 minutes, commenting on the action.

Minutes later, he was in a playoff. At the 540-yard, par-five 18th, Perry drove into the left rough and didn't reach the green until his fourth shot. Brooks had victory in his sights. When his two-putt birdie won it, all Perry could do was wait for criticism that, to get ready for a possible playoff, he should have been practicing instead of sitting.

Perry still feels the sting.

"Everybody says I did the wrong thing, but, you know, that's me versus the world, it seems like," he said.

"Maybe I did blow it, but I don't think I did."

Perry said he knew he didn't need to get loose because he already was warmed up. He said he was prepared, just unlucky when he drove through a fairway bunker 292 yards from the tee and into the rough. He blames adrenaline, not sitting around. He's also tired of talking about it.

"I'm still asked about it today," Perry said. "It's something I'll live with the rest of my life. That bothers me a lot. I mean, let's get over it. Let's go on to the future.

"I mean, I guess there's a little anger there."

There also is a lot of talent, apparently of the latent variety, because there are few who could have seen that Perry would wait until age 42 to enjoy the greatest success of his 17-year career.

With seven top-10 finishes in a row -- three of them victories -- Perry has made just short of $4 million this year and moved to eighth in the Official World Ranking. Not only is he a strong candidate for player of the year, he also is in the hunt for the money title.

That's not too bad for a player, with one victory in his previous eight years, who was ranked 84th going into 2001.

It is the kind of year that has vaulted Perry into the spotlight as one of the players to beat at major championship time. After he tied for 39th at the Masters, Perry tied for third at the U.S. Open and tied for eighth at the British Open. He won consecutive events, the Colonial and the Memorial, then after his strong finish at Olympia Fields, won at Milwaukee.

Perry hasn't been out of the top 10 since the second week of May.

"I wouldn't say I'm surprised," said Rich Beem, who won the PGA Championship last year at Hazeltine. "He's just making everything he looks at. When you get on a streak like that, it's awesome.

"He's had the game, obviously, to be around for a while."

Although Perry has carried the banner for the over-40 group on the PGA Tour this year, he has had a lot of company. Scott Hoch, 43, won at Doral. Fred Couples, 43, won at Houston. Craig Stadler, 50, won the B.C. Open and Peter Jacobsen, 49, won at Hartford. Jay Haas, 49, was second at the Hope and at the Players Championship to go along with four other top-10s, plus more than $2 million in earnings.

This isn't old home week, it's old home year, and Perry wouldn't mind adding to his victory total this week at Oak Hill and settle a score with the PGA Championship.

"Maybe the PGA owes me one, I don't know," he said.

"I'm definitely ready to win. I mean, I definitely know how to win and I'm not afraid to win. I think that's huge with some guys. Some guys run from it and I enjoy the challenge of it."

It's no longer far-fetched to speculate that Perry has as good a chance as anybody, but if he gets even a slight opportunity at winning this week, you can be sure he's not going to take it sitting down.

*

85th PGA Championship

Dates: Thursday-Sunday.

* Site: Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y.

* Course: 7,134 yards, par 70.

* Playoff: Three holes, stroke play.

* Defending champion: Rich Beem.

* Last year: Beem made up a three-stroke deficit against Justin Leonard, then spent the back nine at Hazeltine holding off Tiger Woods. Beem hit a five-wood to within six feet on the par-five 11th for eagle to seize control, and he made a 35-foot birdie on the 16th. He needed every stroke, as Woods closed with four straight birdies to finish one stroke behind.

* Last time at Oak Hill: Europe rallied from a 9-7 deficit to win the 1995 Ryder Cup. Curtis Strange, Brad Faxon and Peter Jacobson all had putts on the 18th hole that ultimately could have won the cup for the United States.

* Past major champions at Oak Hill: Curtis Strange, 1989 U.S. Open; Jack Nicklaus, 1980 PGA Championship; Lee Trevino, 1968 U.S. Open; Cary Middlecoff, 1956 U.S. Open.

* Television: Thursday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., TNT. Saturday-Sunday, 8 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., TNT; 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Ch. 2.

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