Besides, Pernice had worked so hard to get back to the PGA TOUR and did it with such a flourish. It was in the final event of the 2011 season, at the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic, that Pernice produced a stunning third-place finish to move into the coveted top 125 on the money list with four spots to spare.
Pernice began that week as the fifth alternate and ranked No. 143. To reach his goal of gaining full exemption on the PGA TOUR, he knew what he had to do. First, fortune had to smile on him by getting Pernice into the tournament. Then, he had capitalize by playing four excellent rounds of golf. It was a classic case of easier said than done. But, at 51, Pernice got it done. The third-place finish at the Walt Disney World Resort courses moved him into the top 125 in 2011 despite playing only 12 events, which included a T2 at the Viking Classic.
On the Champions Tour in 2011, Pernice played in 16 events with six top 10s and finished No. 29 on the Money List, which gave him full status on both tours in 2012.
That allowed Pernice a view from the catbird seat. He had his choice of tours and he knew the PGA TOUR option wouldn’t be there forever. Plus, the opportunity to play a lot of golf on two tours was right in Pernice’s wheelhouse.
Always somebody who played as much as possible, Pernice played 23 events on the PGA TOUR last year and 10 more on the Champions Tour. This year, with the PGA TOUR option largely gone, it’s all about the Champions Tour and it’s safe to believe that Pernice will make an impact. He has already said that his goal is to take a run at the Charles Schwab Cup. That means playing a lot of golf and playing it well.
In his first two events this year, Pernice tied for second at the Allianz Championship behind Rocco Mediate and tied for third at the ACE Group Classic behind Bernhard Langer.
“I worked hard in the offseason trying to be prepared for the start of the season,” Pernice said.
“I played over here a little bit last year. Once you get to the event and you start getting ready, I mean, nothing's different. It's still a game, I've always thought. I'm just trying to be in the mindset to really get off to a good start out here and give yourself a chance on Sunday.”
So far, he has.
“It helps when you're hitting the ball well and you're putting well,” Pernice said. “But yes, I feel good about my game right now. Confidence is up there. I feel like I've got a good understanding of my golf swing. Everything feels pretty good right now.”
Penrice was a late bloomer on the PGA TOUR. A member of that noteworthy UCLA team which included Corey Pavin, Steve Pate, Duffy Waldorf and Jay Delsing in the early 1980s, Pernice was the PAC-10 Player of the year in 1981. He turned professional two years later. Pernice posted his first PGA TOUR victory at the 1999 Buick Open, shooting three rounds of 66 at Warwick Hills to post a 1-stroke victory over Tom Lehman, Bob Tway and Ted Tryba.
Pernice’s other PGA TOUR win came at The International in 2001.
“Later in my career I think I started hitting the ball better and had a better understanding of my swing and just started playing better, I think,” he said. “Didn't think that my ball-striking was ever really up to par as it should have been the first part of my years on the TOUR.
“My short game always kind of kept me in there. I continue to work on the short game as well, but I feel like the golf swing is getting better and better, good understanding of it, worked hard in the gym trying to stay healthy and trying to stay fit. We do all these things so we can be ready to play good.”
Pernice didn’t waste time upon his arrival on the Champions Tour. He celebrated his 50th birthday on September 5, 2009, and won his debut event 22 days later at the SAS Championship. He did it in style, shooting 67-67-69—203 for a 1-stroke victory over Nick Price and David Frost. Not surprisingly, it was Pernice’s short game that made the difference. On the final hole, he converted a putt of 36 feet for the winning margin.
Pernice is counting on a few more of those winning putts on the Champions Tour.