Perry seeks breakthrough win at place he knows well

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Being a part of the winning Ryder Cup team at Valhalla in 2008 -- at age 48 -- was a career highlight for Kenny Perry.
May 25, 2011
Vartan Kupelian, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent

If you play golf for any length of time, there will be soaring highs and deflating lows. If you play the game for a really long time, the two may even intersect.


For Kenny Perry, the overlap came at Valhalla Golf Club. Perry is a Kentucky native who has never been shy about sharing his affection for his home. That's what made his defeat at the 1996 PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville so disappointing. It's also what made his stunning appearance in the 2008 Ryder Cup, at age 48, such a revelation.

Perry returns to Valhalla for the 72nd Senior PGA Championship presented by KitchenAid wondering if there is another watershed event in his career awaiting him. Perry is looking for his breakthrough Champions Tour victory and if it should be a major, so much the better.

"This place is pretty special to me," Perry said. "I have a lot of history. The Ryder Cup was probably the highest of highs I ever had in golf. The celebration in the tent that was built just next door to this one was pretty phenomenal.

"To lose the '96 PGA to Mark Brooks was probably the lowest of lows for me. So I had it all here, I had a lot of emotions, a lot of roller coasters, but all-in-all I played well. I played well (in '06), even though I lost. I played well in the Ryder Cup."

Perry dedicated all his efforts for a two-year stretch on the PGA TOUR to earning a spot on Captain Paul Azinger's 2008 Ryder Cup team. Everything he did, every time he played, the expressed goal was the Ryder Cup. He may have been a longshot at the beginning of that stretch but by the end he had established himself as a go-to guy for the victorious United States.

Perry won three times in 2008: the Memorial Tournament, the Buick Open and the John Deere Classic. He's a three-time winner at the Memorial, where Jack Nicklaus is tournament host and course designer. Perry's first victory on the PGA TOUR came in the 1991 Memorial Tournament, a title he also won in 2003 at Muirfield Village Golf Club. Valhalla is a Jack Nicklaus design. It's no coincidence that Perry has had so much success on Jack's courses.

"I love Jack Nicklaus golf courses," Perry said. "And I'm excited. I'm just ready to get going and celebrate with all my home folks here in Kentucky."

Perry's golf game is ready to make a splash after considerable mediocre play.

"Well, I'm getting better," said Perry, who has been working earnestly on his game.

Power Rankings
Kenny Perry is in this week's Power Rankings, but Tom Lehman is the obvious No. 1. Rankings

It's paid off with better recent finishes on the Champions Tour, including a tie for fifth at the Regions Tradition at Shoal Creek in the Champions Tour's first major of the year three weeks ago. Before that, Perry and his partner, Scott Hoch, lost a playoff at the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf.

"Still trying to get my swing back to where it used to be when I was playing well from 2003 through 2009," Perry said. "It's a tough process. You get old, things don't work the same way anymore, and I'm trying to figure all that out again. So hopefully I can eventually carry it from the range to the golf course. I haven't been able to do that quite yet, I still hit some poor golf shots, I hit a lot of good quality golf shots, but I can't seem to get it all together right now."

But if there's a course that can inspire Perry to find his best game, it's Valhalla with all its Nicklaus traits.

"Hopefully the magic will show up here this week and a lot of good things will happen and we'll get back into the thick of things again and I'll start getting in the hunt a little bit more and playing a little bit better golf," he said. "That's what I'm looking forward to ... I'm not where I used to be, but it's getting better. I'm looking forward to the challenge of this week."

The weather will be a factor this week. There's no doubt about it. Valhalla is wet and there's more rain in the forecast. The Nicklaus design, already long, will play even longer. Perry is one of the longer hitters on the Champions Tour. A saturated golf course should benefit his game.

"Well the rough is brutal for one thing," he said. "The rough is really high. The ball, every ball I hit, plugged. It was embedded, I had to pick it up and clean it and place it. So if we get more rain, obviously that's going to be the same.

"So the golf course is going to play its maximum length and it's all going to be up to the PGA to determine are they going to move us up tee boxes or let us play the length of the golf course. And it will definitely give me an advantage if we play full length. Where it will help though is the greens. The green complexes are very difficult here, but they will be soft. They will actually receive golf shots coming in there."

So the stage is set for another key moment in Perry's outstanding career.

"It would mean everything to me (to win the Senior PGA), " he said. "I've tried and I've fought and I just can't get over the hump. Whatever it is, I've had a lot of good wins, but they're just good wins. My two majors I could have won, the PGA and the ('09) Masters, I blew on the last couple holes coming in. I've got to figure out somehow to get over the hump.

"But if I win here at this stage of my career, it will be the biggest win I've ever had, because I didn't get the job done in those two events. If I can somehow figure out how to put it together and make it happen this week, this will be a huge victory for me."

Vartan Kupelian is a freelance columnist for PGATOUR.COM. His views do not necessarily reflect the views of the PGA TOUR.