Perry at home on Tour, and chasing its biggest prize

Chris Condon/PGA TOUR
Kenny Perry's familiar swing will be seen far more often this season on the Champions Tour.
February 09, 2012
Craig Dolch, PGATOUR.COM Contributor

BOCA RATON, Fla. -- Like most of his aging PGA TOUR comrades, Kenny Perry always heard how the quality of play on the Champions Tour was much stouter than most anticipated.

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Perry thought he knew what that meant. But, in reality, he didn't.

It wasn't until he needed a pair of binoculars to see the leaders in several tournaments that he finally understood how good the competition is on the Champions Tour.

"There were a couple of tournaments where I finished 15 shots behind the winners," Perry said Thursday. "I had to go back and regroup a little bit because it was a shock to my system."

How big of a shock?

"They almost chased me back to the regular (PGA) TOUR," Perry said, smiling. "It's easier on the regular tour to make the cut and try to perform than it is to win a tournament out here. A lot of guys don't understand how big of a transition there is. I didn't understand."

But as he has done throughout his quarter-century of playing golf for a living, Perry made the necessary adjustments last year on the Champions Tour. He finished runner-up in his sixth start and then claimed his first title when he won the SAS Championship less than 24 hours after learning his sister, Kay, had died of breast cancer.

Despite playing in just 10 events, Perry ranked 15th in the final Charles Schwab Cup standings and was chosen Rookie of the Year on the Champions Tour. He said the victory in the SAS Championship, while under such difficult circumstances, was vital to making that transition as smooth as possible.

"That took the pressure off me," he said. "I've done that, so I can relax and go back to just trying to have fun and play great golf."

Because of his length and his competitiveness on the PGA TOUR -- he won 11 of his 14 career titles after the age of 40 -- Perry is seen as a player who can dominate on the Champions Tour. "Kenny is going to make a lot of money out here," said Mark Calcavecchia, who finished second to Tom Lehman in last year's Charles Schwab Cup.

But Perry insists he's not the player to beat in this week's Allianz Championship, the Champions Tour's first full-field event, at Broken Sound Golf Club. Really, he does.

"I've never considered myself a favorite because I've always seen myself an underdog with my career," Perry said. "If I was a better putter, maybe. My strength has always been tee-to-green. Every time my putter got hot, I won a golf tournament. That's how it worked for me my entire career. You have to shoot really low scores to win out here, and that's not something I do a lot."

Yet Perry is making the necessary adjustments to his schedule to make him as competitive as possible on the Champions Tour. Last year he played in more events on the PGA TOUR (13) than on the Champions Tour. This year, that number will be flipped, where he will likely play 75 percent of his golf on the older circuit.

"It's hard for me to let go of the PGA TOUR," Perry said. "But what I found out last year was it's impossible to be competitive in the Charles Schwab Cup when you only play 10 events. I'd like to chase that down this year."

So Perry is skipping playing some of his favorite courses such as Bay Hill, Colonial and Muirfield Village -- where he won a combined six titles -- because those tournaments on the PGA TOUR coincide or are near the majors on the Champions Tour. The transition continues for a guy who won 14 PGA TOUR titles, earned more than $31 million and played in a combined six Presidents Cups/Ryder Cups.

"I've had the pressure situations ... been there, done that," he said. "I want to have fun and celebrate my last few years of playing golf."

Perry has a clear motive for re-arranging his schedule to concentrate on the Charles Schwab Cup. He has donated more than $2 million to charities during his career and he'd like to add to that amount by earning the $1 million bonus for finishing first in the Schwab Cup. He even started the Kenny Perry Foundation last year to facilitate such a moment.

"There are a lot of things we need in my town to help out folks like the Boys & Girls Clubs," he said. "That would be a great way to kick the foundation off."

That possibility makes saying good-bye to the PGA TOUR a lot easier.