Kenny Perry prepares to defend SAS golf title

calexander@newsobserver.comSeptember 26, 2012 

— Kenny Perry says he has a lot to do next week when he returns to defend his title in the SAS Championship.

Mainly, smile a lot.

Perry may have been one of the saddest people ever to win a golf tournament. His first career Champions Tour victory, at Cary’s Prestonwood Country Club last year, came a day after his sister, Kay, died of cancer.

Of the final round, Perry said Wednesday, "It’s hard to remember. I went into shock. I flat-out blanked and went numb.

"It was weird. Usually you’re so focused on yourself and on the process of winning. Then there’s the celebration and excitement that comes with winning. I didn’t feel any of that."

Perry, 52, said those responsible for putting on the tournament deserved better, even if everyone was understanding. That’s why he said he’ll be shaking a lot of hands next week when the SAS is held.

"I’m going to be thanking a lot of people," he said.

He’ll also be trying to win again. He notched his second career win early this year in the ACE Group Classic in Naples, Fla., opening with rounds of 64 and 62 to set the tour scoring record for 36 holes.

"I was thinking, ‘Here we go, this is going to be my year,’" Perry said. "But it hasn’t happened."

Perry has finished second and twice has tied for third, and has almost $928,000 in earnings for the year. He’s 10th in Charles Schwab Cup points – a good but not great year.

"I feel I need to get in the winner’s circle more," he said. "But the Champions Tour is a lot harder than people give it credit for. There are some great putters out here."

Willie Wood, to name one. Wood is the quintessential Champions Tour player, grabbing more success after turning 50 than when he was on the PGA Tour.

Wood, 51, has won two of the past three Champions Tour events and bears watching in the SAS. He’s a little guy at 5-7 and 145 pounds but fearless on the greens.

"Willie’s an awesome story," Perry said. "He sat on the sidelines for six or seven years waiting to turn 50. He’s in shape and still looks like a teenager. And he can really putt.

"I’m one of the longer hitters on tour and I’ve always been a good ball-striker, but putting is what always held me back at times. It’s still like that."

Perry, who likes to think of himself as a good ol’ Kentucky boy, won 14 times on the PGA Tour and banked more than $31 million. He played some of his best golf in his 40s, just missing on a Masters title in 2009.

Perry never won a major championship. But just as gratifying as taking a major, perhaps, was being a part of the winning U.S. Ryder Cup team in 2008.

The matches were held at Valhalla Golf Club near Louisville. Not only was he playing for his country, but doing it in his home state.

"It’s 10 times more pressure than any other tournament," Perry said. "You’re wearing your county’s flag and you don’t want to let anybody down. I remember the first match, I was teamed with Jim Furyk and told him, ’Jim, I don’t think I can hit the first ball, I’m too nervous.’"

The U.S. team, captained by Paul Azinger, beat the Europeans at Valhalla. It was champagne for everyone. But the European team edged the U.S. two years ago in Wales to reclaim the Cup.

Perry, who lives in Franklin, Ky., said he will be watching with much interest this week as the Ryder Cup matches are held at Medinah Country Club outside Chicago.

"We’re ready," Perry said of the U.S. chances. "We’re coming in sharp, off the FedEx Cup (playoffs.) Now it’s a matter of jelling as a team.

"I hope the Chicago fans really get behind ’em and make the Europeans feel their presence. The fans were the ’13th man’ at Valhalla."

Perry chuckled, adding, "I still get goosebumps thinking about Valhalla."

Perry nearly withdrew from the SAS last year after learning of his sister’s death, which came two years to the day after his mother died, also of cancer. But his father convinced him to try and win it in his sister’s honor, and a 2-under 70 gave him a one-shot victory over Jeff Sluman and John Huston.

"It all worked out for me to win," Perry said. "It was pretty incredible."

Alexander: 919-829-8945

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