Perry just gets better with age

Sunday, April 05, 2009
By David Westin
Staff Writer

Much has happened -- most of it positive -- to Kenny Perry since he last played in the Masters Tournament in 2005.

Kenny Perry practices with the Ping Craz-E putter given to him by a friend in Florida. He has won four times using it.

(Chris Thelen/Staff)

He has won five times and been a Ryder Cup hero in his home state of Kentucky.

Perry qualified for the 2006 Masters but couldn't play because he was recovering from knee surgery.

"I didn't play well in 2007 (and failed to make the Masters field); 2008 was a great year, but I won three times after the Masters," Perry said. "It will be fun going back. You always miss not going to Augusta."

He has won four times in the past 11 months. The main reason is his improved putting.

"My whole career I've always been proud of how I am from tee to green," said the 48-year-old Perry . "If I could have putted anywhere like this 20 years ago, my career would have been totally different. I've just now figured out how to really settle in and get comfortable over a putt."

The right putter has also helped.

"I had a guy give me a putter, and I've putted really well with it," said Perry, referring to a Ping Craz-e putter. "I won three times with it last year and won Phoenix this year, so it's been a blessing."

The "guy" who gave Perry the putter is Paul Hargarten. He hadn't planned to part with the putter -- Hargarten's name is still wrapped around the shaft, just below the grip, for identification purposes.

"I'm a member at Bent Pine in Vero Beach, Fla., and he saw me out there putting with a bunch of putters, and he brought this one over and said, 'You need to try this one; it's going to help your game,' so I did," Perry said.

Perry's record in Augusta -- five missed cuts in eight starts -- could improve now that he's found the missing piece to his golf puzzle.

"I've never had the flat stick there," Perry said. "With this putter, as soft a face as it is, and as slow as the ball comes off the face, I think I'll definitely have better speed control and ball control that week."

Short of winning a green jacket, it's going to be hard for anything to top what Perry did last year in his home state. After being a long shot to make the 2008 U.S. Ryder Cup team, Perry played his way on, then went 2-1-1 as the U.S. won 161/2-111/2 at Valhalla in Louisville.

"It was the pinnacle of my career; it was the ultimate," Perry said. "The Ryder Cup was the greatest thing I've ever experienced in golf, period."

By playing in a Ryder Cup in the Bluegrass State, Perry said he "felt like Tiger Woods for one week. I felt like a rock star."

It validated all the snipes aimed his way during the 2008 season for his decision to bypass the majors. His much-criticized plan -- to concentrate on smaller tour tournaments where he expected to fare better and earn Ryder Cup points -- worked out.

"I had one goal, and I stuck with it, and in the end it was the right way to do it," Perry said. "They can criticize me all they want to, but to me that was what I was after, and that's all I wanted."

As Perry puts it, the Ryder Cup was his chance to "rewrite" his history among his fellow Kentuckians. What they remembered, he said, is the 1996 PGA Championship at Valhalla, where he lost in a playoff after struggling down the stretch.

"That's kind of what I was known for in Kentucky. I had a mulligan basically. Now all the Kentuckians will remember me for is the Ryder Cup," Perry said. "So, to me, that's pretty neat."

Perry, who has won 10 times in his 40s, may have reached the heights in golf with his Ryder Cup experience, but he has other goals. The biggest one is to finish his PGA Tour career with 20 victories.

He's sitting on 13.

Because of various exemptions, Perry can play on the PGA Tour until he's 54, so he has a shot at the 20-win career, something only 37 players have achieved.

"I'm only seven away now, so you never know," he said. "That takes a lot of pressure off me, and I don't have to be as cautious. I threw that out just to freak everybody out. It's probably an unreachable goal. But I'm 48, and I've got six more years. It's possible.

"It's been remarkable," he said of his late-career revival. "For whatever reason, my game came more to me. My short game came to me. Usually, you lose your short game at 40. My chipping is still not great, but the putter is what has really turned my career around these last few years."

Perry ranked 33rd in driving distance with a nearly 300-yard average (296 yards) on the tour last year.

"I still hit it as far as anybody," Perry said. "The game has not passed me by yet.

''Until something breaks down on me, and I can't do that anymore, I still think I can be very competitive out here."

Reach David Westin at (706) 823-3224 or david.westin@augustachronicle.com.