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Aged to Perfection: Young Killen's talent as teacher belies his age
By Dave Lagarde, PGATour.com Correspondent
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Imagine this scenario.
A veteran of the PGA Tour with 10 victories and more than $13 million in career earnings turns to a kid he watched play Little League and coached on a high school golf team as his exclusive swing teacher.
Doesn't happen in the real world, right?
Not so fast, my friend. Happened in Franklin, Ky., in 2005 when Kenny Perry began working with Matt Killen, Perry's son Justin's best friend and roommate at Western Kentucky University. Killen, who apparently was born to be an instructor, was all of 20 at the time.
Fast forward to 2008. Perry now has 12 PGA Tour victories, has won more than $26 million and achieved the one goal heavily underlined on his things-to-do list for 2008. And that would be a spot on the United States Ryder Cup team that will attempt to wrest the storied cup from a European team loathe to release it beginning Friday at Valhalla Golf Club.
Now hear this. Before anyone thinks this Perry-Killen partnership is a one-time wonder situation, understand that Team USA easily be mistaken for Team Killen. And should the underdog United States team upset the Europeans, the roots of the victory were planted in, in all places, the town of Franklin, Ky., population 8,019.
Perry isn't Killen's only client. He works with another native son, J.B. Holmes, who is a two-time Tour winner and was one of Paul Azinger's captain's choices. Another captain's choice, Chad Campbell, signed on with Killen about two months ago. Three top 10s later he was named to his third Ryder team.
So do the math. Killen works with three of the 12-man squad. That's 25 percent.
And oh by the way, Azinger also happens to be one of his pupils after he was referred to the captain by former PGA champion Shaun Micheel, another player in Killen's stable. So to say Killen, another native son, has a vested interest in the outcome on Kentucky soil this weekend is an understatement.
"You could say that," Killen said Wednesday morning as he made his way to Valhalla for another fine-tune session with his pupils. "I'm excited. From what I've seen this week the team is confident. The players have great attitudes. Everybody on the team is hungry for a victory."
As well the United States should be after the way Europe has dominated the biennial tie for more than a decade, winning five of the last six, including the last two, which politely could be called blowouts. Killen, 23, believes there is about to be a reversal in fortune.
"This team is up here to win," he said. "That's where all the focus is."
Killen said he likes where the respective games of his trio of clients are at present. He worked hard last week with Perry and Holmes at highly rated The Club at Olde Stone in Bowling Green where Killen has been the head teaching professional for six months.
"They worked extremely hard on all aspects of their games," he said. "We made some minor adjustments, but it was more fine-tuning than anything else. The idea is to have them to be at their peak this week."
Campbell did not attend the week-long session because his wife Amy gave birth to the couple's first child. But Killen has played catch up with the quiet Texan on Monday and Tuesday and feels good about the state of his ball-striking.
"Chad is hitting it great," he said.
As for Zinger, he will be calling the shots rather than hitting them. Killen has had numerous conversations with him as the Ryder Cup drew near. He pronounced the captain ready, willing and able.
"He was born to do this," Killen said.
Those words also apply to the speaker. Killen always has been enamored with all aspects of the golf swing since he began collecting swing sequences out of Golf Digest magazines before he turned 10. Perry introduced 15-year-old Killen to instructor Ron Gring, who gave the teenager insight into the profession. A year later Killen was providing help to his high school teammates whenever necessary. He turned professional with a career in teaching in mind after he graduated high school. His star has been on the rise ever since.
None of it would have happened without Perry's influence with and faith in one so young. It began when a struggling Perry asked Killen what he thought of his swing in 2005. Killen made some suggestions that worked.
"Players don't come back if they don't play well," said Killen, who believes an instructor should find a swing that fits a player based on body type and athletic ability.
All of a sudden Perry was a regular. Eventually Killen took a job at Perry's Country Creek Golf Course in Franklin. He taught Perry for more than a year before Perry let the cat out of the bag when he mentioned it to the media.
"I probably wasn't ready for the publicity at first," Killen said. "I'm glad I could work with him without any extra attention. It was a little uncomfortable at first, not because of the age difference, but the importance of the information I was passing on to a player of his level. But the bottom line is I have always been extremely confident in my thoughts on the golf swing."