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T.J.'s Take: A home game like no other for Perry
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- As far as Kenny Perry is concerned, the 2008 Ryder Cup can't get started fast enough.
And who can blame him?
Perry's face is on billboards on interstate highways in his home state of Kentucky and at Valhalla Golf Club he's been receiving a hero's welcome -- there truly is no place like home.
"I just can't imagine what Tiger Woods puts up with all the time, and for one week in my life, I feel like him," said Perry, following his first practice round on Tuesday. "It was awesome. I mean, I grinned the whole time. I had a blast out there."
So far, it would seem that the only issue Perry might have this week is a cramped right hand.
"I've never signed so many autographs in my life," he said with a smile from ear to ear.
Think about it. Perry is 48 years old. He's as patriotic a player as you'll find on the PGA TOUR. And now, toward the end of what has been an incredibly successful career on TOUR, he's representing his country in the biggest international team event in golf, and it's a home game.
Perry made a goal at the start of the 2008 season and that was to be a member of Captain Paul Azinger's U.S. Ryder Cup team. While all goals are ambitious, this one seemed a little over the top. After all, Perry wasn't getting any younger and he was coming off a mediocre 2007 season that featured three top-10 finishes, all of which came in his final 10 starts. To be fair, Perry struggled through the first part of the season as he recovered from knee surgery, which again made the goal of making the Ryder Cup team all the more pie in the sky.
Apparently no one told Perry that. And if they did, the grizzled veteran wasn't listening. Instead, he's been one of the most outstanding players on TOUR in 2008, picking up seven top-10 finishes in 25 starts, including three wins.
Perry, who wasn't eligible for the Masters, was widely criticized for his decision not to try and qualify for the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. He also took a pass on the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale even though he had qualified. All of that made the PGA Championship his only start in a major this season and a "start" is pretty much all it was. The Kentuckian withdrew due to an eye injury after an opening round of 9-over 79.
While Perry baffled many by his decision to take a pass on two major championships, he stuck to his guns, stressing to anyone who would listen that his season goal was to make the U.S. Ryder Cup team. In order to accomplish that goal, he set a particular schedule and the U.S. Open and Open Championship weren't a part of it. Furthermore, he felt it was important to honor his commitments to the tournaments he had already registered for.
Perry did it his way and no one can question the fact that he's earned his spot at Valhalla. He's the oldest player on the team by a long shot -- Steve Stricker is next in line at 41 -- but you'd be hard-pressed to find a guy with more youthful enthusiasm than Perry.
Speaking of enthusiasm, Perry won't have any shortage of familiar faces rooting him on this week.
"I've gotten 100 tickets that I've given away or it was in GolfWeek they said I was short on tickets," Perry said. "That one little article, I've had people call Country Creek [the golf course he owns] and say, 'I've got an extra ticket, would you like to buy it?' They called Country Creek and said, 'I've got two extra tickets, I can't be there on Saturday,' and we've just gotten them all. I've just gotten them all and distributed them. And then whatever I had left over I left at Country Creek to give to my members or give to people that wanted to come up at the last minute, so I left a few there at the golf course."
Aside from a win, is there anything else that could make this week more special for Perry?
Well, just one thing. Perry would love to be paired with fellow Kentuckian and Ryder Cup rookie J.B. Holmes, specifically in the first match on Friday morning. You know, kinda let the Kentucky guys set the tone for Team U.S.A. and get the crowds fired up.
"I thought it would be special for two Kentuckians to lead the charge out here to try to win the Cup back," Perry said. "I guess it could backfire if we don't play well and they kick us pretty bad. It could also have a reverse role, too. I just think with the energy and the excitement, I just think it's going to put a lot of pressure on the Europeans, and I just think he's [Holmes] playing awesome... It's just going to be a neat experience for us. He makes lots of birdies. He's a great match-play player. If I can just calm him down a little bit, I think we'd be a tough team to beat."