LOUISVILLE — Kenny Perry finally had his moment on No. 18 at Valhalla Golf Club on Sunday.
The hole that caused Perry one of his greatest heartbreaks – a bogey that led to a playoff loss in the 1996 PGA Championship – yielded a birdie on his final hole in this year’s PGA in what is likely his final appearance in a regular-tour major.
After a dismal drive into the left rough on the 18th – nearly the same drive he hit in 1996, Perry noted – the Franklin resident punched out and stuck a 4-iron hybrid to within 4 feet to roaring applause.
Perry, who turned 54 on Sunday, was treated to the last of about five choruses of “Happy Birthday” from the gallery Sunday as he approached the 18th green for the final time.
He made the birdie putt to finish with a 3-under 68 – his best round of the tournament – and complete the event at 6 under overall, which was tied for 28th as of 5:15 p.m. CDT.
After the round, Perry spoke with the media, and I also talked with his wife, Sandy, and his caddie, Fred Sanders – who is also a Kentucky native.
Here are their comments:
Final hole: “I thought that was pretty neat. I hit the same drive I hit in the ’96 PGA – dead left, and I’m thinking, ‘That’s the same shot I hit in the 72nd hole.’ At least I could get it back into the fairway, and then I hit 215 (yards), I hit the prettiest little 4-iron hybrid I’ve hit all week. … I could’ve used that 20-something years ago. That would have made my life a big game-changer.”
Happy Birthday chorus: “I’ve never heard ‘Happy Birthday’ sung so many times. Every hole. Poor Luke (Donald) was like, ‘Did you tweet out that it was your birthday, or what? How’d everybody know?’ But it was pretty special. All the people were behind me, and I had huge galleries. Pretty neat way to go out.”
Rain delay on No. 7: “I was playing nicely, and then when I had to sit down and wait an hour, my game wasn’t nearly as good. I fought it around. I didn’t make a bogey today, which I thought was pretty neat. Fifteen pars and three birdies.”
Door closing on PGA Tour? “I’m glad. I’m ready for it to. Thirty years of trying to make 3-footers, I’m ready to do something else. It’s been great. I had my time and my chance and my opportunities, and it was awesome. I enjoyed every bit of the ride.”
Upcoming schedule: “I’m taking eight weeks off after today. I’m looking forward to two months of just nothing. I’m not gonna really do anything, and then I’ll play the last four. I’ll play the two in the Carolinas, defend at the AT&T and play the Schwab Cup in Scottsdale. I’ve already played 20 events up to this point, a combination of both tours already this year, and our season on the Champions Tour is really kicking off. … I’m going to skip all those and go home and enjoy the family.”
More on final round: “It’s a dream way to end your career. If I could’ve scripted it, this is how I would’ve scripted it.”
His week as a whole: “I’m probably going to finish around 25th. That’s about as good as I can do. I told my caddie I didn’t really make too many mistakes out there. I just didn’t make enough birdies. It’s a big golf course for me. I hit a lot of hybrids this week. … I was looking where those other guys were hitting it. They’re hitting 7- and 8-irons, I’m back there hitting a hybrid. It’s time to move on.”
Experience this week: “It’s been a lot of fun. I’ve got a lot of friends and family out here, too, so I’ve got a lot of relatives here. It’s been a lot of fun. I don’t look up when they yell my name. You get a little embarrassed.”
I saw you pointing to a few people in the crowd: “Yeah, well you pretend like you know who you’re talking to, but you could be pointing at anybody. It’s been fun. It’s been a good ride.”
Could he still compete out here? “We could come out here and make some pretty good money, but he just doesn’t want to go through the grind. It’s a pretty good life out there. It’s a little more relaxed. We could still spend a couple years out here and do some damage. I mean, we played two majors and finished 28th in both of them, so far. That’s not too bad.”
Is it really that he just doesn’t want the practice grind anymore? “He used to practice until his hands would bleed. I saw a lot of that, gauze taped around his fingers while he was playing golf. That’s not him anymore. He has two grandchildren and one more on the way, and he’s gonna have some fun. He said, “I’ll see ya in two months.’ I said, ‘OK.’ My schedule changes every day.”
Will he play a full Champions Tour schedule? “I think he’ll still play a full schedule out there, because it’s fun. He doesn’t have to – I do the course, so he doesn’t have to show up until Wednesday night. … I know the courses pretty well, or I will, and we’ll get it all figured out before he tees up. He’s able to stay three days at home.”
This week: “It’s so special. It’s brought tears to my eyes several times, to just feel the love.”
The Happy Birthdays: “We had it like five times. It was so funny, before we got to the first tee, I said, ‘It would be so cool if they sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to him. Ten seconds later, they started singing. So I was like, ‘Oh, they heard me.'”