Tour InsiderSeptember 28, 2009

Moving On

Even after coming up short again on the big stage, Kenny Perry hasn't lost sight of the larger picture

The Tour Championship now a memory, Kenny Perry has already shifted his attention to next week's Presidents Cup.

The Tour Championship now a memory, Kenny Perry has already shifted his attention to next week's Presidents Cup.

After an all-day photo shoot for TaylorMade on Monday at Reynolds Plantation outside Atlanta, Kenny Perry threw his clubs in the back of a four-door GMC pickup with the king cab and a topper over the back to secure the gear. With that, he pointed the vehicle toward Eastern Kentucky and set off on a six-hour drive back to Franklin. Not long into the ride he started returning phone calls.

"I'll tell you one thing," he said, "I'm not ever gonna be no actor."

Kenny is too real for that. In the role of Kenny Perry, he has won more hearts than tournaments in his career, with the type of down home, sitting-around-the-family-table genuineness that pours through every sentence. Shooting commercials a day after blowing a golf tournament -- much less calling a golf writer to rehash a bad memory -- takes the type of patience and professionalism that in part led to his being named recipient of the Payne Stewart Award

What Kenny left behind at East Lake GC on Sunday in the Tour Championship was potentially worth $10 million in FedEx Cup bonuses and the Tour Championship purse paid for by Coca-Cola. Considering the last time he drove east on Interstate 20 in Georgia, there was also a sense of lost opportunity.

It was in April that Perry let the Masters get away. In all those years of golf, starting with an assistant pro job in Vero Beach, Fla., to this day as the game's latest Stewart Award winner, there was nothing like the disappointment of not coming home from Augusta National with the green jacket.

Then reality crept in. At home, both his parents, Ken and Mildred, were fighting life-threatening illnesses. After 60 years of marriage, the Perrys were coming to the end of the highway. Sort of put it all in perspective.

"I spent more time with my family this year than I had with my family in the past," he said. "My mom's been so sick, it changed my outlook. They're not going be here much longer. It's just grounded me a little bit. I just want to give my mom a hug each morning I see her, hug my dad and get my family out to tournaments."

Part of the Perry entourage includes 23-year-old son Justin, who was on the bag at East Lake while his father's nerve endings were jumping off the charts.

Perry shot 74 the day after shooting 64, which occurs in golf quite often. But Perry said this wasn't nerves that cost him the Tour Championship and who knows how many FedEx dollars. It was the massive jolt of adrenaline flowing through his 49-year-old body.

"It was a great experience," Perry said. "You think you're ready for the situation, and then you get in there and think, 'Oh my God, I'm in over my head here.' What surprised me was how much adrenaline was in my body. I wasn't nervous. I was so amped up."

So amped up that his arms were outrunning his body, like the drive train of his dragster not being able to keep up with the engine: Perry was totally out of synch. He ended up tied for fourth, making $330,000 for the tournament and another $550,000 for finishing ninth in the FedEx Cup bonus pool. It could have been $1.35 million to win and anywhere from $2 million to $10 million depending on where Woods finished.

"I don't know if it was Tiger, playing in his gallery, playing in the last group on Sunday at the Tour Championship, the $10 million, the craziness of it all, but all my senses were heightened," he said. It started to unravel at the third, when his second shot, 127 yards from the middle of the fairway, went long and left, buried in a bunker, and led to a bogey. "I told Justin, 'My arms went through that ball at Mach 3.' I had so much acceleration in my hands, I felt like I was 18 years old. It was so cool to have so much speed in my golf swing, but I couldn't control it. I told Justin, 'This is crazy.' ''

Crazy, but part of the deal: At one point in the round, Perry missed 10 greens in a row. At the 13th, he chipped in for double bogey, a thought that elicited laughter from the cab of his pickup the next day. He was proud not to shoot 85, to get it up and down from everywhere.

"I should have never trash talked Tiger," he said. "I'll never do that again."

On Saturday night, with a two-stroke lead over Tiger, Perry jokingly said that Woods better bring his "A" game on Sunday. If Rory Sabbatini or Stephen Ames had said that, Tiger would have given them the cold stare. With Perry, they ended up talking Presidents Cup, drag racing and muscle cars for most of the back nine.

I asked Perry if the rush he had was similar in any way to being behind the wheel of his Pontiac at Rockingham, when the light tower is blinking toward the green, or going down the track with one hand on the wheel, the other on the shifter, hitting five gears and then the rip chord, hoping the car stays straight on the track.

"It was similar to the feeling when you get ready to get in the car to run," he said. "You've got 1,500 horsepower that can get to 200 mph in just under seven seconds. You're pulling 3gs immediately. It catches your attention. Your senses, oh my goodness, you get your neck snapped back into the seat behind you. You've got to be ready, because that car can kill you. So it's very similar."

It wasn't anything at all like Augusta, where he stuck one arm in the green jacket by sticking an 8-iron on the 16th green for birdie on Sunday. That was before his bogey-bogey finish and playoff loss to Angel Cabrera.

If that was a double clutch and the grinding of gears, this was too much Nitro and the car running off the track. But the beauty of this sport, as Tom Watson reminded us after the British Open, is that no one died. "I was twitchy, I was a little nervous, but more than nervous, I was antsy," he said. "I found myself tapping my feet a little bit, I just couldn't settle down, if that had been a football game, I think I would have run a 4.5 40, and this white boy can't run at all."

I changed the subject to the Presidents Cup, where he hopes to run alongside Woods in one of Freddie Couples' pairings. "See if you can get that plug in," he said. "See if you can put it in with Freddie. I put it out in the paper on Saturday, that I'd like to play one match with him. Hopefully Freddie saw it. I thought it would be a great memory, the one time in my life I had a chance to play with Tiger. One match."

A Perry-Woods pairing at Harding Park next week would conclude the best year in his life. In Atlanta last week, he told me his Masters loss had a greater impact on his life than any of his victories. One month after, he rode down Main Street in Louisville in a convertible Corvette with his father in the Kentucky Derby parade. Perry told me he wore the same red shift and same bib overhauls that he wore in the Ryder Cup last September, where Kenny was the hero in his home state.

"Winning the Payne Stewart Award, that affected me," he said. "Man, it hit me when they presented that trophy in front of everybody. Then at East Lake so many people were congratulating me. They know that award. It's out there. People are paying attention. I just felt good inside. The tournament was a bonus."

That's the way Kenny Perry looked at it, heading home, before hitting the road again. After the Presidents Cup, he's off to Las Vegas, as much for a family vacation as to play Justin Timberlake's tournament. His family was with him at Augusta. They were with him at East Lake. And chances are they'll be with him at Kapalua, for the start of next year.