PEABODY, Mass. — There is something to be said for playing golf with a perpetual chip on your shoulder, still feeling like you have something to prove, still striving to “belong.”
That is Kenny Perry’s secret for his late-career surge, one that he reignited Sunday at steamy Salem Country Club. After an angry summer of pedestrian play a year ago, Perry rediscovered his resolve—and his putting stroke—and it paid dividends Sunday when he captured the 38th U.S. Senior Open in record fashion.
“Oh, yeah, I was mad. I was playing mediocre golf. I can’t stand that,” said the amiable Perry, remembering how he walked off the course in last year’s Senior Open at Scioto Country Club in Columbus, Ohio, with a sore knee and a sorer disposition and took two months off. “I just had to get away from it. I was mentally worn out. I was out of it. I thought I was done. I thought retirement sounded pretty good.
“But I just felt like I still had more to prove.”
In winning his second U.S. Senior Open, Perry, 56, was the only player to post four rounds in the 60s, including a bogey-free two-under 68 in on Sunday to better his own scoring record with a 16-under 264 total. He eclipsed the previous mark of 267 from his 2013 victory at Omaha (Neb.) Country Club and first established by Hale Irwin with a 17-under 267 in the 2000 championship at Saucon Valley Golf Club in Bethlehem, Pa.
The Kentucky native is the first winner since Roger Chapman in 2012 to post four rounds in the 60 and the first to win with a bogey-free final round since Bernhard Langer in 2010. He joins Irwin, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Allen Doyle and Miller Barber as multiple winners.
“It’s our goal to win our majors. I never got it done on the regular tour,” said Perry, who outdueled Kirk Triplett in a two-man battle by two strokes to take home $720,000. “To be a two-time champion … I’m honored to be a part of it with all these great names on this trophy.”
Triplett, who led or co-led after each of the first three rounds, closed with a 71 for a 266 total, the lowest score in history by a non-winner, eclipsing the previous mark of 270 Bruce Fleisher posted in finishing second to Irwin in 2000.
“I didn't have the game to do it today,” said Triplett, who opened with a record-tying 62 and set the 54-hole scoring record at 15-under 195. “I just didn't play very well. I was off balance right from the start. Kenny played beautifully. I was beating myself.
“I couldn't even look at the leaderboard,” Triplett added after hitting only 11 greens in regulation in the final round, “because I was so busy trying to clean up my own mess.”
Brandt Jobe, who fired a 62 in the third round, was a distant third at 271 after shooting 70, while Fred Couples and Tom Lehman were another stroke back. Each closed with a 69.
Perry, who made par on his final 12 holes, including a five-foot save at the last, won for the first time since the 2015 3M Championship, a span of nearly two years. It was his 20th victory since he turned 40, which includes 11 of his 14 PGA Tour titles. Only Vijay Singh with 22 and Sam Snead with 17 won more on the regular tour after their 40th birthday.
While he still possesses plenty of power—he recently clocked his swing speed at 117 m.p.h.— Perry has become a better player late in his career simply because he manages his game better. And because he finally started to believe in his abilities.
“I always could hit it. But I always felt like I didn’t belong a lot of times. I felt like the guys were better than me even though my game stacked up to them,” Perry said. “I don’t know. I guess I’m just that kind of guy that says I’m not very good. Even though in the back of my mind I felt like I was good. I used that. And I got more confidence.”
The only thing missing from his arsenal is consistent putting. His success depends almost exclusively on his conversion rate on the greens.
“It's all about my putting,” he agreed. “I'm a streaky putter, and when my putter gets hot, I usually win golf tournaments, and that's exactly what happened this week.”
In finishing T-20 at last week’s American Family Insurance Championship, Perry told his new caddie, Ryan Cochran, son of PGA Tour Champions player Russ Cochran, that he was hitting it well enough to win but simply needed to get the ball in the cup faster.
He took the drastic step of switching to a new putter on the eve of the championship, putting an Argolf model in his bag. He had never done that before, but he needed a spark. “It’s a new company. They're from France. They’re all NASA guys,” Perry said. “This putter has got all this NASA they do. They build rockets, and they're telling me all that. I'm like, yeah, right, whatever.”
Then he opened with a 65. He ranked 10th for the week with an average of 29 putts per round, which was plenty good enough when leading the field in greens in regulation. “And the rest is history,” he said, grinning.
But Perry is not. The victory gives him a berth in next year’s U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills. His eyes lit up when he heard that. It’s another chance to prove himself, prove he belongs.
“I feel like I have a lot more golf in me,” he said, still smiling. “I get to play the young guys again. I can’t wait.”