ORLANDO – Earlier this week at his home course in Port Orange, Fla., Rod Perry, the head professional at Crane Lakes Golf and Country Club, finished tied for third in a mini-tour event at his home course. He pocketed a check for $1,600 thanks to a six-under 60 in the final round.
“That was not bad,” Perry said with a satisfied grin.
He’ll make more than that on Sunday. A lot more.
The 46-year-old could shoot 100 and, barring an unforeseen injury, make no less than $19,251. That’s what last place will pay in the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
After scoring a respectable seven-over-par 79 in difficult conditions on Saturday at Bay Hill, Perry is tied for 59th at eight over in a weekend field of 69 players.
Perry, a teaching pro who gives more than 400 golf lessons a year, obviously has a little bit of talent or he wouldn’t be in this position. He’s played in the Arnold Palmer Invitational seven times now, and when he battled to one-over 145 playing in the tougher half of the draw, when the winds were strongest, he made the cut for the second time.
He gains entry into this limited-field event via winning his section championship, the North Florida PGA, which he did again last September with a playoff victory over Matt Borchert at Golden Ocala Golf Club.
A left-hander who twice has been the PGA Professional Player of the Year, Perry also has competed in the PGA Championship on six occasions, though he has yet to make the cut. In 2013, he won the PGA National Professional Championship, becoming the first lefty to capture that title. (He's a natural right-hander who switched when he was 11.)
With an average driving distance this week of 273.8 yards, Perry obviously doesn’t have a tour-level game, which makes his performance at Bay Hill Club, measuring 7,454 yards, all the more noteworthy. He hits fairways—he ranks second for the week by finding 29 of 42 thus far—and he’s a fairly decent putter.
Not a bad combination at Bay Hill, which has stymied the bomb-and-gouge crowd with its thick rough and firm, fast, unfriendly greens.
Perry, whose career low in the tournament is a second-round one-under 71 in 2013 that propelled him to 76th place, does have one other weapon in his arsenal this week. “I’ve probably played this course more than Tiger Woods,” he said, referring to the former Orlando resident, who won here nine time—eight in this event, plus the 1991 U.S. Junior Amateur.
Perry was asked if he played within himself with rounds of 72-73 to make the cut with two strokes to spare when the likes of Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose and Bubba Watson were sent packing.
“No, I played out of my gourd,” he said, laughing.
Overall, he is competing on the weekend in a PGA Tour event for the fourth time, having previously made the cut in the 2008 Ginn Sur Mer Championship and the 2009 Disney Children’s Miracle Network Classic.
A native of York, Pa., who attended Mississippi State University, Perry has no illusions about taking his game to the PGA Tour Champions in a few years. He’s a father of two with an understanding wife, so he already knows he’s pushing the boundaries on just how much competitive golf he can squeeze in. Plus, when you’re good enough to harbor such thoughts, you’re likely to know that you’re probably not good enough.
“I have a 12-year-old girl and a 9-year-old boy. I’m 46 now. I’m going to have four cars on the road, so … I think golf will always be an important part of my life, but we all know what that Champions Tour is for,” he said. “You see a guy like Scott Parel playing fantastic golf and having a second career, but there are not just that many opportunities for guys like me.”
True, but guys like Perry are still pretty cool golfers.
Perry was asked about the players he beat on Saturday with his 79 on a day when the scoring average was sailing near 76 on the par-72 Bay Hill layout strafed by gusting winds. Among those who shot higher was former World No. 1 and two-time reigning PGA champion Brooks Koepka.
No one would ever suggest that Rod Perry can compete with Koepka on a day-to-day basis. Outscoring PGA Tour professionals for one day doesn’t mean much, except a momentary burst of bragging rights.
“He has highs and lows like the rest of us,” said Perry, who enters the final round tied for 59th at eight-over 224. “But his highs are out of this world.
“But, yeah, today,” Perry added with an impish grin, “I was better than Brooks Koepka. It means absolutely nothing. But it’s fun to say.”