MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Kenny Perry isn’t about to slow down. Not now, not when he’s playing his best golf in years.
Perry, whose victory last week in the Memorial boosted his only goal for 2007 of earning a Ryder Cup spot in his home state of Kentucky, will make the Stanford St. Jude Championship his seventh straight event and 16th this year.
Rest will come - finally - next week for the 47-year-old Franklin resident and former Western Kentucky golfer who chose not to try to qualify for the U.S. Open.
“My dad always said you’ve got to ride the train when it’s going, and he told me to run it to the ground until I’m just mentally zapped and I feel the game going. Even though I’m mentally tired, I think I can go out there this week and play well,” Perry said Wednesday.
That means hitting TPC Southwind even though Perry hasn’t found much success since finishing third on the course in 1996. Two of his last four missed cuts came after a redesign lengthened the course to 7,239 yards and replaced the bentgrass greens with Champion Bermuda.
“I love Memphis. I always have a lot of family and friends who come down here. I’m not great on Champion Bermuda grass,” Perry said.
But the man who finished second at the AT&T Classic last month isn’t willing to upset a streak, not when he still believes he must earn every point possible to strengthen his spot on the Ryder Cup team. So what if he ranks fifth on the money list with a spot in the FedEx Cup points that means he now must prepare to play through the Tour Championship.
This is a man who turns 48 in August and had wondered too often if his game was gone for good. Now he’s tapping his memories of 2005 when he won consecutive tournaments at Colonial and Memorial for inspiration.
“I feel like I don’t have a lot of time left out here. It’s all kind of coming in on me. It’s been pretty neat to be able to have my back against the wall and perform as well as I have the past month,” Perry said.
Perry will have lots of competition from a field that features five of the top 13 on this year’s list with Perry, Vijay Singh, Sergio Garcia and Boo Weekley. Woody Austin is back to defend his title along with David Toms, a two-time winner here, Retief Goosen, Master’s champ Trevor Immelman and local favorite John Daly enjoying a sponsor exemption.
This tournament moved to the week before the Open last year with a bigger payday thanks to new sponsor in Stanford Financial Group and celebrates its 20th year at the TPC at Southwind by starting a new tradition. The winner will receive a new seersucker jacket with the $1.08 million check as this event joins six other events in awarding jackets to their champions.
This is a much tougher course since the redesign, and the tournament scoring average in 2007 was 2-over 72. The par-4 No. 5 and par-3 No. 14 were among the tour’s 50 toughest holes in 2007 as well. No rain and winds gusting up to 35 mph have dried up the course, and it’s expected to stay dry through Sunday, which will harden up the already fast greens.
The biggest challenge for Perry will be focus. He’s spent only two days at home in Kentucky over this stretch and had managed only a few hours there Tuesday before traveling to Memphis.
“I’m going to somehow have to forget about last week,” Perry said. “I know it’s going to be hard to do. I’m still kind of living in the past a little bit. But I’m hopefully going to get a good night’s rest when I come out here tomorrow be fresh and mentally ready to go and hopefully I can post a good first round.”
That is what Austin is hoping for himself.
He jump-started a sizzling season here a year ago, shooting a final-round 62 that was the lowest finish of the year by a winner. That 62 also was the fifth-lowest finish by a winner since 1970, pushing Austin from 145th in FedExCup points to 29th and an eventual spot in the President’s Cup.
But 2008 has been a different struggle, and Austin’s best finish was a tie for fourth in New Orleans in March.
“I’m not playing really bad,” Austin said after his practice round. “But when I play well, I score terrible. When I play bad, I score worse. It’s really just a matter of scoring. I think the best way to describe it is every bad swing is magnified and every good swing is unrewarded.”
Brandt Snedeker also started his surge to the PGA Tour rookie of the year honors here where he finished tied for fifth in 2007. He’s hoping hot weather with temperatures in the 90s and some swing changes click into place for him.
“I’ve always played great golf in the summer, and it’s the first really hot week we’ve had all year. It’s been nice to get some of the good memories flowing again. My game’s coming around in shape, so just need hopefully one good day of ball striking should do it,” he said.