After Great '08, Perry Sets Even Loftier Goal in '09

By: Doug Ferguson, Associated Press
By: Doug Ferguson, Associated Press

For those who thought Kenny Perry set thebar too high last year when he said he wanted to make the Ryder Cup team at age 48, get a load of what he has in mind for an encore.

"Y'all may think I'm crazy," he said in his Kentucky drawl, "but I want to get to 20 wins."

That would seem like a reasonable goal, except that Perry's three PGA Tour victories last year brought his career total to 12. And he turns 50 toward the end of the 2010 season, making him eligible for the Champions Tour. And he has had only three seasons of multiple victories during his 22 years on tour.

"Somehow I've got to win eight more times," he said. "Is that a realistic goal? I think it is. I still think I can play well into my mid-50s and be successful out here."

At least he managed to find some motivation.

Perry was belting out bluegrass tunes for a swan song in 2008 because the Ryder Cup was being held in his old Kentucky home. Despite not having won in two years, and coming off surgery on his right knee that still throbs, he picked up victories in the Memorial, Buick Open and John Deere Classic to qualify for the Ryder Cup team for only the second time in his career.

"This is my last hurrah," he said in the weeks before the Ryder Cup. "This is the pinnacle of my career. I've got way too much at stake for me going out there and playing poorly. That will brand me for the rest of my life."

Then he played the best golf of his life, beating Henrik Stenson on the final day for a 2-1-1 record. No moment was as poignant as his 82-year-old father in overalls walking onto the 16th green to embrace Perry.

He has won nine times in his 40s. Now he's going to win eight more times to achieve lifetime membership on the PGA Tour? Perry figures he still hits the ball long enough, and his short game is vastly improved. He plans to play as many as 30 times this year, an enormous schedule even for kids half his age. The toughest challenge might be his focus.

"We all have a lot going on," he said. "We have been struggling."

That's when Perry revealed just how large the scope of his most memorable season turned out to be.

Three months after his father ambled onto the 16th green at Valhalla, he had two stents put in his heart and has lost 20 pounds as doctors run a battery of tests to figure out what's wrong with him. Perry's mother has blood cancer and is in an assisted-living facility. His wife's mother fell at a fast-food restaurant, breaking her knee cap and two vertebrae. Her mobility is so limited that the Perrys had to remodel her home - wheelchair ramps, adjustments in the bathroom and the showers - before she could be released from the hospital.

"Sandy has been redoing her house while I've been dealing with my dad, and my sisters have been taking care of my mom," Perry said. "We all have a lot going on." If that's not enough, his daughter got married in the fall.

"If I can get my head back in the game and focus on my golf, I'll be OK," he said. "There's a lot of issues right now."

Whether he has surpassed his goals or not achieved enough is subject to debate.

Missing from his credentials is a major championship, and Perry has only had two chances. He was two shots out of the lead going into the final round of the 2003 British Open at Royal St. George's, only to close with a 73 to finish four behind Ben Curtis. The more memorable opportunity came at Valhalla in 1996.

Perry was on the verge of winning the PGA Championship until making a bogey on the 18th hole, then losing in a sudden-death playoff to Mark Brooks when Perry took four shots to reach the green.

"Only one I regret," Perry says.

Then again, this was a guy who had to borrow $5,000 from an elder at his church to pay for one last attempt at Q-school when Perry was 26 and had two children in diapers. He got his card and has never finished out of the top 100 on the money list, with a career-high $4.6 million last year pushing his totals to over $26 million.

What's the secret?

"Genetics," Perry said. "I don't work out. I don't really watch what I eat. I just play a lot of golf. I just play every day and usually stay with it and practice and hit a lot of balls. Until something breaks down on me, and I can't do that anymore, I still think I can be very competitive out here."

And yes, he plans to be on the PGA Tour longer than some might realize.

His three victories last year makes him exempt through 2012, when he is 52. He is No. 9 on the career money list, meaning he could be exempt for two more years after his eligibility ends. "I'm a very streaky player - always have been," Perry said. "And if I catch fire somewhere in a streak of tournaments I've had success at, look out. I could put two more three more on the board."

That would put him closer to 20 career wins, a goal that might seem absurd to everyone but Perry.


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