Perry's Major Near-Misses Not Bringing Him Down

By: Tim Reynolds, Associated Press
By: Tim Reynolds, Associated Press

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. -- Kenny Perry says he never closes his eyes and laments the two major championships that slipped out of his grasp in the waning moments.

The Masters earlier this year, where he held a two-shot lead with two holes remaining only to fall in a playoff?

"Had it," Perry said.

How about the 1996 PGA Championship at Valhalla, when his two-shot lead on the 72nd hole turned into a sudden-death loss, on his native Kentucky soil no less?

"Had that deal done, too," Perry said.

That's Perry. No complaints about what might have been.

No need for that, considering this is a guy closing in on the $30 million mark in career earnings, has won four times since the start of last season, and figures to be among one of those in the hunt starting Thursday when the U.S. Open begins at Bethpage Black.

"I know I can do it," said Perry, who was one of the heroes of the U.S. Ryder Cup win - oddly enough, at Valhalla - last fall, calling that the highlight of his career. "It's just I've got to rethink it a little bit when I'm coming done on the last couple of holes and not get ahead of myself. But I look forward to the challenge."

A challenge it will most assuredly be.

Bethpage Black will be 212 yards longer than the setup when the U.S. Open was held on Long Island in 2002, and the 7,426-yard layout will be the second-longest in tournament history, 217 shy of what Torrey Pines offered last year when Tiger Woods beat Rocco Mediate in an epic Monday playoff.

Even on Monday, nearly 72 hours before the real tee shots of this week will be struck, Bethpage was showing some teeth.

A pair of amateurs both hit tee shots into the right-hand rough on the first hole, missing the spongy fairway by less than 10 yards. Neither came close to reaching the green. Some tufts of grass were 4 inches higher than others in the rough, already matted down by foot traffic, and the greens were quick enough to confuse practice-round ticketholders.

"You putt like me," one said, mocking Charlie Beljan, who struck a putt on the 16th that rolled 30 feet past the cup.

When told Beljan was aiming at another potential pin location that could be used this week, the fan offered an apology, although Beljan - who needed to get through local and sectional qualifying just to reach Bethpage - didn't seem to notice any of the commotion.

Hundreds of people hovered in that area around the 16th green most of the morning, waiting to catch a glimpse of Woods as he approached 15, 16 or 17 - all nearby holes.

He skipped all of them.

The defending champion, who also won at Bethpage in 2002, was the first player to reach the tee box Monday morning, as steady rain pelted the Black course. He eventually played nine holes, visited the putting green for a while, then left before lunch with swing coach Hank Haney and caddie Steve Williams in tow.

Perry said it's not exactly the same Bethpage this week as it was when Woods won seven years ago, being the only player to break par for the week with a 3-under 277.

"I think the scores are going to be OK," Perry said. "I don't think they are going to be that high, to tell you the truth."

He claims there's no hangover from the near-miss at Augusta, but Perry hasn't exactly been on a roll since Angel Cabrera won that playoff with him at the Masters, either.

Perry has played four times since then, with only five of those 16 rounds in the 60s and no finish better than a tie for 22nd at the Players Championship. He put together a round of 68 to finish the Memorial two weekends ago, perhaps giving him some sort of boost heading to Long Island.

"It's a feeling that I have inside of me each week," Perry said. "When I was winning golf tournaments, my stroke felt differently and my mindset was different, everything felt different. My last few weeks, I played pretty poorly, pretty average. I'm trying to find that makeup to get me back on top."

Where better than a major to make that happen?

Winning one of those might truly be the only thing left on his to-do list. He's made his money, he's funded more than 40 scholarships for children to attend college, he's perfectly at ease on and off the golf course.

If anything, he acts like this year's Masters misfire did anything but deflate him.

"Looking forward to the opportunity to try to get in there again," Perry said. "Made me hungrier."


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