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Perks returns to scene of famous victory

Nearly a year later, Craig Perks has yet to erase the voice mail. And he doesn't plan on deleting it any time soon, either.

The message was the first of about 80 Perks found on his cell phone in the wee hours of the morning after he won The Players Championship last March. Brett Quigley and his girlfriend could barely contain their excitement.

"The message made me cry," Perks said candidly, with no hint of embarrassment. "I really took to heart the things that I heard from the guys I came up with when we were struggling to get on Tour and struggling to stay on Tour.

"Greg Norman could say congratulations, and that would be nice. But it's the heartfelt stuff from the people who know what I went through -- and what my family went through -- just to become a champion that was really special."

Perks returned to the Tournament Players Club at Sawgrass last weekend for only the second time since that eagle-birdie-par finish made him the only golfer to make THE Players Championship his first PGA Tour victory. He liked what he found there, too

Perks played 15 holes on Saturday and a full 18 on the Stadium Course on Sunday. On nearly every hole he saw grandstands under construction and hospitality tents taking shape. He even tried to recreate his improbable finish -- to no avail -- for the local media.

"It brought back great memories," Perks said, grinning broadly. "It was pretty cool. I had come here to practice the week before the British Open last year but it was kind of a letdown. There was no one around or anything.


Craig Perks finished tied for 13th at the Buick Invitational. (PGA Tour)
"But now you can really see the golf course rounding into shape. You see the grandstands being built everywhere. It's really exciting."

The attention Perks received for his victory -- particularly from the media -- was nothing short of overwhelming. An affable and accommodating sort, he said yes to nearly every request. In retrospect, Perks knows he probably should have been more selective.

"Obviously, the worse I played, though, everything slowed down," the personable 33-year-old said wryly. Perks only cracked the top 10 once after his Players Championship victory last year.

He began working with a new instructor -- Steve Aumock, a Hank Haney disciple based in Dallas -- at the PGA Championship. Perks had known for a while that he needed to cut down on the movement in his swing. He had a tendency to shift the club up and over on too many different planes.

But the man who has been to nine qualifying schools needed security before he attempted any changes. The five-year exemption that goes along with THE Players Championship win was just what Perks had in mind.

"When you're fighting for your life every October, it's hard to makes changes," Perks said. "This win afforded me that luxury."

The very first day Aumock changed the position of his left wrist, and the results were dramatic. The two have continued to work on getting Perks' swing on a more rounder and shallow plane. He says his swing is much more neutral now "and producing quality shots."

The results bear those words out. The New Zealander, who makes his home in Lafayette, La., has missed the cut in three of his six events this year -- but he's also got ties for 17th and 13th to show for his efforts.

"When the whole package comes around, it's going to be scary," Perks said. "I have only been with Steve for six months, and he thought it would take two years to get to where I am now.

"I don't think he realized that I'm the type of person who, if I do something, I do it 100 percent. It's exciting to see the changes."

 

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