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Kenny Perry quietly building his reputation

The name on the scholarship at Lipscomb University says a lot about Kenny Perry without saying anything at all.

The Simpson County (Ky.) Scholarship Fund has already paid tuition for a dozen kids from his hometown, and countless more will get financial aid for years to come.

No one would ever guess the guy behind it happens to be the hottest player in golf.

``The interesting thing to me is that he set it up, but his name is not on the scholarship,'' said David England, spokesman for the four-year Christian school in Nashville, Tenn.

Perry never cared if his name were on a marquee, much less a scholarship fund.

When he won Colonial two weeks ago at a tournament record 19 under par, Perry was prepared to be a footnote in history by winning the PGA Tour event that Annika Sorenstam played.

``That's OK,'' he said. ``At least I'll be remembered for something.''

Winning consecutive weeks at Colonial and Memorial, two of the most prestigious stops on the PGA Tour, makes Perry the latest rage in golf, and brings him the kind of attention long overdue.

Not so much for his good, steady golf -- six victories and over $12 million in career earnings -- but for the countless ways he gives back.

He is not a superstar. Not even winning the U.S. Open would change that.

``I'm just a simple guy,'' Perry said. ``I've just had a simple life, and it doesn't take a lot to make my happy.''

Life wasn't always that simple.

Perry was 0-for-2 trying to make a living on the PGA Tour. One year he missed his card by one stroke at Q-school, the next year he learned during the fourth round that his wife had gone into labor. He was an emotional wreck the rest of the week.

He was out of money, out of sponsors, out of luck.

That's when Perry went to see Ronnie Ferguson, an elder at the Franklin Church of Christ, who once offered to help.

Perry needed $5,000 for one last shot at Q-school.

``He was terribly distraught,'' Ferguson said Tuesday. ``But he had such a positive attitude. He said, 'I know I can make this Tour if I just have one more chance.'''

Ferguson wanted to help, but he had two sons to put through college and he wasn't making a mint in the industrial laundry business. Plus, there was no guarantee Perry would get his card and be able to repay the loan.

The loan became a gift with strings attached.

``He said, 'If you don't make the Tour, you don't owe me a dime. But if you make the Tour, we're going to give a percentage back,''' Perry recalled.

Perry tied for 40th at Q-school, earning his card with two shots to spare. He has never had to go back, never finishing worse than 94th on the money list and making it to the Tour Championship five times.

The agreement was 5 percent of his PGA Tour earnings, initially to help the golf team at Lipscomb, where Ferguson played in college.

No golf team needs that much money, and Perry decided to endow a scholarship.

A full ride at Lipscomb costs about $18,000 a year, and some students get only a portion of that. Among the students who have received scholarships and graduated are a teacher, a nurse and a youth minister.

Perry's contributions -- already at $550,000 and growing -- are building the fund. England said seven more students will get scholarships this fall.

``I had no clue it would turn out this way,'' Ferguson said. ``But that's just how life is sometimes. This will live on long after Kenny is done playing golf.''

That won't be his only legacy.

As the scholarship fund grew, Perry realized there wasn't a public golf course in Franklin, Ky. In an era when top players get paid to ``consult'' on golf course designs, Perry rolled up his sleeves and built one without fanfare.

He and his brother-in-law took out a $2.5 million loan, bought some property, took aerial photos and built Country Creek by themselves.

It's nothing fancy -- just like Perry.

There is no out-of-bounds on the right, because most average players tend to slice. Green fees are a whopping $25, which includes a cart.

``I built more of an atmosphere than a championship-style golf course,'' Perry said. ``I make sure the staff treats every person that comes in there like they're a champion, like they're the only ones there.''

Not many knew about either of his endeavors until Perry was awarded the Charles Bartlett Award last year by the Golf Writers Association of America for his unselfish contributions.

Now he's drawing some attention for his golf, too.

 

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