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Perry still trying to make up for 1996 PGA

For all that is wonderful in Kenny Perry's life during this dream season at age 42, some things never change.

The man's career-defining moment at least partially drives him at Oak Hill Country Club this week. At the 85th PGA Championship, Perry is still thinking about the 78th one.

Playing in his home state in the 1996 PGA at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky., Perry lost a playoff to Mark Brooks. Perry had finished his final round before Brooks, but instead of going to the range to practice for a possible playoff, he hung out in the CBS-TV booth.

The PGA's playoff format was sudden death then, and Perry lost on the first hole.

"Everybody has felt like I screwed that one up in '96," Perry said. "I think they're totally wrong in how they printed that scenario out, which has hurt my feelings a little bit. . . . I did everything right there, in my opinion. Everybody says I did everything wrong. But, you know, that's me vs. the world, it seems like."

Seven years later, Perry has won three times (after it took 20 years to win four tournaments), finished in the top 10 seven consecutive times and is a candidate for PGA Tour player of the year. But this week could be tough, with his Valhalla finish likely to be replayed in most every interview.

"I think it stayed with me longer than it would because everybody kept asking me about it," Perry said. "I mean, I couldn't shake it. I'm still asked about it today. It's something I'll live with for the rest of my life. That bothers me a lot. . . . I mean, let's get over it."

Perry contends that had he had hit a poor tee shot on the playoff hole, the accusations might have been justifiable. But after talking at length with Jim Nantz and Ken Venturi in the TV booth, Perry was so pumped up, he actually drove the ball farther than he desired, finding the thick bluegrass rough left of the fairway. It took Perry four shots to even find the green while Brooks birdied to win.

In 2000, when the PGA returned to Valhalla and Perry got the same questions and eventually tied for 30th, he admitted, "We all made mistakes, and I made one." Lately, though, Perry does not feel so guilty.

"They all said I sat in the booth too long and didn't go down and practice," Perry said. "But what people don't understand is that in Kentucky -- this is my home -- in August, it's 100 degrees with 100 percent humidity. You do not get stiff. It's just impossible to get stiff. . . . I was very prepared. I hit a great drive off the first tee."

Perry has a chance to end all the second-guessing this week as one of the tournament favorites along with U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk, Tiger Woods and Davis Love III -- all battling for PGA Tour player of the year and the money title.

For the past two months, beginning with his win at Colonial, Perry has been the hottest player in golf. Always a long hitter, Perry has found his ideal equipment combination (TaylorMade 8.5-degree, R510 driver; Titleist Pro V1x ball) that has made him even longer and more accurate. Combining that aspect of his game with a mind-boggling amount of stiff approach shots and consistent putting, Perry even tied for 8th in the British Open, a tournament he usually avoided because of his higher ball flight.

"Seven weeks, seven top 10s, it's just a good roll," Perry said. "I don't have a lot of history at Oak Hill [he did not qualify for the 1989 U.S. Open there]. That bothers me a little bit. But I do have a lot of confidence and a lot of persistence and a lot of patience. I think, you know, in a major championship you need a lot of that."

Not to mention, some assistance from history. Perry wants his critics to get over 1996, but he has not yet done so, admitting, "There's a little anger there."

"Maybe that PGA owes me one, I don't know," Perry said. "Maybe I did blow it, but I don't think I did."


 

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