Kenny Perry facing criticism for skipping British Open
(AP) Kenny Perry never imagined facing so much criticism over where to play golf.
There was a time when he was desperate to play anywhere. He was 26, with two children in diapers and no money for a third attempt at qualifying for the PGA Tour. That's when he made a deal with an angel, Ronnie Ferguson, an elder at the Church of Christ in Franklin, Ky., who offered him $5,000 for one last shot at Q-school with one string attached.
If he failed, Perry didn't owe Ferguson a dime. But if he made it, Perry would give back 5 percent of his tour earnings to David Lipscomb University, a small Christian school in Nashville, Tenn.
That was 22 years and $25 million ago.
Over the years, Perry has collected 11 victories on the PGA Tour, including two in the last six weeks at the Memorial and the Buick Open. The kids who have gone to Lipscomb with help from his scholarship program have become teachers, nurses, youth ministers.
This is worth remembering as Perry gets buried next week for skipping the British Open, sticking to his original plan to play in Milwaukee.
As determined as he was to play golf for a living, Perry was equally tenacious about playing in the Ryder Cup at Valhalla, just up the road from his old Kentucky home.
``This is a lifetime opportunity for him,'' U.S. captain Paul Azinger said Monday.
Azinger is partly responsible for Perry essentially wrapping up a spot on this team so soon. He revamped the qualifying process to put more emphasis on the current year, which was a good thing for Perry. He was 79th on the money list last year, but already this year has two victories and a playoff loss and is No. 4 in the U.S. standings.
Consider what happened the only other time Perry played in the Ryder Cup. He qualified for the 2004 team based almost entirely on his 2003 performance, when he won three times. Not surprisingly, he played only two matches at Oakland Hills and lost them both.
Clearly, those memories linger.
``I told (wife) Sandy, this might be the worst thing I've ever wished for,'' Perry said. ``I may play poorly and get drilled.''
No need to wait for the Ryder Cup to get hammered.
There are plenty of guys who make a Ryder Cup team without winning a major. Perry might be the first to clinch a spot without having played in a major that year.
He wasn't eligible for the Masters. Then, he chose not to go through 36-hole qualifying for the U.S. Open the day after he won the Memorial because he was worn out. Besides, Perry said he has never played well at Torrey Pines and wanted to conserve his strength for PGA Tour events that would give him a better chance at winning, and making the Ryder Cup team.
With only five weeks remaining in the qualifying process, Perry is virtually a lock to make the team. Along the way, his outstanding play earned him a spot at Royal Birkdale through a special money list.
This might be Perry's best chance to win a major, considering his form and Tiger Woods' knee.
But he turned it down.
Woody Austin didn't go to Carnoustie last year because he had played two months straight and didn't want to show up at the toughest links course in the world and shoot a million. It would be one thing if Perry wanted to rest his 47-year-old bones. But he's playing this week at the John Deere Classic, and next week at the U.S. Bank Championship in Milwaukee.
``I committed to all these tournaments when I was ranked 100th in the world,'' said Perry, who is now at No. 20. ``And now, all of a sudden, I've won twice. I'm not going to back out on them.''
He risks the respect of his peers, however.
Why would anyone skip a chance to play one of four major tournaments that define a career? How does it look when one of the top Americans ducks a major to play against the B-Flight in Milwaukee?
The most peculiar part of Perry's decision is that he finished 16th or better in three of his last four Opens. His best finish was at Royal St. George's, where he wound up four shots behind Ben Curtis in a tie for eighth. That was in 2003, the best season of Perry's career.
Anyone playing this well - and few are better at the moment - can win anywhere.
Such a decision contrasts with Sean O'Hair going through hoops to get a passport to St. Andrews in 2005 after winning the John Deere Classic, or Bob Estes flying across the ocean as an alternate and leaving without ever hitting a shot.
Then again, Perry isn't the first player to skip a major at the top of his game.
Arnold Palmer was the Masters champion in 1964 when he stayed home from the British Open because he was tired. Annika Sorenstam was 28 when she skipped the du Maurier Classic, citing fatigue after taking appearance money from two overseas tournaments.
Perry at least should get credit for being the first American to care more about the Ryder Cup than a major.
Besides, his captain is squarely behind him.
``I don't care and he doesn't care,'' Azinger said about the British Open flap. ``So why should it bother anybody else? The guy has the guts of a burglar. He's going to be 48. He can do whatever he wants. I'm happy for him.''
Azinger's only instruction for Perry after he won the Buick Open was to set new goals so he stays sharp before Valhalla.
One might be to win the PGA Championship and gain a small measure of redemption at Oakland Hills.
Another would be leading his team to a rare victory at the Ryder Cup in Kentucky.
Care to guess which tops the list?