"When Pat Perez made a commitment in the off- season to firm up his body
and soften his temper, it was partly because he wanted to qualify for
this week's U.S. Open at his home course, Torrey Pines. But that wasn't
the only reason.
"I'm getting married in December," he says. "I don't want to be a [fat] pig standing up there."
Whatever the motivation, Perez has seen his game peak just in time for a home coming on the course where, as a kid, he picked up range balls, wiped down the carts and spent afternoons chasing sunsets on the course. While Tiger Woods (six wins at Torrey) and Phil Mickelson (three) are the heavy favorites, Perez has more knowledge of the grounds than either.
The 32-year-old Perez estimates that he has played more than 1,000 rounds at Torrey, the bulk coming when he worked there part time while attending Torrey Pines High. In 1993 he finished eight shots ahead of Woods while winning the Junior World Championship at Torrey. Need more proof of Perez's deep connection to the place? His father, Tony, is the starter at the Buick Invitational, which was played at Torrey in late January.
Making it into this year's Open has been on Perez's mind since the USGA awarded the municipal course the championship in 2002. "It's the one tournament in the world I just had to play," says Perez. "As the time got closer, it got more and more intense. I tried like hell to get in that top 50."
When Perez came up just short of earning a spot through the World Ranking—he was ranked 54th after the Colonial, the cutoff date—he had to survive a 36-hole sectional qualifier to get in. Playing in Ohio the day after finishing 26th at the Memorial, he shot 71–67, good enough to finish a shot ahead of a playoff. For Perez, who is still looking for his maiden PGA Tour win, qualifying was a clutch effort in a year that already includes three Top-10 finishes.
Once viewed as a hothead immune to advice, Perez is now one of several players on Tour trying to persuade John Daly, a friend, to change his habits.
"This game grows you," says Perez, who was a runner-up for rookie of the year in 2002. "When I came out here, I was a kid. I grew up on public courses, hanging out with derelicts. Everyone I grew up with was like me. I didn't grow up in a country club where you have to act proper. You get out here, you get thrown into a shark pit. You get a few TV cameras on you, and you never live it down. But I'm a completely different person than I was seven years ago."
A different person about to walk very familiar fairways.
**An update from Cameron Morfit in San Diego. Pat Perez is throwing out the first pitch at the Padres game tonight. He said he was more nervous about that than the golf tournament.** Photo: Perez got in some practice at Torrey Pines on Monday. Lenny Ignelzi/AP