August 14, 2015
Pat Perez is a tough guy. The Tour needs more like him. He plays fast, says what he thinks and lets his freak flag fly. He reminds me of Lanny Wadkins. I’ve always liked him. As for his hair—a jet-black mullet on steroids—Perez is closer to pulling off the Alice Cooper look than Alice.
I was watching Perez—are there any other prominent players of Mexican descent on Tour?—as he stood on the 18th green on Friday, miles over the cutline. The other touring pro in his group, David Hearn, was going to miss the cut as well. He was standing on the green, too, waiting on their third. I was eager to see how Perez would handle the final moments of his workweek.
The third, Brian Gaffney, was half-in, half-out of a greenside bunker, waiting for an official to tell him whether he could move stones. He’s a club pro, one of 20 in the field, and at that moment the only one here with a chance to make the cut. I had a rooting interest in him. I watched him make a birdie in a five-for-one playoff and finish 20th at the National Club Pro tournament at my home course, in Philadelphia last month. The top-20 made it to Whistling Straits. Brian, the head pro at tony Quaker Ridge in Scarsdale, N.Y., is one of the oldest players here, at 45. And one of the skinniest--158 after a Snickers bar, or something close to that.
Gaffney was one under par. The cut was likely to be one over, maybe two. All he had to do was not screw up—break a rule or blade his bunker shot or four-putt—and he was going to play on the weekend. A storm was moving in. You could feel the humidity rising. Pete Bevacqua, a New Yorker and the CEO of the PGA, was watching intensely. He wanted at least one club pro to make the cut, of course. I was worried that play could be halted at any moment. If they failed to finish, and Perez had to return Saturday morning to watch Gaffney conclude his round, that would not be pretty.
Gaffney played a beautiful bunker shot, two-putted for a closing bogey, and I couldn’t wait to see what Perez would do next. And he did what I thought he would do. He took off his hat, gave the club pro a hearty handshake, patted him on the chest twice with his right hand.
Perez took about a minute to sign his card, marched out and headed to the clubhouse. I asked him about his moment with Gaffney at the end there and this is exactly what he said: “I played like s---, but he beat the f--- out of me, so congrats to him.”
That’s what it’s all about, folks.
I relayed the quote to Gaffney a few minutes later.
“Is that what he said?” The club pro was amused. “He’s a tough guy. But I’ll tell you what, over the course of the two rounds I felt like I earned his respect.
“I saw him on Wednesday, on the driving range, and I went over and introduced myself and said we would be playing the next morning, at 6:45 a.m. I was going to say something like, 'If I’m in the way, let me know.’ But I’m glad I didn’t.’”
Gaffney made the right move. They headed to their first tee as equals. Not in talent, but in another way. They had both earned berths in the PGA Championship, and they were going to play 36 holes together, which is exactly what they did.
I would guess that if Gaffney and Perez played 36-hole money matches for 100 straight days, Perez would win 90 of them, if not more. But over the two days here, Gaffney played as well as he can play, and Perez played poorly. Perez summarized it perfectly. The club pro beat the touring pro. Gaffney beat the two touring pros in his group, and a bunch of their brethren, too.
Is this game of ours weird or what? And we wouldn’t want it any other way.