After infamous blowups, Pat Perez learning to keep anger in check

Pat Perez
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Pat Perez is two shots back at Hilton Head.

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. -- Pat Perez easily could have lost control -- again.

After ripping his tee shot out of bounds on the par-4 16th at the Harbour Town Golf Links late in the second round of the RBC Heritage on Friday, he could have displayed the anger that's been associated with him since his rookie season more than 11 years ago.

Instead, facing a six-footer for his double-bogey 6, Perez turned his back to the flagstick while his playing partners putted and surveyed the landscape that had derailed his momentum -- four birdies over a seven-hole stretch -- and threatened to ruin his round. Appearing to gather his composure with a few moments of quiet time, he made the putt and parred the last two holes for a one-under 70 that left him in a tie for sixth, two shots out of the lead.

The old Pat Perez wouldn't have handled things that way.

The reason his name conjures up the phrase anger issues dates to Feb. 10, 2002. Perez, then 25 and looking to break through with his first PGA Tour victory, stepped to the 72nd hole of the Pebble Beach Pro-Am with the lead, only to make triple bogey. In the midst of the ensuing eruption, he tried to snap the shaft of a club over his leg.

Some fans haven't forgotten.

When Perez walked to the 15th green at the Heritage on Friday, he was tied for the lead at six-under par. Fans at the green strained their eyes to see who was walking their way. When Perez, with his long black hair flowing out of his white hat, came into view, one asked, "Who's that?"

"He's the one with that temper," another fan replied quickly.

At least Perez is working on it.

After his round, he spoke of the time he has put in this year with psychologist Chris Dorris. Already this week, Perez has had two opportunities to apply his newfound knowledge.

On Thursday, he was six under through 13 holes when he plopped his second shot into the water at the par-5 5th and made double-bogey. How did the new Pat Perez handle the disappointment?

"I just laughed at it because I couldn't believe someone could play a hole that badly," Perez said, "and I did."

He kept his sense of humor all the way to the clubhouse, even as he played the final four holes in one-over par. He did the same thing after hitting his tee shot out of bounds, sharing a laugh with his caddie, Mike Hartford, before walking into the scoring tent.

"The thing is to always stay on the high and think that you're playing great," Perez said. "Everything's great, nothing's bad. If I sit up on that tee and piss and moan, it could have been a snowball effect. But that hole is over with, so let's get to the next tee and try and make [a birdie]."

Perez doesn't believe he will ever shed the image of having anger issues, but he repeated a mantra surely instilled during his time with Dorris: Only worry about what you can control, and stay focused on the positives.

"To make 13 birdies in two days out here is a really big positive," said Perez, whose only PGA Tour victory in 301 starts came at the 2009 Bob Hope Classic. "At least I know when I screw up, I can come back and make some birdies. That's what I'm trying to focus on the most. I would hope by now I would be different 11 years later. But you know what it's going to take is people seeing me enough and winning, and maybe it will go away. Either way I can't control what they do. I just try and keep myself in check."

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