Sometimes we get to talk to important people in the golf world. When we do, we try to ask them questions they don't always get. Welcome to our new occasional feature The Back 9, where we do just that. This week, we have the wise Kenny Perry on the other side of the mic.
Q: A lot of your success has come later in your career, with you winning 11 times since 2001. What's changed in your mind from when you were a younger golfer to now that has made you so successful later in your years?
Kenny Perry: It's due to quite a few things. One thing is my kids are grown and gone, my youngest daughter graduated from SMU (two weeks ago). I've been able to really focus on my golf, and see how good I was. I don't seem to have the pressures that I put on myself when I was younger. The kids were home and I wanted to go home, and it all changed in the mid-2000s, and my career really leapfrogged when I knew my kids were doing really well, I think that's the big reason for my success.
Q: Do you think it's harder for the younger guys to win these big tournaments and do you think it takes a lot of experience to learn how to compete in these majors?
Perry: I think it plays a big part in it, but that's not saying a young kid cannot win. I think when I was younger I had a lot more abilities than I do now, but my mental side and my mental pressure, my mental thought process is a lot better now than when I was a kid. Sometimes talent overtakes stupidity out there and you're able to overcome and win golf tournaments at a young age. But you look at Tiger Woods, who had such a mental presence at a young age, he was able to dominate.
Q: People talk to you a lot about Augusta a year ago, but I'd rather focus on the majors looking forward. You've had some success at St. Andrews in 2005, and with your ability to turn the ball over, do you feel you can compete at the British this year?
Perry: If my health is hanging in there with me, yes, I still think I can win golf tournaments on the PGA Tour. I really do, I've hired a trainer and lost a lot of weight and I'm started to get stronger and it showed up (two weeks ago), and I played better for the first time this year.
Q: And do you feel St. Andrews is a course that sets up well for you?
Perry: Perfect, it's a hookers dream, you can hook it all day, and hit it in the other fairways and miss all those pot bunkers.
Q: How hard will 17 play at the Old Course with them moving the tees back 40 yards?
Perry: Forty yards is forty yards, and it will definitely change your sight lines.
Q: You have a pretty cool mini-tour story, rounding up money from different groups of people and eventually paying your own way to try and make it. A lot of people don't understand how hard it is to make it in the mini tours. Can you compare the pressures of a mini-tour golfer, making money to pay rent and survive, to that of a PGA Tour star, where money isn't an option and winning is?
Perry: It's a lot of pressure on those young kids playing the mini tours. I had groups of sponsors to give me money each week to pay my apartment rental and car payment, and sponsors were putting up all the money and I had pressure on me to make money or lose my sponsors.
I needed to play well, I needed to play well immediately. I actually lost a set of sponsors and then borrowed all the money from a bank to do it on my own, and I lost all that on an open note. And then I got some more sponsors and then I finally made it. It was a pretty neat deal where Ronnie Ferguson, an elder at my church, said he'd sponsor me to get me through the qualifying school and if I get through it that's where I give five percent of my earnings to Lipscomb University, which we do.
It's been a neat story of how I needed a lot of help along the way, and a lot of people gave me money to make it and now I was able to pay them all back and double their money. Now it's just me, and my career is pretty set so I've been trying to win championships so I don't have a lot of pressure, but those kids have a tremendous amount of pressure on them to try and survive qualifying schools and try to get through the Hooters or Tar Heels tours, because that's their livelihood, and my life is set.
Q: Was there any point where you said, "Maybe I can't do this," after you failed a couple of times in the mini tours?
Perry: Well yeah, I had three kids, my first daughter was born in '84 and in '85 my son was born in the fourth round of the final stage of qualifying school so I had to pull out there.
But in '86, it was my last chance. If I didn't make the tour in 1986 I would have been doing something else because it was my last go at it. It was definitely a done deal if I didn't get through that qualifying school in 1986.
Q: That's crazy because I'm sure there are stories of guys that were great golfers that had three or four bad years and are now selling insurance or something.
Perry: Well, Woody Austin was a bank teller, and he came back out and has been very successful on the PGA Tour. There's a lot of those stories out there. There aren't a lot of guys that had parents with deep pockets where they could go out and do whatever they wanted. Most guys have stories of sponsorship help somewhere along the way to help them make it on the PGA Tour.
Q: Give us a little insight into your Transitions lenses. How are those helping you?
Perry: Oh they've been great. I had Lasik Surgery twice, and I still had to wear contacts. I've always had sore eyes, red eyes, and frustrated all the time with them. I wore Transitions before I signed with them, and then I got hooked up with them and it's been a neat partnership for me. It's made my life simpler and easier, and they change with the sunlight and I don't have to squint anymore and I don't have headaches and it's been a neat deal.