Sometimes the essence of comedy is contrast, making it that much more fun to see Pat Perez storm to his first PGA Tour win in 198 starts at the Bob Hope Classic.
At a tournament where the namesake conjures up the gentle tones of Hope crooning, "Thanks for the Memories," the winner instead features a personal web site whose home page blasts the driving rock-and-roll guitars of Frank Black's "You Ain't Me."
And like a man with his pet/You always seem to forget/That you ain't me/You ain't me …
Now I'm no Loewe or Lerner (no, not Rich Lerner, though he did a nice job this weekend subbing for Kelly Tilghman, but rather the musical comedy writing team known for such classics as "My Fair Lady" and "Brigadoon"), so I couldn't tell you what the lyric "like a man with his pet" means. What I can tell you is that they don't make 'em like Pat Perez on Tour often enough.
They ain't like Pat Perez.
Is his temper sometimes unsportsmanlike? Yes. Can he be brusque and standoffish? Yes. Is he made from the cookie-cutter mold of corporate blandness that Tim (How Does My Suit Fit?) Finchem would like all players cut from? No.
And that's why it was such a blast of desert-fresh winter air to see Perez vault to victory in style, making eagle on the 90th hole of a five-round birdie-fest in which he'd already posted rounds of 61 and 63.
I found myself laughing out loud – in a good way – at my TV set when Perez met his fan club after the win. His crew of rowdies, misfits and buddy Tommy Armour III – perhaps a triple redundancy – stormed the green to mob him and hand him a bottle of something to swig after his interview with Dottie Pepper. Was it champagne? Bourbon? Beer? Moonshine? I couldn't tell, but all I know is Perez took a mighty pull. I don't see Tiger or Phil or anybody else celebrating with such natural, free-flowing gusto, so it was tough to suppress the smiles. Watch out, Kapalua in 2010: Perez's crew is coming.
Plus, it was a long time coming. Those of us who had a ringside seat to Perez's 72nd-hole meltdown at Pebble Beach in February of 2002 will never forget it.
Way back in those more innocent days, the rookie was making his fourth start on tour had a win at storied Pebble in his hands – a four-shot lead with 18 to play. A career-defining 'W' was within reach and would surely launch him to greater heights. What ensued was alternately compelling and hard to watch.
That day in '02, Perez hit a 3-wood out of bounds on 14 and made a double bogey, which he followed up with a club-slamming show that displayed all the nerves of a rookie trying to win at Pebble. But he composed himself, making gorgeous birdies on 15 and 17 that spoke to this prodigy's enormous talent. And then, the denouement – with a one-shot lead on 18, he hit a tee shot that went out-of-bounds right by one lousy foot. A re-tee, another ball lost – this one left, into the Pacific – and next thing you know, photographers had a field day shooting rapid-fire pictures of a man slashing his golf club to the turf like a machete, calling to mind the days of Tommy Bolt in his prime. It was a career-defining meltdown, for all of a national TV audience, Jim Nantz and Clint Eastwood to see.
Everywhere he went for more than a year, and even longer, Perez was asked about Pebble. It festered, and he grew terse.
It was tough for the public to connect with Perez, even though the charisma remained. His combative style is symbolized by his use of boxing gloves as head covers. And his web site, patperezgolf.com, speaks to his unorthodox ways, featuring a logo of crossed golf clubs and a ball on a tee surrounded by flames, an unmistakable attempt to look like a skull and crossbones. It's more Oakland Raiders than PGA Tour, and one could safely assume the boys in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., wouldn't put that logo on any golf shirts anytime soon.
Meanwhile, the years slipped away without a win.
Then, seven years later on a January day in the Coachella Valley, he watched as someone else fell apart; first, Steve Stricker imploding with one tee shot O.B. and another one wet en route to a quadruple bogey; then youngster John Merrick, making bogey on 17 and failing to make birdie on 18. So defining is the Pebble memory, he even brought it up to Pepper, saying he told his caddie he wasn't going to make 18 at the Hope like he did on 18 at Pebble.
And Perez stood tall for two of the more pure golf shots of his life. First, the drive on 18, which was simply nutted. Second, the 6-iron from 200, struck as full of belief as any shot you'll see, to four feet. An eagle being a fairly celebratory way to finish your first career win, the toast from his pals was understandable.
Of course, Perez being Perez, he answered the first question about Pebble with a Perezian, "Jesus Christ, if I have to answer any more questions about Pebble … I hope you guys will drop it."
One hundred and ninety-four starts since Pebble, and the bad boy made good. You couldn't help but smile.
Mulligan of the week
• Really, this category should be gorilla-dunk easy this week. I should go off the board and give Mully of the Week to Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who got the Greatest Mulligan in History when he re-administered the Presidential oath of office to President Barack Obama after misplacing the word "faithfully." It's always a bad sign when Steve Perry of Journey places the word "faithfully" in a more accurate place than the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
But since this is a golf column, we'll turn our attention to the 10th tee on Sunday, when Steve Stricker stood on the tee in ferocious winds not seen since Clooney braved the waters in "The Perfect Storm." Stricker did the back-away/couple of practice swings/towel down the grips/back away again/couple more practice swings thing, waiting for the gusts to subside, but Mother Nature wasn't going anywhere. You just knew with that much stalling, things weren't going to go well.
Alas, Stricker pushed his opener way right, O.B., and then backed that up with a snappy encore, tugging the second one left and wet. When he re-teed the third, Pepper whispered the fatal words into her microphone: "We're gonna make it a sleeve."
Ouch! For Stricker, one of the nicest guys on Tour, a heartwarming comeback story from the past couple of years and a solid Ryder Cupper … can we get that man a mulligan?
Scorecard of the week (tie)
• 69-67-64-69 – Alvaro Quiros, 19-under par, winner of European Tour's Qatar Masters
• 69-69 – Catriona Matthew, 6-under, winner of HSBC LPGA Brazil Cup exhibition.
I'm in a good mood; so two scorecards win Scorecard of the Week. Originally, the plan was to only honor Quiros, as the Spaniard triumphed in a field that included Sergio Garcia, Retief Goosen, Ernie Els, Adam Scott, Lee Westwood and Henrik Stenson.
And what a way to win, as Quiros' 64 on Saturday included one of the greatest rulings of the year. He pumped a drive into the thorniest bush in all of Qatar and was set to lose some ground on the field until somebody noticed a string at the base of the tree, making it "staked," and entitling him to a free drop. Thus, Quiros signed a scorecard that should have read 64* (* = Greatest Ruling of the Year).
Matthew must be recognized as well, however. Granted, it was an exhibition event down in Rio, but the Scottish 39-year-old secured a tidy $100,000 by posting back-to-back 69s while five months pregnant.
Since it's already patently obvious that women are 50 million times tougher than men for enduring childbirth, does Matthew have to rub it in to all us chops that she can go low with a bun in the oven? Well played, Catriona.
Broadcast moment of the week
• How does this one figure: Arnold Palmer will be 80 in September, and he's smoother, more polished and more watchable than any sports TV personality working today?
I guess that's what it's like to be The King.
Palmer stepped in to lend his hosting skills to the 50th annual Bob Hope Classic, after a falling out between previous host George Lopez and organizers. As usual, Palmer was silky, avuncular, empathetic, instructive and charismatic. Other than that, he pretty much stunk.
How devoted was Palmer to the cause? He even grabbed The Golf Channel microphone and interviewed the three amateur winners from the pro-am, working the scene like a tanned, 79-year-old, seven major championships-winning version of Erin Andrews.
His sit-in with Rich Lerner and Nick Faldo revealed his sympathy for Stricker's plight, insight into Coachella Valley winds and a Tommy Bolt story or two.
Arnold Palmer rules.
But you already knew that. I just thought we should all get together and say it again.
Where do we go from here?
• Get the earplugs, the ibuprofen and the breathalyzers ready as we're headed to TPC Scottsdale, where we will see Phil Mickelson make his '09 debut, and at least a half-dozen Tour pros get miffed at the crowd at 16 when they boo a poorly struck tee shot, chip shot or putt.
The Phoenix, errr, uhh, FBR Open – a Super Bowl Sunday tradition unlike any other.
- Steve Stricker
- PGA Tour