As much as we like to think the accomplishments of professional athletes are a product of their talent alone, the fact is, they are human and emotions often play a huge part in the outcome.
Flashback to the 2008 season on the PGA Tour; Kenny Perry, at the spry young age of 48 made it a goal of his at the beginning of the season to earn enough points to qualify for the Ryder Cup, which would be played at Valhalla, in Perry’s home state of Kentucky.
At the time it seemed a lofty goal, after all, there aren’t many 48-year-olds in the annals of Ryder Cup history, but that season, Perry’s determination trumped all other factors. Not only did he make the team, but he admitted that it was, “some of the best golf I’ve ever played”.
Valhalla, the site of his greatest triumph hasn’t always been kind to Perry though. It was also the site of his most agonizing professional moment, a playoff loss to Mark Brooks at the 1996 PGA Championship. It’s a memory that lives with Perry to this day, when asked about why it’s so important to play well there, Perry said, “I lost the 1996 PGA Championship there...people remember me for that, I’ve got some serious motivation going back there, to prove I’m better than that”.
Whether good or bad, Valhalla certainly stirs Perry’s emotions, which is why it’s no surprise that one week ahead of the PGA Championship, to which Perry received an invitation, he played some of his best golf in years this week at the 3M Championship.
It’s also no surprise that he needed every bit or talent and emotion that he could muster on Sunday because Bernhard Langer did his best Bernhard Langer impression and refused to give-in down the stretch.
What looked like a Sunday walk in the park halfway through the final round, turned into a tense battle to the end. After opening up a four-stroke lead at the turn, Perry went into “cruise control” as he put it because he figured “he was going to run away with this”. Fortunately for Perry, he caught a glimpse of a scoreboard prior to the 17th “refigure this."
Changing strategy that late in the game is often disastrous, but Langer opened the door with just a par on the par-5, 18th wayward approach into the grand stand (which was planned), a free drop and a pitch that came up well short left Perry 15-feet from a victory. A 15-foot putt with everything on the line is no easy task, but Perry, in classic pre-Valhalla fashion, steadied his nerves and placed it in the center of the cup.
Up next is a trip home for what might be his final major start, where it all began, and you’ll have to excuse him, if for once, he can’t keep his emotions in check next week.