You’ve got to hand it to Mark Brooks, and Kenny Perry did. A Kentucky native, Perry was hospitable to a fault Sunday, giving away everything but a year’s supply of fried chicken and Derby tickets too.
Instead, Brooks gladly settled for the 78th PGA Championship trophy, an honor Perry seemed to want until proving beyond all reasonable doubt that he was not ready to step up in class as a professional golfer.
Make no mistake. If the better man didn’t win this sudden-death playoff, the grittier man did. Brooks is tougher than a $2 steak, and when he took a bug-eyed Perry into overtime at Valhalla Golf Club, the hunch was they wouldn’t work long.
Indeed, it was a quick knockout. Brooks birdied No. 18 and Perry still hasn’t finished. Brooks won his first major tournament, his third overall this season, and got a leg up on PGA Tour Player of the Year, would you believe.
Perry, meanwhile, picked up his ball, shook hands and wondered what happened. He had a two-shot lead as he reached his 72nd tee box and Brooks, having bogeyed three of the five holes on the back nine, looked like a 150-pound Texan twisting in the wind.
“The crowd was going ballistic,” recalled Perry, “and my heart was racing.”
That’s when Perry turned all this love and affection into a home-course disadvantage. By every account, he is a wonderful fellow. But Sunday, he showed the killer instinct of a ladybug. He hacked his way to a bogey on that last hole of regulation, then unwisely adjourned to the TV booth to observe whether his 11-under-par total would survive four twosomes still out on the course.
Caddie Andy Lano, anticipating a playoff, suggested strongly that Perry leave for the practice range. But Perry, who later said he also expected he had more golf to play, opted instead for CBS. High atop the 18th green, he acknowledged adoring galleries with a clenched fist, an indiscretion that did not go unnoticed by incoming golfers.
Vijay Singh and Steve Elkington failed to tie Perry, but then came the last pair. Lefty Russ Cochran, the other Kentuckian, was sucking wind but Brooks dropped a 6-footer for birdie. Only then, almost an hour after he’d hit his last ball, did Perry think about warming up again.
Too late. Television. He should have known that, just as he might have checked leaderboards late in his round. Some golfers don’t want that kind of information overload. Fine. Give Perry that one. But after botching the 18th hole as thoroughly as Perry did, he surely should have spent intermission at the rockpile instead of behind a microphone.
As it was, Perry’s second tee ball of the afternoon on No. 18 was an improvement over the first, a snap hook, but still he found the bluegrass rough. Brooks showed no mercy. Brooks has an attitude and, like it or not, he wears out weaker opponents. Perry, in another brain cramp, fanned on a short putt Friday after being warned for slow play.
“I’ve never been in this situation before,” said Perry.
Which is true. But he was among the exempt American golfers who didn’t deign to participate in last month’s British Open. Brad Faxon, a fellow player who went, blasted those who stayed behind and has a stinging letter from PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem because of it.
Perry’s reason for passing on the season’s third major was his son’s busy Little League schedule. Family comes first. Good for him. But if Perry intends to succeed on the world stage - and maybe he doesn’t - he should know that some of golf’s most doting fathers consider the British Open a must.
Kenny Perry will return here because everybody will. On merit, the PGA Championship has been awarded to Valhalla in 2000, one year after Medinah. This major continues to upgrade by alternating between smashing new courses and cherished traditional venues.
This year’s field was the best of any major too, and Kenny Perry had it whipped. But he wasn’t ready for prime time, though he went on television anyway.
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