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Kenny Perry’s Masters?

Kenny Perry, 2002 US Open, Bethpage Black

Kenny Perry, 2002 US Open, Bethpage Black

It’s Saturday night, between days 3 and 4 of the Masters golf tournament, one of my favorite sporting events of the year and my absolute favorite in terms of television coverage. (For decades, CBS has agreed to have very few advertising interruptions during its broadcast, which is part of what makes the coverage so good, but even better is that they also have no promos of upcoming shows, no telling us 5 times an hour what shows are coming up tonight, or when 60 Minutes will be on, or whatever. Just golf. And, of course, it’s the Masters. Great golf. Great setting. Beautiful shots.) My general preference is to have nothing else going on on Masters weekend, but in recent years, I rarely seem to be so lucky. In 2003, I spent the final day heading to Pullman, Washington with my colleague Michael Halleran for the opening that evening of the annual meeting of Pac 10 (+ Hawaii and Alaska) arts and sciences deans. In 2004, the final day coincided with Easter, as happens from time to time, meaning we had company and couldn’t just watch all day. In 2005 we were visiting my parents in New York. In 2006, I had to take Joel to the airport so he could fly back to LA for school at the end of spring break. In 2007 we had the Easter conflict again. Last year, we found ourselves flying to O’Hare and renting a car to drive east on Masters Saturday, and driving back to O’Hare on Sunday, though we did catch the very end at the O’Hare Hilton. This year, yet more conflicts. The wedding today the daughter of a cousin of Gail’s. Easter tomorrow. Sigh.

But, we do have satellite radio in the car, so we could listen to some of the coverage as we drove down to the wedding, some 40 miles away from here, and listen again as we drove back. We got back to the house as the final pair, Kenny Perry and Chad Campbell, arrived at the 18th green and putted out. The result, as you may know, is that Perry is tied for the lead with Angel Cabrera, Campbell finishing two strokes back. Will Kenny win tomorrow? Will I be able to watch it tomorrow? More later. But for now, a few words on Kenny.

I have never forgotten watching him in 1996, seemingly on the verge of winning the PGA at Valhalla, in his home state of Kentucky, watching the finishers behind him from the broadcast booth, when Mark Brooks came along and tied him. He ran down, took some practice swings, and prepared for the playoff, which he promptly lost. People have said ever since that he blew it by graciously sitting in the booth, as the greatest moment in his career approached, rather than staying loose, hitting some balls, and preparing for a playoff if needed. Well, who knows, but I think it has always hung over him that he could have won a major if only he did the right thing.

Let’s jump to 2002. Gail, Joel, and I flew back to New York for the US Open, held at Bethpage Black, on Long Island, an Open that attracted a lot of interest because it was being played on a public course. In the weeks leading up to it, people came from all over the world — regular golfers — to sleep overnight outside the course and line up to get tee times so they could have the rare opportunity to play on a course prepared for US Open play. (Until then, every Open had been held on private courses, so a regular person couldn’t show up and try the course. And Open courses are set up famously hard, with big rough, narrow fairways, tough greens. So this was the chance for every ordinary person to try out an Open course, and people came.) We spent six successive days at the course, two practice days and the four tournament days. Cameras are strictly forbidden on tournament days, but allowed on practice days. Also allowed is asking players for autographs as they walk from one hole to the next, or when they’re done playing. The atmosphere is informal, players are trying pitch shots or putts from different places, not playing regular rounds of golf.

At the end of a long, hot humid Wednesday, we were working our way down the course to get back past the 18th to the entry area and the shuttle bus to the Long Island Rail Road train station. The 13th is a long par 5. We were finally approaching the green when we heard a sharp bounce and turned to see a ball hitting the paved path behind us and coming to rest. Someone had gone for the green in two and fallen slightly short and to the right. We stopped, went back to where the ball was resting, and waited, knowing the player would soon be upon us. We couldn’t see the player yet, but eventually Kenny Perry emerged, making that distinctive sound of spiked golf shoe on paved path as he approached. He looked at the ball, looked up at the green about 30 feet away, elevated above eye level, walked up to the green, walked back, and quickly struck the ball. He was gone before we knew it. But not before I took the picture above of him returning from the green before hitting the ball.

Ever since then, I have felt a connection to him. And to Chris DeMarco. We left the 13th, walked around the short 14th, a par 3 with a deep valley between tee box and green, then went through the tunnel that connects holes 5 to 14 on one side of a road with 1, 2, and 15-18 on the other side. As we arrived at the 17th tee box, a group was walking off the 16th green and heading our way. Fans put their hats out for Chris DeMarco to sign. (See below.) He was getting a lot of press as a Long Island boy returning home for the tournament. Joel wasn’t into the autograph thing. Instead, Joel (just shy of his 15th birthday) put out his hand to shake. Chris made a fist, Joel reciprocated, and they fist bumped. Even better than an autograph, I figured.

And that’s that. DeMarco’s not there to root for, but we’ll be rooting for Kenny tomorrow. He’s 48, near the end of his regular tour career, but he has never played better. Three wins last year. Ryder Cup star in September. One win this year. He’s our man.

Categories: Family, Sports, Travel
  1. jazzbackcourt
    April 11, 2009 at 8:43 PM

    I stumbled across your blog. It’s very nice. I agree with you that it’s nice to watch a sporting event without being bombarded with advertising. As for Kenny Perry, it would be a nice story if he won, but I don’t think it’s going to happen for him. There are some good players behind him that I think will make a charge tomorrow. If Perry can keep up his excellent putting, he has a chance, but I don’t think he will. Your story was nice though, and I enjoyed reading it.

  2. Ron
    April 11, 2009 at 9:55 PM

    I agree. I don’t expect him to win. But it sure would be great if he does.

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