Perry back at British Open

TURNBERRY, Scotland (AP) - Kenny Perry wants to make one thing
clear: He's got nothing against the British Open.
The 48-year-old American is back at golf's oldest major
championship after skipping it last year, a scheduling decision he
made early on because he felt it gave him the best chance to play
for the U.S. Ryder Cup team in his native Kentucky.
While everything went according to plan - Perry made the team
and helped the Americans rout the Europeans at Valhalla - his
decision to skip the Open sparked plenty of debate.
"I think people just didn't understand," Perry said Tuesday
after a practice round at Turnberry. "If the Ryder Cup would have
been somewhere else, I would probably have come over here. But
being in my home state, it really kind of changed my focus and
desire, what I wanted at that point in time in my life.
"I figure, here I am 48 years old, that was my last opportunity
probably to play in a Ryder Cup, plus being in my home state in
front of my home folks, it was just a big opportunity to me. And
that's the reason why I didn't come over here last year."
Perry has never felt especially comfortable playing links golf,
but changes in technology have made it easier for him to adapt.
He's finished among the top 16 three times - including a tie for
eighth at Royal St. George's in 2003 - in five Open appearances.
But his main focus last year was qualifying for the Ryder Cup
team. It's hard to argue with the results: three wins and more than
$4.6 million in earnings, his best year ever on the PGA Tour. Most
important, he got to celebrate at Valhalla, where he had squandered
a lead on the 72nd hole of the 1996 PGA Championship and wound up
losing to Mark Brooks in a playoff.
"The people in Kentucky and my home state, that's what they
remembered me for," Perry said. "And my goal was to get back
there and be an effective player to where my home thought of me
differently as a player. It worked perfectly, my plan of winning
three times, went to the Ryder Cup, played great. And now they
don't even think about Valhalla, the PGA Championship anymore. They
always think about the Ryder Cup."
Perry carried his strong play into 2009, contending again for
his first major title at the Masters. He led by two strokes with
two holes to play, only to bogey them both and fall into a
three-way playoff. He lost to Angel Cabrera on the second extra
hole.
Afterward, he talked candidly of choking away his chance to
become golf's oldest major champion. Now, he's a little easier on
himself.
"It gave me a lot more confidence," Perry said. "I went in
there with a game plan. I just took a different strategy to
Augusta. I went in there early, a week before early, played a lot
of golf there. I really charted the golf course well, kind of
figured out how I wanted to play the strength of my game to play
that golf, kind of set up that golf course, and I played it to
perfection."
Until the end.
"I got too big a lead too fast there at the very end," Perry
said. "Instead of playing aggressive like I'd been playing all
week, I got kind of conservative on the last two holes and it cost
me. It was a good lesson."
Perry bounced back to win the Travelers Championship three weeks
ago - his 13th win in a career that didn't take off until he was in
his 40s. He'll turn 49 next month, and he's fourth in the world
rankings.
"Not too many can say they're 49 and fourth in the world,"
Perry said. "It's pretty neat. It's just taken me a long time to
get there. I wish I was in my mid-20s now and was fourth in the
world, because my mentality, I've changed so much in 20 years out
there.
"It's just taken me a long time to figure it out, to be
comfortable, relaxed, enjoy the people and the crowds and the
traveling. It's just taken me a long time to get to where I really
enjoy the game again. To me, it was a job in the '90s and
early 2000s. Now, it's become fun. I've enjoyed it."
He's looking forward to playing his first British Open since
2006, even though a howling rain swept over the course during the
last few holes of Tuesday's practice round.
"I tell everybody it's like playing on the moon, because it's
so different to me," Perry said. "But I always enjoy coming over.
The fans are great. I have a good time with it. And my game has
gotten better. If I can figure out a way to get in contention on
Sunday, if I played well and could get in contention, yeah, I don't
think I'll back down. I think I'll be ready to go."
He played his practice round with a foursome that included
24-year-old Anthony Kim, who's just a few months older than Perry's
son - and caddie - Justin.
"He's a hoot. He's such a kid," Perry said of Kim. "I was
just aggravating him the whole day out there. I kind of take the
young kids and aggravate them. But it's a lot of fun to me just to
hang out with them."
And still show them a thing or two.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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