Monday, June 2, 2008

The 19th Hole: It's a Different Day

Kenny Perry became a three time champion of the Memorial Tournament this weekend. He did so with what he described as a perfect round of 69 to win two clear of a host of players. Perry performed extremely well on a Muirfield Village course that had major championship styled setup. Greens were running nearly 14 on the Stimpmeter and missing the generous fairways resulted in a play out of US Open-esque rough.

The Kentuckian’s performance perfectly explains why Kenny Perry is not going to play in the real US Open in two weeks at Torrey Pines. What? That’s right. Kenny Perry is going to skip playing in the US Open despite being one of the hottest golfers on the planet right now.

Unfortunately for Perry, he was not exempted into the field for the Open meaning that he would have to play in a 36 hole qualifier on Monday in order to get into the field. Even still, that would not be a sure thing. And, apparently, Kenny Perry just does not do 36 holes in day.

Alex Miceli talked to Perry for Golfweek and quotes Perry saying, “I will never do that again. It just wears me out. I’m not physically capable of being – it ruins too many weeks. It ruins my next week and it ruins trying to prepare that week for the tournament. It takes too much out of me.”

Yes, Perry is 47 years old and 36 holes are too much for many people. Still, it is the US Open, a major championship, and a tournament that offers double Ryder Cup points for the players. Perry has made no secret that he has planned his 2008 schedule exclusively around making the Ryder Cup team for Valhalla. Captain Paul Azinger recently said that it would almost certainly take a victory this season to make the American team. Perry took that message to heart in his attempt to win.

Even if he did not win at Torrey, though, a solid finish would all but assure him a place on the American squad in September. To endure 36 holes to qualify does not seem like a viable reason to skip the Open and leaves the question of “Why?” unanswered. The second reason, though, does not seem much better: Kenny Perry simply does not like Torrey Pines. “I’ve only played (Torrey Pines) three times in my career so that kind of answers that question. I don’t like it. Never have.”

Therefore, since Perry does not want to play 36 holes or involve himself at a golf course that makes him uncomfortable, he is going to take his clubs and go home for that weekend. I simply cannot understand this decision. It is nonsensical. I can understand the willingness of players to skip regular events, the non-majors. Even for as annoyed as I am that several top players withdrew from the Memorial – a special event – I can at least understand how one can arrive at skipping the event in comparison to the US Open.

There are some professional golfers that will never even sniff the US Open because they cannot qualify through local and sectional avenues, or they just are not good enough to get into the Open on their own merits. Thousands of amateur golfers try to qualify for the Open each year regardless of how preposterous the course setup is or how well it may favor their games (hint: not at all). The bottom line is that if someone has an opportunity to play in a major championship, the general rule is that you do not turn it down.

Though Perry would have to go through sectional qualifying to get into the Open at Torrey, his play of late indicates that he almost certainly would have been a lock to get in the field. In effect, Perry is admitting that it is not worth it for him to try to win a major. It is good enough to walk away from this season to make the Ryder Cup team and perhaps never win a major in his career. The heartbreaking attempt in 1996 at the PGA Championship – at the same Valhalla hosting the Ryder Cup in 2008 – must have been good enough for Perry.

That is a personal decision. Everyone sets their own professional goals in their lives and has a different threshold of success. The biggest issue, though, is the slap in the face of tradition and the USGA that Perry is performing by not even attempting to qualify for the Open. If Perry were exempt, he would show up to Torrey. But, since he is not, he is telling the USGA that their major championship is not good enough for his effort.

Yes, players complain like mad at the Open about the setup. They generally should. It is usually ridiculous. Despite the complaints, though, they handle it and get through it because the potential to win a major championship is worth the pain. Or, at least, so conventional wisdom says. Perry made a different decision. It is not conventional and, in my mind, is not wise either.

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