Monday, June 30, 2008

The 19th Hole: The Perry Parade?

Several weeks ago, Kenny Perry was the butt of many jokes in the media for his decision to skip playing the US Open at Torrey Pines because he did not want to play in a 36 hole qualifier and his personal distaste for the layout. After winning the Memorial tournament, Perry said he was not going to change his schedule and that he would continue his season motivated by his desire to make the Ryder Cup team one last time. At 48 years old, Perry would likely not have another opportunity to make a serious run at the team – much less at a course that he loves in Valhalla in his native Kentucky.

Despite remaining firm that Perry should have played the US Open as the second hottest golfer on the planet right now, he deserves kudos for remaining firm to his plan. With a final round performance aided by a sandy for eagle, Perry won for the second time this season at the Buick Open at Warwick Hills, Michigan. It is his second win in four starts.

In 18 starts this year, he has made all but one cut – his first start of the year at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Although he has two wins, he could have easily had three were it not for a freak bounce at TPC Sugarloaf in the AT&T Classic. Instead, he has a second place finish, a third at the Hope, and he finished sixth last week in Connecticut.

The good form certainly took a lot of hard work, practice, and is coming together at the right time. But, it is also not as much of a surprise as you might expect for a guy that is two years away from the Champions Tour. That is because Perry has made a conscious decision this season to schedule his year around events in which he has historically done well.

Take this week’s event, for example. In his career, he has won at Warwick Hills, and has finished in the top 15 on seven occasions. Last week’s host course – TPC River Highlands – has seen Kenny Perry finish in the top 15 in 7 of his last nine starts there. With track records like those, he can go into those events with much higher confidence that he will finish in the top 10 and earn significant Ryder Cup points.

Perry came into the week sitting on sixth in the Ryder Cup standings, which awards one point for every $1000 earned in official events except majors, where they are doubled. For the victory, Perry got $900,000 and will take 900 Ryder Cup points as well. That will propel him the fourth on the points list. It is critical to keep moving up the points list because only the top 8 in points are guaranteed a place on the team. Captain Paul Azinger revamped the selection criteria for these matches to place a greater emphasis on money won and performance in the majors. Given that Perry skipped the US Open and did not qualify for the Masters, he lost two opportunities to earn double points. Also, with eight automatic spots on the squad, there is still time for other players to unseat Perry’s current position. By winning twice (almost three times) now, even if that were to happen, it seems almost impossible that he will not make the team in one fashion or another.

The strategy paid off for Perry. It seemingly is a borrowed one, though. For years, PGA Tour officials, fans, and corporate sponsors have lamented about the reality of the Tiger Tour. Tiger Woods plays around 18 events per year in a regular season. The events that comprise that schedule do not change from one year to the next. The latest addition to that schedule was the Wachovia Championship at Quail Hollow. The schedule is set by Woods to allow him to play the majors, the Buick events (since he is sponsored by them), the World Golf Championships, the events that he serves as host, and a handful of other events in which he has an excellent track record. Woods only plays on courses that he likes and that suit his eye. He does this to prepare for majors, attain success consistently, and have a sense of order to his season.

Perry borrowed on this idea with a goal that is slightly less lofty than Woods’ grand slam grandeur, but he has employed it splendidly. In the end, he will make the Ryder Cup team and may very well be the anchor of the American squad.

I love it when a plan comes together.

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