Tough love made Kenny Perry a tough golfer

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Cigar
smoke is what Kenny Perry remembers. He was "probably seven," and his father,
intense but not abusive, and determined to make his boy a winner, would sit on a
towel, tee up ball after ball and all the while puff on a cigar.


"I would hit them as
fast as I could," said Perry, "and we did that hour after hour. I still smell
the cigar, the grass. Any time I catch a whiff of all that, my dad instantly
comes to me."


Kenny Perry is tied
for first place two rounds into this 2009 Masters. He shot a 5-under-par 67
Friday and, at 9-under-par 135, shares the lead with Chad Campbell.


His father, Ken Sr.,
85, is back in Kentucky, with two stents in his heart. And though Kenny, who's earned more
money playing golf, $28.1 million, than anyone who's never won a major, says he
would be satisfied if his career never went another day, his father continually
reminds him, "You need to win that green jacket."


Which of course is
what the Masters champion is awarded.


Kenny Perry is 48,
and in 1986 Jack Nicklaus, with his sixth Masters victory, became at age 46 the
oldest ever to win the tournament. Perry said he isn't thinking of making


He is thinking of
finishing first.


After finishing a
year of redemption, countering criticism and playing so beautifully and
meaningfully in the 2008 Ryder Cup in his home state, at the very course,
Valhalla were Perry incurred his most wretched defeat, he and the family have
been named Grand Marshals of the Kentucky Derby parade.


"You know everything
is a bonus now," said Perry. "I'm going through each and every day enjoying
life a little bit. I think I can win. I'm still burning inside, wanting to kick
everybody's butt. I've got a will inside of me. My dad taught me. He beat on me
so bad as a kid in any kind of game or sport, I cried all the time. And then he
would laugh in my face as he was doing it.


"You know, he was a
smart man. And at the Ryder Cup when he came up to me and gave me that hug, I
told him it was the greatest gift I could never have given him. That was pretty
special for us as a father and son."


Ken Perry Sr. was an
insurance agent. His greatest talent, it turns out, was selling his son on how
to make it through life, to steel him for whatever might come, as the fictitious
father of song who named his boy Sue.


Kenny Perry Jr. is a
golfer who didn't have the luxury of a high-priced academy, a pro who has raised a
family – three children, the youngest of whom still is older than 19-year-old
Rory McIlvoy, the Irish golfing phenom – and raised huge sums for charity. Kenny Perry's outlook is different from
that of others.


"Where I came
from," said Perry, "the roots I had and my upbringing, to come from a nine-hole
course in the middle of nowhere ... I didn't have swing coaches. I didn't have
this entourage. I didn't have any money, begging, doing whatever I could,
scratching and clawing to get there."


It was 13 years ago
at Valhalla, the course outside Louisville, 130 miles from the Perry residence
in Franklin, where in the PGA Championship Kenny had his greatest opportunity to
take that major. He finished early the last day and, glib sort that he is, was
persuaded to climb into the TV booth while play continued.


He still was there
when Mark Brooks came in to tie Perry, who not having hit a ball in the
preceding hour, was not ready for the playoff won by Brooks.


"Yeah," he
conceded, "I think about it a lot."


So do others. Perry
was so obsessed with atoning for his failure when Valhalla hosted last
September's Ryder Cup, he didn't even attempt to qualify for the U.S. Open and
then, even though exempt, passed up a spot in the British Open. For that he was
ripped in the media. He didn't care.


"I laid all my cards
on the line that week," he said of the Ryder Cup experience. "I put it all on
the line, being in front of my home crowd. I mean I could have been a dog that
week and gone 0 for 4 or 5 and not won a point. I put all the pressure I could
on myself.


"People remember the
debacle at the PGA, how I screwed that up, and all of Kentucky remembered me for
that. I was going for broke, either was going to hit a home run or get thrown
out. And it went my way. Things went my way."


They haven't stopped
going his way. Having missed the cut five of the previous times he played here,
Perry gleefully declared, "At least I can tell everybody I led the Masters once
in my life."


Some stop to smell the flowers. For Kenny Perry, it's cigar smoke.


Greg Norman's Masters return brings cheers and memories

AUGUSTA, Ga. – It was difficult to tell whether the response to Greg Norman on his return to his beautiful hell, applause and cheering so loud and enthusiastic, was out of admiration or sympathy.


"Everybody wants to live in the past," Norman said Thursday, answering a question about what might have been had he not come apart in that final round of the 1996 Masters, a final round he doesn't want to remember and no one else wants to forget.


So many chances to win this major played out beneath the Georgia pines, golf's tribute to spring and history.


Norman was the man of a decade, from the mid-1980s through the mid-1990s. Always in contention. Often in frustration.


Jack Nicklaus edged him by a shot in the '86 Masters, then a year later Larry Mize holed a chip to win over Greg in a playoff. Then after we spent seasons taunting Norman with our thoughts and analysis, he constructed a six-shot lead over Nick Faldo with 18 holes remaining.


At last, we believed, there would be redemption. Instead there was more agony. Faldo not only beat Norman, he beat him by five shots.


Greg returned another half-dozen times, even coming in as high as third in 1999, but then his life changed. There were injuries. His marriage was unraveling. He concentrated on his numerous businesses, from turf grass to boat building. The Masters was left in the distance, his last appearance in 2002.


Until now. Until gaining a place in the field through a surprising third-place finish in last July's British Open. At 54, Greg Norman was back to challenge the greens and demons. In the first round, he met that challenge, shooting a 2-under-par 70.


And naturally, someone wondered, euphemistically of course, if Norman had played that awful final day in 1996 as he did this wonderfully reassuring first day in 2009, "what you might have shot on an earlier Augusta National."


Norman was not fooled. He understood the meaning, and he offered his punch line about us living in the past.


It's a different Greg Norman now. He said his marriage to retired tennis star Chris Evert, after a $100 million divorce from his wife of some 25 years, Laura, has proven to be stabilizing.


Chrissie's calm approach, understanding of competition and willingness to accept Greg's hours of practice, have been a balance Norman said had been lacking.


Greg and Chris talk to each other like husband and wife, and athlete and athlete.


"She wishes she could get back out there and play," said Norman, who in contrast has gone back out there and is playing, "because she sees the passion I have, and I'm at the age – we are both at the age – where golf allows me to do it, or my sport allows me to do it for whatever crazy reason."


And Evert, also 54, unable to race about a court as she did three decades past, finds vicarious success in Norman's golf. "She can still hit all the shots," he said. "But she feels, especially now, she loves the competition, wants to make sure everything is right around me. Because she's been there and done that and wants nothing more than to see me just happy playing golf, whatever happens on the course."


What happened Thursday was Norman had three birdies and only one bogey. And at each green and each tee, the crowd was more than gracious, it was excited.


"Hey everybody loves me," joked Norman. Nothing wrong with that is there? Are you guys jealous?"


Greg, with his swashbuckling ways, with his nickname, "The Great White Shark," was forever a favorite. He took chances. He took figurative blows to the jaw.


"No matter where I play in the world, I've been connected to the gallery," said Norman. "I play with my heart on my sleeve, and I've done very well out of the game. And when I come here, people probably feel for me – some of the things that have happened here -- and really enjoy seeing me back here.


"I played my way into this tournament, which very few people can say at age 54, and it's a feather in my cap, to say the least. A seven-year hiatus, and it feels like the very first time I played here."


That was 28 years ago, 1981, and Norman, albeit on a more receptive course not toughened and lengthened, shot a 69, only one stroke better than the last time he played here, Thursday.


Norman, in his 22 Masters, has finished second three times and third three times. So close. And too far.


"Can a 54-old-man win this golf tournament?" a journalist asked Greg Norman in closing.


"We'll have to wait and see," Norman said with a shrug.

Or, knowing what the Masters has done to Greg, wait and hope.


SF Examiner: Tiger injects life into the Masters

AUGUSTA, GA. – One word. One name. Tiger. And it all changes, in golf, in sports. One name, and we’re thinking differently. One name, and we’re paying attention again.

One name, and the game is on.

It’s not a comeback for Tiger Woods. Not at the Masters. He was here in ’08, as in ’07 and the 12 years before that, two as an amateur.

He missed golf for eight months, June to February, recovering from knee surgery. And certainly golf, so dependent on individual stars, missed him.

But here under the Georgia pines, here where Amen Corner lurks, here where history can be found on virtually every magnificently trimmed fairway or hellishly fast green, it’s as if nothing has changed. Because nothing has changed.

Tiger is playing and thus, weeks of rehabbing and months of doubts to the contrary, Tiger is the favorite.

What a great few days in sports, the Final Four, the beginning of baseball season, the Masters. A tradition like no other, CBS tells us. Tiger Woods, a golfer like no other, and nobody needs to tell us.

What the fans tell Tiger, shout it out, is “You’re the man.” Which he is. Golf is dozens of great players, Phil Mickelson, Anthony Kim, Geoff Ogilvy, Greg Norman, returning to his scene of heartbreak. Golf is one person, Tiger Woods.

Does he do it this week, win a fifth Masters, a 15th major? Or does he fail, and his short streak without a Masters victory extend to four, which would be the longest since he turned pro and, with that crushing triumph in 1997, turned golf upside down?

Either way, Tiger becomes the tale, the focus. Either we’re going to say, “How about Tiger?” or “What happened to Tiger?” The world distilled into good and bad, right and wrong, Tiger or not Tiger.

The Giants and A’s have started their long season.

The 49ers and Raiders are trying to figure into the NFL Draft. All of it is interesting, as opposed to Tiger, who is compelling.

Golf, as tennis, is constructed on personalities. Arnie took the game out of the country clubs. Jack Nicklaus awed us with his success. Greg Norman was exciting, sometimes in a negative way. Then along came Tiger, breaking par, breaking barriers, becoming as much a symbol of progress as a champion athlete.

And now here he is, and here the Masters is, and we can’t help but pay attention and perhaps pay obeisance to arguably the finest golfer ever and maybe the best-run tournament ever.

The Masters the last couple of years hasn’t been as exciting as we remembered. The weather was cold. The course had been toughened. The familiar roars of appreciative fans were lacking.

Tiger the last three years wasn’t quite as exciting at the Masters as we preferred, although two third places and a second isn’t exactly a collapse. More a tease.

“The last couple years, my putting has been streaky here,” was Tiger’s explanation before today’s first round. “I got on rolls where I make everything, and I get on rolls where I didn’t make anything.”

For sure, Tiger has made himself impossible to ignore.

Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on and E-mail him at

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Copyright 2009 SF Newspaper Company


KNBR Radio: Art speaks with Brian Murphy from Augusta


"The guys congratulate golf writer Art Spander on his Lifetime Achievement Award and talk a little Masters."

Listen here

RealClearSports: The Best of Sporting Times and Tigers

By Art Spander

Our Aprils, contrary to the T.S. Eliot poem, never are cruel. In the space of a few days they give us a sporting mixture that is irrepressible, full of baskets, fast balls and here, beneath the pines of Augusta National, 300-yard drives that confirm, no matter what the conditions, spring has arrived.

The NCAA Final Four, with its oversized crowds came first, and were followed by the baseball openers teasing the long season to come. Now, at a site as legendary as the men who have competed here, the Masters.

Now Amen Corner, Hogan Bridge and the man whose very presence has transformed golf into more than a weekend pastime, Tiger Woods.

Have we come down from North Carolina’s brilliant victory over Michigan State? Or Francisco Rodriguez’ excellent relief performance in his first chance for the Mets? It is time to get up once more, to follow Phil and Padraig and particularly, Tiger. Time to pay attention to the 12th hole, called by some the most difficult par-3 in golf, and to greens that as Dan Jenkins once wrote, are as slick as the top of Sam Snead’s bald head.

There is a special fascination with the Masters as the first major tournament of every year. The name itself lends a cachet not found anywhere else in sport.

Golfers last a lifetime. Jack Nicklaus won a Masters at age 46 and was playing the tournament well into his 60s. Greg Norman is back this time, and even the most callous of individuals finds sympathy for a man in his 50s known less for success than for his failures, including that 1996 Masters, when he blew a six-shot lead the last day.

We are familiar with so many of them -- last year’s winner Trevor Immelman, and Vijay Singh and names which persist like the blooms of the dogwood trees.

We remember when Tom Weiskopf took a 12 on that 13th hole, and when Mickelson made that winning putt on the 18th and jumped, what, all of three inches? And we remember when, in 1997, Tiger crushed the scoring record, sending a signal that golf would never be the same, as he became the first African-American to win the Masters.

Since then, it’s been all about Tiger, and this year -- the year of the great return -- the focus is even greater. From his first shot in Thursday’s opening round to his last, he will be the focus, and perhaps the champion. He was gone eight months after surgery on that anterior cruciate ligament and legitimately or not, because we should be wary of doubting the great ones, there were questions of whether he would be his old self. They were answered quickly enough.

Tiger stood over that 15-foot putt nine days ago on the 72nd hole at Arnold Palmer’s tournament and seemingly as if predestined, knocked the ball into the cup to win. The way he had done before the layoff. The way he always will do.

“I really wanted to get into contention,” Woods said Tuesday of his victory, “and feel the rush again on the back nine. I was not in it at Doral; I was on the periphery. The past week at Bay Hill was great to feel that, and to see how my body would react again. It’s been a while and a lot of uncertainty over the months upon months of rehab. And it felt great to hit shots.”

Uncertainty? With Tiger Woods? Deep down, he knew. So did the rest of us. He was going to win again. It was inevitable. That he needed only three tournaments was maybe a surprise. Or was it?

I learned not too long ago, never to be unsure of Tiger. It was the 1996 U.S. Amateur, his last before turning pro a few days later. He was 5-down in the final, at match play, and on a radio broadcast I declared his reign, after winning the previous two years, was at an end.

Not at all. Woods caught Steve Scott and won on the second extra hole, the 38th. Scott could only sigh, “Against Tiger Woods no lead is safe.”

A couple days later, Willie McCovey, the Hall of Fame baseball player, confronted me and said, “How could you give up on Tiger? I don’t care how far teams and players get behind, when they’re good you have to believe in them.”

I believe. Tiger may not win this Masters, but who wants to pick against him? In these wonderful few days of April 2009, not me.

As a reporter since 1960, Art Spander is a living treasure of sports history. A recipient of the Dick McCann Memorial Award -- given for his long and distinguished career covering professional football -- he has earned himself a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And he has recently been honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the PGA of America for 2009.

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