Quick, what do Nolan Henke, Jay Don Blake, Ted Schulz, Rocco Mediate, Andrew Magee, Larry Silveira, Mark Brooks and Kenny Perry have in common?
a) They play for the Barcelona Dragons of the WLAF.
b) They are Lotto winners.
c) They are members of Winners Anonymous, the self-help group of good players and near goods who have won this year on the PGA Tour to deafening quiet.
May 26, 1991
The answer is c), touring pros who have cashed a winner's check in 1991, yet still need IDs to get a bucket of balls at the practice range. The latest player to join the club is Perry, a backyard grease monkey from Franklin, Ky., who last week beat up on the defending U.S. Open champion (Hale Irwin), the Player of the Century (Jack Nicklaus) and the Tour's leading money winner this year (Corey Pavin) to win—barring any last-minute TV replays—Nicklaus's swank Memorial Tournament, in Dublin, Ohio.
Using a bizarre putter shaped like the Stealth bomber and leaving no doubt he could drive the ball down an alley without scuffing it, Perry carved up Nicklaus's normally diabolical Muirfield Village course to the tune of 15 under par for 72 holes. More than that, once he took the lead with a course-record 63 in the second round, Perry did not fold—even knowing he had never won while at Western Kentucky, let alone in five years on the Tour; even knowing that Nicklaus, only five shots back with 11 holes to play, was trying to become the first to win on the Senior and regular tours in the same year; even knowing that Pavin, playing in the final twosome with Perry on Sunday, was trying to win back-to-back tournaments; and even knowing that Irwin, playing just ahead of him, was trying to make enough birdies to rattle Perry's inner ear.
Yikes! Irwin had eight birdies on Saturday (for a round of 65) and seven more on Sunday (66). He made up five shots on Perry in the final round, catching him for the first time, at 13 under, with a birdie at the 11th hole. They played can-you-top-this until Perry's bogey at 17 dropped him into a tie at 15 under and ultimately sent the two of them back to the 490-yard par-5 15th for a playoff.
You don't think the 45-year-old Irwin was salivating? Hale Irwin, three true-grit U.S. Opens among his 19 Tour wins, versus Kenny Perry, two career runner-up finishes and a tie for 12th as his best showing this year? Irwin, who had birdied the 15th four times, versus Perry, who could barely sleep the night before the final round? Irwin had even laid a little psych trap for Perry in the morning paper. "I don't think it's going to be a giveaway to Kenny Perry," Irwin told The Columbus Dispatch. "There is such a thing as getting out in front and not knowing how to stay out in front." Only snag was, the 30-year-old Perry wasn't even experienced enough to get psyched out. He bought the paper but didn't read the quote.
So what happened? Irwin drilled his tee shot off a tree on the right side of the fairway. The ball ricocheted across the fairway into the short rough on the left side. After laying up, he mishit a wedge that went left of the green. Perry, meanwhile, was laying a drive down the watering system and then hitting a two-iron practically into the jar for a near double eagle.
Perry two-putted from 30 feet for birdie, Irwin made bogey, and the $216,000 first prize was Perry's. He'll put some of the money into the '67 Chevy Nova he is fixing up. "I'm building it into a pro streeter," he says. "I'm gonna put some big ol' tars under it." How Perry's Nova will go over in the valet lane at Nicklaus's dinner party next year is up for question.
Still, three things came out of all this: 1) Irwin, who missed a playoff at the Atlanta Classic by a stroke a week earlier, may be his old self next month in his favorite little tournament, the U.S. Open; 2) Nicklaus, who has won a pair of Senior events this year, is not that far from winning on the regular Tour; and 3) Perry can play a little. He has even made two holes in one this year, including one on the 208-yard 16th en route to that 63 last Friday.
Oh, yeah, and one other thing: It seems there is such a thing as Perry's getting out in front and knowing how to stay there.