LOUISVILLE — This time Franklin’s Kenny Perry got it right on the 18th hole at the PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club, even if it was 18 years too late.
In 1996, Perry took a one stroke lead into the par-5, 18th hole at the PGA at Valhalla, needing only a par to win his first major tour championship. But he hit two subpar shots and missed a 10-foot putt on the hole to bogey it, and then lost in a playoff to Mark Brooks.
On Sunday, Perry came to 18 on his 54th birthday, this time some nine strokes behind the leaders, and nailed a 4-iron hybrid into the green, finishing with a birdie for a round of 3-under 68, and a 6-under, 278, tournament finish.
Perry tied for 27th, collecting $71,000 in prize money.
Perry then pretty much announced he’s through with full time tournament golf.
“I thought that was pretty neat,” Perry said of his finish at 18 this time around. “I hit the same drive I hit in the ‘96 PGA, dead left. Then I hit the prettiest little 4-iron hybrid I’ve hit all week. Hit it stoney. Could have used that 20-something years ago. That would have made my life a big game changer.”
But that was the closest Perry came to uttering discouraging words this week.
He came into this tournament reflecting on the big picture — great memories from his play for the winning United States team in the 2008 Ryder Cup at Valhalla, great memories of 21 tour victories, and the thrills of being a grandfather.
Perry and his wife care each Tuesday for their two grandchildren, and a third is on the way.
“I love it,” he said of caring for grandkids. “It’s a blast.”
Life is pretty great, in other words, for Kenny Perry, who came into this PGA hoping simply to make the cut.
Valhalla measured 7,458 yards for this week, and Perry said that his length is no match for all the young guns currently dominating the PGA Tour.
Such as 25-year-old Rory McIlroy, who came from three-shots back Sunday to win the tournament by one stroke over Phil Mickelson.
“This was about as good as I can do,” Perry said. “I told my caddie, I didn’t really make too many mistakes out there. I just didn’t make enough birdies.
“This is a big golf course for me,” he added. “I hit a lot of hybrids this week, 3- and 4-iron hybrids off my tee shots. I was looking where those other guys were hitting it. They are hitting 7- and 8-irons. I’m back there hitting a hybrid. It’s time to move on.”
The massive crowd that turned out in the humid, damp conditions Sunday made sure they sent Perry home with special memories, singing Happy Birthday lustily throughout his round.
“I’ve never heard Happy Birthday sung so many times,” Perry said. “Every hole. Poor (playing partner Luke Donald) Luke was like, ‘Did you tweet out that it was your birthday? How does everybody know?’ It was funny. It was special. I had huge galleries. Pretty neat way to go out.”
Perry said he dreamed of this kind of swan song here.
“I kind of imagined it like this, but it was pretty special,” he said. “Reminded me a lot of the Ryder Cup ... the enthusiasm, the people, the cheers and the love. I had a lot of friends and family here. It was a very similar scenario.”
Kenny Perry was asked in Sunday’s late afternoon if he feels like the door is closing on his golf career.
He skipped right past the obvious answer and replied: “I’m glad. I’m ready for it. Thirty years of trying to make 3-footers. I’m ready to do something else. It’s been great. I had my time, my chance and my opportunities. It was awesome. I enjoyed every bit of the ride.”
Perry said he will continue to play the Champions Tour periodically.
“I will still play competitively here and there, but I’ve got two grandkids and another one coming, so a lot of things are changing in the Perry household,” Perry said.
His favorite memory of Valhalla? That’s easy, Perry said: The Ryder Cup in ’08.
“My memory is popping the champagne up there on the (clubhouse) balcony,” Perry said. “With the red, white and blue all over you. To me, that was the coolest, best experience of my golfing career.”
But Perry said it’s hard to beat Sunday’s birdie at the 72nd hole.
“With everybody cheering and singing happy birthday ... it was pretty spectacular,” he said. “The roars here at Valhalla are incredible whenever you make birdie or do whatever. They gave me goose bumps coming up the 18th.”
Perry said he will take eight weeks off and look again at his future. But if this is his last time on a big stage, he’ll be at peace with it. He and Campbellsville’s J.B. Holmes have been the face of Kentucky golf in recent years, and Perry said he’s proud to represent the state.
“If I could have scripted it, this is how I would have scripted it at my home state of Kentucky and Valhalla,” he said. “I’ve had great times and sad times and a lot of emotion. This was the way to do it.”
Sunday’s final round did not go so well for Holmes, the 32-year-old Campbellsville native and former star at the University of Kentucky.
Holmes slipped to a 7-over 78 in the final round to finish at 3-over 287. He tied for 65th and took home $18,700.