Kenny Perry’s emotion-filled scorecard since losing the Masters reads thusly: Little sleep. Lot of crying and contemplation. Lot of fatigue. One round of low-energy golf. One lesson learned. And more than a lot of notes and calls from well-wishers worldwide praising the way he handled the heartbreak.
Greg Norman, Phil Mickelson and Scott Hoch — three men who have felt pain at the end of major championships — called. George W. Bush, another who knows adversity, wrote a letter. All told, Perry has received more than 600 e-mails and about 100 cards and letters. The response touched a tired man and prompted those tears.
“The outpouring of love and support from everybody was more emotional to me than anything,” Perry said April 21 from the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, a tournament he had thought about skipping because of his malaise until his sense of fairness kicked in. “I touched a lot of hearts in defeat. To me that’s pretty neat. … It’s been very uplifting to me.”
Blowing a two-shot lead with two holes left can keep a man awake at night. The Masters did that to Perry. A wandering mind leads to tossing and turning. In fact, he woke up Tuesday after his first good night of sleep in a week.
“I’ve been rolling around reliving the last few holes of the Masters,” Perry said. “I haven’t slept much. (So) this morning the alarm went off and scared me.”
Perry used three words in describing his Masters aftermath: tough, hard and good. The first two relate to coming to grips with letting a major championship slip through his 48-year-old fingers.
“I’m still reliving those last holes,” he said. “Here I am for four days, hour after hour, playing beautiful golf. Then it all boils down to a terrible chip shot on the 71st hole (a skull from behind to in front of the green). I’ve relived that chip over and over again. It’s still the shot to play. I just need to get better at that shot. … I went from hitting the greatest shot of my life (stiff at 16) to hitting the poorest shot of my life in a matter of 20 minutes. Hopefully I’ll draw from this.”
Perry said his oldest daughter, Lesslye, took the loss hardest. He says she couldn’t stop crying all night. “It’s tough when people are hurting for you,” he said. “I looked at her and said, ‘I’m the one who should be crying here.’ ”
That’s the beauty of Kenny Perry. He’s open as a book. He wears his candor like most pros do logos — on his sleeve, chest and just about everywhere else.
The day after the Masters, Perry drove home to Franklin, Ky. He got home around 4 p.m. and got a hug from his ailing 85-year-old father, Ken. “He just felt sorry for me,” the son said. That night, he didn’t sleep at all. So he got out of bed at 5 a.m. and drove through the countryside for three hours to clear his head and think more about those closing holes.
“It was just my time to reflect,” Perry said of his cruise past the horses and cows and crops. “It was all very positive. I haven’t beaten myself up that much. To me this will give me a shot of confidence rather than deter me.”
Perry says he’s OK with the loss. He says he stuck his neck out and tried his best. He insists the C-word doesn’t apply.
“I wouldn’t consider it a choke,” he said. “I was nervous, yes, but I was enjoying it. I actually thrived on it more than I ever have.”
That said, he talked of his heart rate and blood pressure rising and his swing speeding up. Under those circumstances, he tends to pull shots. “I knew I felt a little different than the first 16 holes,” he said.
Hence he exited having learned a valuable lesson. The message is what former Texas football coach Darrell Royal called “Dance with the one that brung you.” Translation: Keep doing what got you there.
That’s where Perry went wrong. His mindset changed between the 16th green and 17th tee.
“I can’t get ahead of myself so fast,” he said. “When I was two up with two to play, I thought, ‘Make two pars and win.’ I didn’t play that way all week. I was playing what I’d call conservatively aggressive. Then all of a sudden when I knew I had to make two pars, I got defensive. Instead of playing aggressively, I tried to hang on and that’s the worst thing you can do.”
His next obstacle is finding a way out of the fog.
Perry says playing Thursday in his first round since Augusta will be one of the “hardest things I’ve ever done.” He’ll try to find a way to jettison the past and focus on the present. Like most things involving psychology, that’s easier said than done. Perry knows; it took him a long time to forget about his playoff loss at the 1996 PGA Championship.
“I just need to get over it,” he said.