At 41, Pat Perez still fired up to prove his doubters wrong

At 41, Pat Perez is proving his doubters wrong at the Players Championship. Jamie Squire/Getty Images

At 41, Pat Perez still fired up to prove his doubters wrong

PGA Tour

At 41, Pat Perez still fired up to prove his doubters wrong

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Ask Pat Perez something – anything – and the veteran PGA Tour player does not flinch. Ever. Yes, Patrick P. Perez always will let you know how he’s feeling, and what’s on his mind.

Refreshing.

This time last season, Perez was recovering from surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder. He didn’t leave his couch for a month at one point, and he questioned, and wondered, just how effective he’d be playing in his 40s. Or if he’d be playing at all.

And now he’s playing the best golf of his life. He is tied for 10th heading into Sunday’s final round of the The Players Championship, five shots behind co-leaders J.B. Holmes and Kyle Stanley.

“There’s three things,” he explained. “You got to get a doctor, and you hope he does well. And then you’ve got to hope that you can recover. Because you see these guys (other players), they have been out five, seven years and they say they can’t do it.

“I healed well and I was back in seven months … and then I won in the same year. I mean, to go to the ultimate bottom where you think, ‘God, am I ever going to be able to hit a shot again?,’ to being on top of the mountain, I mean, it’s just incredible.”

Perez peaking as pro at age 41

Perez, 41, never has advanced to the Tour Championship in his 15 seasons, but he is fifth in FedEx Cup points, and well on track to make it to East Lake for the Tour Championship. He is ranked 42nd in the world, his highest ranking ever,  and is on captain Steve Stricker’s radar to make this fall’s U.S. Presidents Cup team. That’s another goal he never before has attained: represent his country in a cup. He believes he’d be a great team guy.

Having barely survived the cut at The Players after rounds of 74-72, Perez figured he’d be heading home to Arizona sometime early Sunday afternoon. Saturday, he messed up those early plans, shooting 6-under 66 to climb to 4 under par. He was inside the top 10 when he left the course. Told heavy rains were expected in Ponte Vedra Beach in the afternoon, he quipped, “Perfect. I’ll be in bed.”

The 66 was his best score in this, his 15th trip to The Players and its resident house of horrors, the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, and it tied the low round of the championship. Surely it had to feel good, for once, to muscle the golf course and squeeze it into a headlock, no?

“I don’t know, I still don’t feel like I won,” Perez said. “I played great, but the wind was down and tomorrow’s going to be just as hard and I got all the same thoughts that I’ve had for 14 times here of where the ball’s going to go, and couldn’t go, and all that kind of stuff. So I’m not really over-excited about it. It would be nice to have a chance and that kind of stuff, but it’s not like, ‘Oh, I’m going to go get it tomorrow.’ ”

He enjoyed his pairing on Saturday, drawing Brian Harman, the diminutive left-hander who edged him by a shot to capture the Wells Fargo Championship a week ago. Harman was fresh out of Georgia nearly a decade ago when he was paired with Perez at a U.S. Open qualifier. That could be an intimidating pairing for a young player. Harman said Perez could not have been kinder to him.

“He didn’t know me from Eddie,” Harman said Saturday. “He was so nice to me. I’ve always had a lot of respect for Pat. I respect his game. I respect his candor. He’s a guy that says what he thinks, and I think we could use a lot more of that today.”

Perez ‘just tired of a lot of things’

Perez already has five top 10s in the 2016-17 season, which included his second Tour victory, landed at the OHL Classic Mayakoba, in Mexico, last November.

What has been the impetus for such a turnaround in his play and in his consistency?

“Proving people wrong, for one,” Perez said. “Two, I’m just tired. I’m tired of opinions, I’m tired of … I’m just tired of a lot of things. And I just got past it all and I just …  I have a whole different outlook at life after being gone for a little bit and really not one person caring, other than my caddie or my wife.

“When I came back, to be dropped by Callaway (as a sponsor) and other stuff – MGM kept me, which is great, because they’re awesome. But to be kind of like told at 40, you can’t do it, you can’t come back, we don’t really believe in you, this kind of stuff, it really can get you upset. And it’s a hell of a motivator to come back after being on Tour that long and saying, ‘You know what? I think the best is ahead of me and I’m really going to do my absolute all to prove everybody wrong and be successful.’ And then when I get back on top, which I am, I don’t have to say anything.”

Unless, of course, you happen to ask.

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