Perry has eyes on Valhalla at Senior PGA Championship

Kenny Perry is well off the pace at the Senior PGA Championship at 3-over 145.

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BENTON HARBOR, Mich. — It’s all quite nice, the way Kenny Perry has envisioned his August playing out.

With the PGA Championship being held at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky., Perry, the commonwealth’s most accomplished player, would use the week as his de facto sign-off from the PGA Tour in front of his friends, family and fellow Kentuckians.

There’s only one thing standing in the way of this soiree; the PGA Championship field is filling up and Perry’s not in it — yet.

A ticket into the starting field of the season’s final major awaits the winner of this weekend’s Senior PGA Championship, and with Perry having won the last three Champions Tour majors he’s entered, he was, at the start of the week, one of heavy favorites.

“I told everybody this is my one-spotter this week because I’ve got a lot of of history at Valhalla,” said Perry. “To me, if I can get back there, it would be a great way to say ‘bye’ to everybody. It’s kind of my way to retire. I’ve given 30 years of my life to the PGA Tour and it would be a great way to kind of end my chapter on the PGA Tour out there.”

Valhalla has played an important role in Perry’s career. He finished second at Valhalla in the 1996 PGA Championship, losing in a playoff to Mark Brooks, but he was a hometown hero in the 2008 Ryder Cup there, making the U.S. team as a 48-year-old. Perry also wants to have his send-off play out this way, at the PGA Championship, because when he’s not a tour professional, he puts on his hat as an active member of the PGA of America.

“Being a golf course owner, I understand the men and women who run the PGA of America,” said Perry. “They’re the backbone of golf. They promote golf and I’ve always been a part of that. I’ve always seen that as very important in my life.”

Perry has tried to return the favor to Kentuckians who were instrumental in his success. Many years ago he built a course near his hometown of Franklin, Ky., about 125 miles south-southwest of Valhalla, and first and foremost on his mind wasn’t to make a financial killing. “I’ve been open 20 years and I’ve yet to make a paycheck,” he says, “so I don’t know how smart a decision that was.”

He built Country Creek Golf Club to give back to the game.

“I was raised on a little nine-hole course, had four bunkers on it,” Perry explained. “If you wanted to play golf you had to drive in a 30-mile radius to go play public golf. I just felt our town would support it, if I built something there, and give them something to enjoy in the hills of Kentucky.”

The local high school plays its matches there and Western Kentucky University occasionally plays and practices there, too. Four high schools across the state line in Tennessee play their home matches at Country Creek, and none of these programs is ever charged for access.

“I let them come play, practice, hit all the balls they want,” Perry says, “for free. Just trying to give back to the kids and give them an opportunity to learn the sport that I love.”

Should Perry be unable to earn his spot out of the Senior PGA — through 36 holes he’s at 3-over 145 with more than three dozen players to catch — all is not lost.

For those players who, one way or another, slip through the cracks of the numerous qualifying conditions, there’s the catch-all “special invitation” option at the PGA of America’s disposal.

With all the letters that are bound to be sent from Kentucky to Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., on Perry’s behalf, the PGA is going to need a bigger mailbox.

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