Omaha Country Club, with its tall oaks and vertigo-inducing slopes, can make a golfer feel small. Throw in dozens of huge white bunkers and last week's scorching prairie wind, and you have a recipe for soaked shirts, fainting spells and high scores. But at 6,711 yards, OCC was the shortest venue for a U.S. Senior Open since Prairie Dunes in 2006, making it ripe for exploitation by a big hitter with a good short game.
Enter 52-year-old Kenny Perry, a proud Kentuckian, two-time Ryder Cupper, inveterate drag racer and part-time church deacon. On Sunday, Perry seized his fourth Champions tour win and won his second straight senior major by bludgeoning the classic Nebraska layout with his driver—he was first in distance at 300.5 yards per measured drive—and then piercing it with his putter, tying for first with 28.25 putts per round. His five-stroke margin of victory was one off the Senior Open record held by Gary Player and Fred Funk, and Perry set or tied five scoring marks, including lowest final round (63).
"This golf course really favors a long hitter," Perry said after his sweaty triumph. It was an intriguing comment because 48 hours earlier the conventional wisdom was that a short hitter would prevail—an analysis bolstered by the sight of tee shots landing on steep upslopes and bouncing backward toward the tee. After two rounds Perry stood at even par, a daunting 10 strokes back of Michael Allen and well behind a gaggle of accuracy fetishists led by Funk, Corey Pavin and Jeff Sluman, all of whom finished in the top six.
Perry, after self-diagnosing a sway on his takeaway, shot a six-under-par 64 on Saturday to make up eight strokes on Allen. The key, Perry said, was his willingness to play long ball: "I figure I can hack it out of the rough better way up there, as opposed to way back. That was my goal, to just hit it as far up there as I can."
July 22, 2013
Employing the same strategy in the final round, Perry blew up the leader board with a front-nine 30. He finished with nine birdies against two bogeys and one-putted 12 of the first 15 holes. Then, in a final humiliation for the popgun brigade, he hit his tee shot over the green on the 325-yard 17th. Perry settled for par, but by then he was five up and sharing car talk with his playing companion, a very resigned Allen. "Kenny was just playing so well," said Allen, who was four over on the weekend. "He never made a mistake, and every time he got a putt inside of 12 or 15 feet, he made it."
"That was probably the greatest closing round I've ever had," Perry concluded at day's end, thrilled to have finally won a USGA title after decades of striving. "The score was easy, the shots were easy. I didn't have any stress." Reflecting further, he decided that Omaha Country Club had given him the biggest win of his career. "I could never make it happen," he said of his failure to bag a major as one of his 14 PGA Tour wins. (He lost in playoffs at the 1996 PGA and the 2009 Masters.) "Now to finally have a national title to my name.... Yeah, I'm very proud of that trophy."
Perry's grin said it all. He was finally a big shot, thanks to his big shots.
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