PINEHURST, N.C. – As 30-year PGA Tour veteran Kenny Perry went through his entire bag on the driving range at Pinehurst Resort and Country Club on Monday, the relaxed tempo in his swing and routine was evident.
In the locker room after playing nine holes for the day on No. 2 and sorting through his new Puma head covers and signing gloves, five-year PGA Tour pro Rickie Fowler seemed pretty relaxed too.
Yes, Perry has won two Champions Tour majors (2013 Senior U.S. Open, 2013 Senior Players Championship) as part of his regular playing gig in which he’s won six times in the past three years, and although he owns 14 PGA Tour wins, he would love to hang his hat on a U.S. Open title, even if he’s the oldest amongst the 156 playing in this year’s championship.
“This is my 30th year on the Tour,” Perry said.
“I’m fully exempt on the PGA Tour even though I choose to play the Champions Tour. My game’s as good as it was when I won three times in ’08 on the PGA Tour and I won twice in ’09. I was 48, 49 and I’m 53 right now. My game will rival that game that I had back then. It has not changed.”
As he transitioned to the chipping green, Perry elaborated on how his game hasn’t changed, but how the elements that surround him have.
“My length is the same,” Perry continued.
“I have not lost one yard off the tee, but now agronomy and the golf courses have changed. They’ve gotten longer, they’ve gotten bigger. I’m fallin’ back. I can see myself fallin’ behind. You’ve got all these big hitters and stuff. It’s hard for me to compete against a Bubba or Gary Woodland or somebody when they’re on. It’s hard to compete against a power player when they’re on.”
Thus, while he may not hit the ball as far off the tee as younger players, Perry feels that his experience in winning golf tournament puts him in a place that those many years younger would like to be.
“You know it’s funny,” he said.
“If everything lines up correctly, I’ve still got a great shot at winning golf tournaments out here. It’s funny how I look at it. Maybe I’m crazy – I don’t know – but once you’ve won you always think you can win.”
This is coming from a guy who still hadn’t played the much-talked-about, redesigned Donald Ross gem that Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw worked hard to bring back to its original form.
On the other hand, the 25-year-old Fowler had already played it on Monday alongside Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson and liked what he saw.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Fowler said.
“The course is pleasing to my eye. I like the look of it, the old rustic, kinda’ natural look. I was here on Monday and got some rounds in. There was one round in there I played with Phil and got a good look at it.”
Fowler’s not new to the U.S. Open, but he’s been trying to make adjustments to his swing and peaking at the right time to earn the first major win of his career to go along with his single career Tour win to date which came at the Wells Fargo Championship in 2012.
“I’ve definitely grown as a player,” he said.
“This is my fifth year on Tour and I think this is my sixth U.S. Open. I’ve definitely matured and my game is definitely better now than it has been. I missed a bunch of cuts this year, but I’m workin’ on some swing stuff with Butch (Harmon) and I’m workin’ on swing stuff that’ll be good for a longer period of time and hold up under pressure.
“Unfortunately my play hasn’t exactly shown how well I’ve been hitting it and stuff like that, so it’s been a little bit of a transition, but played well last week. I like comin’ into the majors and bein’ prepared. Comin’ off a good week last week, I feel like I’m headed in the right direction and excited about playin’ this week after makin’ a bunch of birdies and gettin’ some confidence in my swing.”
While Perry continued to maintain his consistency and confident outlook on the practice green, Fowler appeared to exhibit a similar cool demeanor while the pile of signed gloves mounted higher.
He continued to talk about how he was trying to peak his game at the right time.
“Going into the year, you really look at the majors, and that’s when I want to play well,” Fowler said.
“Sometimes it’s hard to pick and choose your spots where you play well. Then you wake up one day and hit everything good, and maybe the next it’s gonna’ be a little off. My main focuses for the year were to get ready for the majors. I did well with that at Augusta – I finished fifth there. This was the next one on the list. Like I said, I came off two missed cuts and played well last week. Everything is startin’ to line up to have a good week here.”
Both Perry and Fowler felt good about what they were doing physically with their swing, but pointed out that a U.S. Open tests the mind more than anything else.
“I think you’ve gotta’ play smart in any major,” Perry said.
“It is a physical game but yet it’s a very mental game – all the majors. They really test your ability to overcome diversity and overcome problems. You’re gonna’ get in trouble out there. How you can handle those and then your nerves. You’re gonna’ have a lot of four, five, six-footers that you need to make for par.”
When posed the question of needing to play offensively or defensively, Fowler indicated that it was a hard way to put it.
“It’s not really either one,” he said.
“You have to pick lines where you can play aggressive to. You don’t want to play afraid around here. You definitely still want to play aggressive, but just you have to be smart about it…What’s gonna’ be big this week is missing in the right positions. You’re not gonna’ hit many greens this week, so you kinda’ have to be aware of where you can miss it and where you can’t.”
Regardless of age or experience, both Perry and Fowler are two players who understand who they are and what they are capable of doing on the golf course, and would make a U.S. Open win a memorable experience for all in attendance to remember.
That’s just what is supposed to happen on No. 2 at Pinehurst.