If you're among those people who wonder why the best
professional golfers act grim and stoic down the stretch of a
major championship--pretty much as Mark Brooks did to win the
78th PGA on Sunday--just remember the cheery and accommodating
manner in which Kenny Perry went down to defeat. While Brooks
was impassively grinding through the final round at the Valhalla
Golf Club in Louisville, Perry, a 36-year-old Kentuckian who had
never been a factor in a major championship, was giddily being
carried to the round of his life by the home crowd, whose
golf-starved state hadn't hosted a Grand Slam event since the
But no matter how many of the 30,000 spectators were rooting
Perry home, he was all alone as he stood on the 72nd tee with a
two-stroke lead, needing only to drive his ball into the fairway
and make a par-5 to clinch his victory. The amiable Perry felt
the loneliness. His rushed drive, a snap hook into deep rough,
led to a bogey that cracked open the door for Brooks, who pushed
his way into a playoff by getting up and down from a deep
green-side bunker. Perry's magic carpet ride was over, and the
gritty Brooks's fortunes were soaring. The Kentuckian went
quietly in sudden death.
Brooks's first major championship, after six career wins on the
PGA Tour, puts him in the top rank of golfers. Valhalla gave him
his third title of 1996 and made him not only the Tour's leading
money-winner, with $1,290,577, but also the favorite for Player
of the Year.
"I don't think things will change a whole lot for me," Brooks
said after his victory, in the matter-of-fact way that belies
the passion with which he plays. "I don't know what you want me
to say. I was taught a long time ago that if you drop your
guard, then the other guy knows what's going on. So I try not to
drop my guard."
Brooks's lack of emotion was fitting, because the PGA at
Valhalla didn't deliver on any of several fairy tales that it
had promised. The sweetest might have been that of Tom Watson,
who at 46 was making a last-ditch attempt to win his first PGA
and join Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus
as the only men to have won all four Grand Slam events. Watson
came close, playing the first 10 holes on Sunday in six under
par to get within two of the lead, but he limped through the
final eight three over to finish 17th.
Nick Price had his own inspirational tale, spurred on as he was
by his longtime caddie, Jeff (Squeeky) Medlen, who earlier this
year learned that he has leukemia. Price, a two-time PGA winner,
hovered around the lead all week, and like Watson, he was within
two on the back nine on Sunday. Though he stalled and finished
tied for eighth, he and Medlen gave the championship its
For a long time Valhalla also looked as if it would be the site
of Phil Mickelson's first victory in a major. But after the 10th
hole of the third round, in which Mickelson missed a 10-foot
eagle putt that would have given him a three-stroke lead, he was
surprisingly shaky on the greens, missing makable putts by wide
margins and finishing in a tie for eighth.
The cruelest dashed dream, however, belonged to Perry, who lives
three hours from Louisville, in Franklin. A three-time winner in
his 11 years on the Tour, he bolted out of a large pack of
final-day contenders with five birdies on the first 14 holes.
Perry is considered a superior driver, but when it came time to
plant a serviceable shot in the wide fairway of the 540-yard,
par-5 18th, he was overwhelmed by the magnitude of his possible
victory. His backswing put his driver in its familiar slot at
the top, but Perry rushed his forward swing and hit a horrible
duck hook. His ball dived down a steep embankment overgrown with
bluegrass. "The crowd was going ballistic, and my heart was
racing," Perry would say later. He couldn't get over the fact
that so many people were rooting for him. "I was so excited, so
nervous, I just overswung the club," he said. His eight-iron
recovery stayed in the rough, and his third shot missed the
green short and left. After a good pitch-and-run, Perry still
had a right-to-left breaking eight-footer for par that could
have ensured victory. He pushed it.
Suddenly Brooks, defending champ Steve Elkington and Vijay Singh
were still alive, within a stroke of the lead, but rather than
show frustration over having let them back in, Perry bounded to
the scoring tent with his 68, high-fiving fans along the way.
From there he moved into the CBS tower behind the 18th green to
be interviewed by commentators Jim Nantz and Ken Venturi. When
network officials told him to feel free to leave the booth to
hit practice shots in preparation for a probable playoff, Perry
chose to stay, offering his comments as the last two groups
finished. It was a neighborly choice but not a move from the
Nicklaus school of how to win a major championship. "I was
probably caught up in the moment," Perry said later, "and I
probably should have had my butt down on the practice range. But
that television time was good for me--good publicity. I've been
around 10 years out here, and, shoot, nobody knows who I am."
When Singh and Elkington both failed to birdie the 18th, it
looked as if Perry still might get his major championship. As
Brooks came to the final hole needing a birdie to tie, the
gallery surrounding the green started a rhythmic chant of
"Kenny! Kenny! Kenny!"
But Brooks, whose own visibility isn't much higher than Perry's
despite his success this year, fixed the final fairway with his
wary stare and busted his best drive of the day. But his
four-wood approach from 237 yards faded into the bunker in front
of the green. From a tricky sidehill lie, he made a championship
save, boldly carrying his 60-foot sand shot nearly to the hole
and watching it stop four feet past the pin. From there he
nursed home the left-to-right slider to move to an 11-under
total of 277 and the tie.
Having been in the television booth for nearly 40 minutes, Perry
asked for a chance to hit some practice balls. But after
initially granting the request, PGA of America officials changed
their minds and told Perry to go directly to the 18th tee for
the start of the playoff. Although Perry was within his rights
to insist on being allowed to warm up, he deferred to the
officials, who were being pressured by CBS and by the threat of
Brooks had the momentum, and he coldly drilled another drive
down the middle. That put the pressure once again on Perry, who
bounced his solidly hit drive just into the left rough. All but
done in by his native bluegrass, Perry yanked his next shot
farther into the rough. After Brooks drove his four-wood from
229 yards to within 50 feet of the pin, it took Perry three more
shots to reach the green. When Brooks holed his five-footer for
birdie, that was it.
Perry walked past the gallery behind the 18th green in shock.
For the first time all week, he didn't stop to sign autographs.
"He played so well," said his caddie, Andy Lano. "He just found
himself in a whole new place mentally on that 18th tee."
It was probably a place Perry never thought he would be when he
said, after winning the 1995 Bob Hope Classic, that he planned
to stop playing the Tour soon so he could devote time to his
wife and three children and to operating Country Creek, a public
course that he owns in Franklin. If he didn't know it then,
Perry knows now that he has the game to win a major. "This was
good for my career," he said after composing himself. "I'll be
remembered for this."
COLOR PHOTO: KEIICHI SATO Brooks maintained his placid demeanor right to the end of his sudden-death win. [Mark Brooks]