RYAN HUTTON/ Staff photo Surrounded by spectators, Kenny Perry, of Franklin, Ky., hits the ball out of the rough during his championship clinching round Sunday at Salem Country Club.
PEABODY — Kenny Perry could taste victory as he strutted toward the 18th green at Salem Country Club Sunday evening.
Holding a two-stroke lead over playing mate Kirk Triplett and lying all of six-feet from the cup, Perry needed a routine two-putt to claim his second career U.S. Senior Open crown.
What followed moments later was a gleaming smile and jubilant fist pump directed toward the crowd. The ball had rolled in.
“(It feels) Unreal, to tell you the truth” said the 56-year old Perry, who wrapped up the victory with a 72-hole championship record 264 (65, 64, 67 ,68). The win gave Perry his second career Francis Ouimet Trophy, his first coming at Nebraska’s Omaha Country Club back in 2013.
“It’s our goal to always win our championship and I never could get it done on the regular Tour,” added Perry. “It’s such and honor for me to represent this Tour, and this is our Open. All these great names that are on this trophy, just blows me away to be part of it.”
Perry’s championship-clinching round couldn’t have gotten off to a better start.
He piped his opening tee shot down the fairway, stuck his approach and dropped in the birdie putt to immediately bring himself back in a tie for first with Day 3 leader Triplett.
Two holes later, Triplett had his first hiccup with a bogey-4 and Perry took a lead he wouldn’t relinquish. The new owner of the Francis Ouimet Trophy further increased his advantage with a birdie on the par-4 sixth before parring the final 12 holes to seal the victory.
His key to success this weekend? Consistency and putting.
“I putted great this week, “ said Perry, who recently switched to the relatively unknown Argolf putter in an effort to shed strokes. “I grabbed (the new putter) Wednesday. I’m making putts and holing putts all over the place and shooting 16-under par. It all came together. Why it did, I don’t know. But I’m very thankful.”
Perry had a number of clutch putts throughout his bogey-free round. But none sweeter than a par-saving 25-foot bender on 15.
After striking his approach shot just short of the left side bunker, Perry played it safe with a chip shot to an area of the green where he knew the break. It was still a ways away from the hole, but it was a putt he knew he would have a chance at making.
“I couldn’t chip it at the flag because I knew it would go over the green, so I chose to pitch it out sideways to a putt I practiced a lot in the practice round,” recalled Perry. “Doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to make it, but at least I knew the break; I knew what I was going to do.
“That putt won me the tournament, by far. That gave me confidence to get it done the last three holes.”
Trailing by three strokes heading to 16, Triplett made things interesting with his fourth birdie of the day. Unfortunately for him, Perry failed to falter down the stretch.
If it’s any consolation, Triplett’s 72-hole score of 266 (14-under) was also a U.S. Senior Open record for a non-winner.
“I’ve been struggling really since probably April,” said Triplett, who was pleased overall with his tournament performance. “I’m still not going to say I played great golf (but) I scored really well. I had a tremendous short game; tremendous. Made a bunch of putts (and) hit some incredibly difficult chips and pitches and made some pars from some places I had no business making pars from.
“Kenny (just) played beautifully; I was beating myself.”
For Perry, it’s his fourth PGA Tour Champions Major victory and ninth career win.
A boost from Vertical Groove
While Perry’s recent putter swap was the most significant aid to his triumph, his increased accuracy off the tee didn’t hurt either.
Perry switched from a Callaway to Vertical Groove driver about three months ago, and has not only gained distance but accuracy as well.
“To me my ball flies pretty hard right to left. The Vertical Groove Golf driver actually slows the right to left down,” said Perry. “I don’t know if that groove stuff works or I’m just hitting it — I don’t know. This driver, this CG, whatever, it’s a bigger, kind of longer head and it just seems to hold the spin of the golf ball. I’ve driven it great this year.”
Perry is second on the PGA Tour Champions in driving distance at just under 300 yards per strike, behind only John Daly, who also happens to use the Vertical Groove.
The rest of the field
Crowd favorites Fred Couples and Vijay Singh had their chances, but ultimately had too big of a hill to climb after falling behind on Day 3. They finished at tied for fourth (272) and tied for seventh (275) respectively.
Also cracking the top 10 was Brandt Jobe in third, Tom Lehman in a tie for fourth with Couples, Glen Day in sixth, Scott Verplank and Stephen Ames in a tie for fourth with Singh, and Lee Janzen and Doug Garwood in a tie for 10th. Miguel Angel Jimenez finished in a tie for 18th, while Bernhard Langer dropped back over the weekend before finishing in a tie for 18th as well.