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Thomas Boswell: Perry Takes Honorable Approach

A Kenny Perry collapse helps Angel Cabrera close a two shot deficit on the final two holes, forcing a three-way playoff in which he edges Perry and Chad Campbell for the Masters title.

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By Thomas Boswell
Monday, April 13, 2009

AUGUSTA, Ga.

Anybody can win. Almost nobody ever loses with the dignity, maturity and wisdom that Kenny Perry brought to his defeat here on Easter Sunday at the Masters. It was his finest hour. He just doesn't know it yet. But he will.

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The world knows what it has seen. Oh, maybe not instantly. The digestion process takes a while. But eventually the truth about this day will sink in. At 48, Perry tried to become the oldest man to win a major golf championship. Despite a career that has rarely dared to rise above "good," and has never remotely approached "great," he has spent the last decade learning to believe that, deep inside himself, he has resources and abilities that he never grasped, appreciated or developed when he was young.

And this week, right up until the very last, he believed he could win the Masters. In the cruel vernacular of games, Perry blew this tournament. After taking a two-stroke lead to the 71st tee, he finished bogey-bogey, hitting some alarmingly poor shots, to fall into a playoff, which he lost, with another bogey, on the second extra hole to Angel Cabrera.

But afterward, without trying, simply by being himself, Perry showed both the best of himself and, in some sense, the best in sports. Perry showed that a completely committed effort, especially in pursuit of things we have been told exceed our reach, sometimes transcends results. Or, at least, rivals them.

Thirteen years ago, Perry came to the 72nd hole of the PGA Championship, made bogey, then hashed up the playoff. On Saturday evening, he talked openly about seeking a kind of golf redemption in this Masters. "I wish I could redo that one," he said. "The 72nd hole is the one that cost me that tournament, not the playoff. You know, that stings. That one is still with me today. I've carried that a long time."

On Sunday, he did almost the same thing. Instead of a redo, he got a replay. At the 72nd hole, just like Valhalla in '96, he hit a drive that he thought was excellent, except that his adrenalin gave the ball extra juice. Both times he ended up in trouble, this time in a fairway bunker. So, both times, after the swing that he thought had sealed the deal, he discovered that he'd lost. Imagine how deeply that must burn. Yet Perry faced it, conceded its truth and talked about it in detail as his wife, his three children and a new son-in-law listened just 10 yards away.

"I've got two to think about now," he said. "I was young at Valhalla . Here, I thought I had enough. I thought I had enough experience. I thought I had enough to hang in there, I really did. . . .

"I have a lot of memories. It just seems like when I get down to those deals, I can't seem to execute. Great players make it happen and your average players don't. And so that's the way it is," Perry said, adding a few minutes later that, "Angel got it done. This is the second major championship that he's won. I've blown two. The only two I've had chances of winning."

Hard as it may seem to believe, the reason Perry could be so brutally honest about himself was because he was, simultaneously, still so proud of himself. For 70 holes, he played the best golf of his life and became the folk hero of this Masters. The poor Kentucky boy who was raised, and still lives in Franklin, a town of 8,079, proved how he had, 16 months from his 50th birthday, risen to the 11th-ranked player in the world.

"I'll look back the rest of my life saying what could have been. But I'm not going to go there. Because if this is the worst thing that happens in my life, my life's pretty good," said Perry, who was down to his last penny 24 years ago when his church lent him $5,000 to keep chasing his golf dream. Since then, improving at a brutally slow rate, but always trending upward, he has won 13 PGA Tour events, $28 million and built a scholarship fund for that generous tiny-town church that now sits at $1.4 million.

"I got my mom struggling with cancer. My dad [85 years old] is struggling. I got a lot of people who are hurting now. And here I am playing golf for a living and having the time of my life," said Perry, who was adored by the crowd all weekend.


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