Kenny Perry sat in a group with the rest of his U.S. teammates at the Presidents Cup three years ago, pouring out their hearts to captain Jack Nicklaus on how much he meant to them and how badly they wanted to win.
Of all the things to say at such a poignant moment, Perry thanked him for Muirfield Village.
The course Jack built was where Perry captured his first PGA Tour victory in 1991, when his oldest daughter was in second grade and his youngest child still in diapers.
“Magic always happens for me here,” Perry said Sunday after closing with a 3-under 69 for a two-shot victory at the Memorial.
He walked off the 18th green in good company.
Perry joined Tiger Woods as the only three-time winners of the Memorial.
At 47, he became the oldest winner in tournament history, replacing Tom Watson, who was 46 when he won in 1996.
And waiting behind the green was his family – wife Sandy, all three kids, together for the first time when he won a tournament. His oldest, Lesslye, is engaged. His youngest is a sophomore in college.
“I just love this place,” Perry said. “If I retire, I need to build a house right on this golf course.”
Home is Kentucky, and Perry’s victory was a huge step toward getting there for the Ryder Cup in September, the only tournament that truly matters to him this year.
He wants to be part of the U.S. team so badly that Perry is skipping his 36-hole qualifier Monday for the U.S. Open. He never cared for Torrey Pines, feels he is too old for 36 holes of pressure in one day, and figures he can earn more Ryder Cup points by playing next week in Memphis and the week after the U.S. Open in Hartford.
He felt enough pressure at Memorial.
Perry squandered two good chances to win in the previous three weeks, closing with an 81 at The Players Championship and watching in utter shock as a fairway metal ricocheted off a tree and into the water to lose a playoff outside Atlanta.
And when he arrived in Ohio, he heard Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger say that it would take nothing short of winning for a player to make the team at Valhalla.
The message came through as clear as the skies over Muirfield Village.
“My time is running out,” Perry said Sunday. “It’s getting close to September. I said, ‘You need to make it happen, and you need to make it happen fast.’ And to be able to get the win here is huge.”
Perry finished at 8-under 280, the highest score to win the Memorial in 23 years. He earned $1.08 million, which translates to 1,080 points toward the Ryder Cup. Tour officials brought him a chart showing Perry at No. 5 in the standings.
“Oh, sweet,” Perry said.
“You’re going to get there,” Nicklaus reassured him.
In some respects, Perry felt like he won a U.S. Open at Muirfield Village. A wet spring caused the rough to be the thickest it had been in years, growing to 6 inches or more by the end of the week. Eight miles of drainage made the course fast, especially the greens.
And just like a U.S. Open, winning was more a matter of attrition.
Perry was the first player to reach 8-under par with a 12-foot birdie on the ninth holes. No one in the last three groups broke par on the back nine, not that they didn’t have their chances.
Mathew Goggin, whose three-shot lead was gone in three holes, stumbled home to a 74. Mike Weir, who needs one more victory to be the biggest PGA Tour winner from Canada, chipped in for birdie at No. 9 to tie Perry at 8 under, and never made another birdie. He closed with a 71, along with Justin Rose and Jerry Kelly. All of them tied for second.
The magic Perry talks about was more like good, solid golf.
“Kenny was the only one that never looked like he put himself in a position to really get in trouble,” Nicklaus said. “He played smart. He looked like a guy who knew what he was doing.”
Perry found trouble, but he always escaped.
He was in a back bunker on the par-3 12th, where anything less than solid would leave the ball in the sand or over the green in the water. It came out perfectly, and he holed a 10-foot putt for par.
“Best bunker shot I’ve ever hit in my life,” Perry said.
Two holes later, he was in the deep rough above the 14th green, which should be familiar to longtime viewers of the Memorial. Countless are the replays of Woods leaving his chip from the same spot in the rough, then holing out for par and a big fist pump.
Perry needed only one try, a perfect flop that settled 3 feet away for par.
More perfection came from a 5-wood that landed softly on the green of the par-5 15th for a two-putt birdie that gave him control of the tournament. “That was money,” Perry said. “That was butter.”
Weir made some great escapes, but not enough, and he never recovered from an approach that came up well short on the 10th and one that sailed long on the 11th, both leading to bogey, a product of deceptive wind.
“When you win a tournament, you guess right a few times,” Weir said. “Today, three times in a row I guessed wrong.”
Rose, one of four players with at least a share of the lead Sunday, had to save bogey from a bunker on the 12th and watched his approach carom off a sprinkler on the 13th. Kelly never had the lead, but he had a chance to get within one shot on the 17th until missing a 3-foot birdie putt.
That cleared the way for Perry to capture the Memorial for the third time and receive a warm handshake from Nicklaus.
“I hadn’t seen you all week,” he told Nicklaus walking off the 18th green. “It’s nice to see you here.”
He loves the course Jack built. And he was quick to point out another course Nicklaus designed – Valhalla.