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Published: Saturday, 5/31/2008

Ryder Cup dream alive for Perry

DUBLIN, Ohio - Kenny Perry will celebrate his 48th birthday in August. That will start his two-year countdown to the Champions Tour, meaning his days are numbered on the PGA Tour.

There is not a lot for which Perry wants. He has won nine times and posted top-10 finishes 88 times as a professional. He has earned millions and given away millions. It's true. For 22 years he has been donating 5 percent of his winnings to Lipscomb University in Nashville to fund scholarships for kids from his home county in Kentucky who desire a faith-based education. Those career earnings recently passed $22 million.

Thirteen years ago, he took out a $2.5 million loan to buy land and then design and build a public golf course in his hometown of Franklin. In an era of can-you-top-this course design, Perry created one to be enjoyed by mid-to-high handicappers and charges modest greens fees. And, yes, when he's in town, he's behind the counter.

Kenny Perry is one of the good guys in sports. That aw-gosh smile is as genuine as that homemade swing, and ego is always checked at the door. He doesn't figure golf owes him anything, but if he might, he'd like just one teensy-weensy little favor before he heads off into the sunset.

The Ryder Cup will be staged in Kentucky for the first time this September when the U.S. and the International teams square off at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, a two-hour drive from Perry's front door. When the band strikes up "My Old Kentucky Home" at the prematch ceremonies, he wants to be there donned in red, white, and blue.

"Everybody knows I'm trying to make that Ryder Cup team," Perry said. "That's my only goal this year. I'm just laying it on the line."

Perry currently resides in 17th place on the Ryder points list. The top eight automatically make the team and four other players are selected by captain Paul Azinger.

Under the circumstances, it's hard not to be a Kenny Perry fan.

That's why his final-round 81 at the Players Championship, after three days of being in the heart of contention, hurt so much. That's why his playoff loss to Ryuji Imada in Atlanta a week later was such a dagger to the heart. That's why his inability to get even top-10 points last week in Fort Worth prompted Perry to call it "a week lost."

And that's why his share of the lead after 36 holes of the Memorial is such a boost.

Perry knows that "every shot, every hole matters right now," especially with Azinger on site at Muirfield Village.

The captain inferred earlier this week that candidates for the team would have to win their way into a captain's pick.

"That kind of bummed me out a little bit," Perry admitted.

Because winning isn't easy. It's not just dealing with Tiger and Phil. It's the unpredictability of the majors and the sudden predictability of the flat-bellied 20-somethings on tour, nine of whom have already won this year.

So the Memorial, where Perry has won twice, presents itself as, perhaps, his best bet.

Yesterday's round featured an impressive rally. Perry started on the back nine and dropped three strokes to par on his first five holes. Then he chipped in from 35 yards for a dramatic eagle at the par-5 15th hole and rallied for a 1-under-par 71.

"I hit the shot of my life to kind of keep the ship from sinking," he said. "It lifted my spirits and turned the round around."

And kept his 2008 Ryder Cup dream alive.

Contact Blade sports columnist

Dave Hackenberg at:

dhack@theblade.com

or 419-724-6398.



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