With its blooming azaleas, gorgeous fairways, and charming theme music—not to mention Jim Nantz's soothing voice—I never thought it was possible for the Masters to leave me feeling sick.
Today it did, as Kenny Perry fell victim to one of the cruelest twists of fate in recent memory.
In the interest of full disclosure, I have a bit of a soft spot for Kenny Perry. I've attended many golf tournaments, and I dare anyone to find a nicer guy in all of sports. He'll chat with you, he'll give you a smile, he'll give you an autograph that you can actually read instead of scribbling his initials.
In other words, he's pure class.
I've been rooting for Perry all week, and his prospects for a major title looked pretty good this afternoon. He churned out consistent pars and sank a long birdie putt on the notoriously nerve-wracking 12th hole.
Kenny's chances looked even better after stiffing his tee shot inside the leather at the 16th. But, as afternoon turned to evening, it all came unglued.
As so often happens to golfers who are unfamiliar with major championship pressure, especially those who know in the back of their head that this is their final opportunity of a lifetime, mental errors and plain old jittery nerves took over.
Approach on 17: Airmail.
Chip on 17: Skulled.
Putt on 17: Simply decent.
Drive on 18: Dumb (how many times did Nick Faldo say to take three-wood?).
Approach on 18: Yanked.
Chip on 18: Best he could do from that position.
Putt on 18: Heartbreakingly close.
Throughout this entire procession, you had to feel Perry's hopes for a green jacket withering away into oblivion. Yes, he had a shot to win in sudden death. But with his momentum sucked away and the difficult 18th and 10th holes designated for the playoff, the advantage clearly swung to Angel Cabrera and Chad Campbell.
If only Kenny would have put one more bit of "oomph" into his chip on the first playoff hole, he'd be sitting in Butler Cabin, one of the most deserving champions in recent memory. Instead, he tied with Cabrera and consoled Campbell as he exited the stage.
Then, as Perry looked over his approach on the 10th, one thought went through my mind: "Please don't pull a Len Mattiace." I was referring to the first playoff hole of the 2003 Masters, when underdog Mattiace yanked his approach way left, and his ball became trapped behind a Georgia pine.
Sure enough, in my eerily prophetic ways, Kenny yanked his shot on a similar line. Thankfully, it didn't land behind a tree, but by then the damage had been done. A simple two-putt was all it took for Cabrera to win.
Mind you, this is no disrespect to the newly green-jacketed Cabrera. Sometimes you're just destined to win. His putt on 16 kept the momentum on his side after Perry's stiff tee shot. He made a few knee-knockers on the 18th to stay alive.
Cabrera even earned himself a rarely seen "Seve" (saving par after hitting a tree) on the first playoff hole. (So, Kenny Perry and Chad Campbell each owe him $2).
Still, it's hard not to feel for Kenny Perry. When Bill Macatee interviewed Perry after the final putt, he was clearly holding back tears (a frequent occurrence for Masters runner-ups who come heartbreakingly close, but to no avail).
Kenny said it took him three years to get over his infamous 1996 PGA Championship loss to Mark Brooks at Valhalla.
No matter what he says, how positively he tries to spin it, or how high he keeps his chin up as he looks to the rest of this year's majors, it'll probably take Kenny just as long, maybe even longer, to get over this one.
Which is an awful shame. After playing so solid, so consistent, so impressively good despite the roars emanating all around the course, he bogeys three of his last four holes.
After grazing the cup on both a putt and chip on the 18th, he walks away with a pat on the back.
It's an injustice.
There's not a more deserving winner on tour. Kenny Perry may not be the best player never to win a major, but he certainly is the kindest never to win one.
Thankfully, Perry is still young at heart and ready to take over Bethpage in June.
If you have the opportunity to get out to Farmingdale this summer, make sure you stop by a practice round to tell Kenny "hi."
Other golfers (cough—Tiger, Vijay, Sergio) will ignore you and breeze right by—forgetting the fact that you paid $55 to stand in the sun and watch them hit a ball around.
But Kenny will greet you back just as warmly, chat about the course, and take the time to autograph anything you want with his full name, in clear handwriting.
Unfortunately, those kind and classy gestures are rarely seen in athletes anymore.
Well done this week, Kenny—and here's hoping that nice guys never finish last.
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