A good sport
Kenny Perry has thrived by being open and listening to golf's greats
Kenny Perry loves good company. The amiable Kentuckian also enjoys golf and has made a nice living at its highest levels since 1986 when he earned his PGA Tour card.
Whether talking about preserving golf’s legacy with Arnold Palmer or picking Byron Nelson’s brain about his 11-win season, Perry’s ability to relate to his peers has been a hallmark of his 28 years on the PGA and Champions tours that have resulted in 22 tournament victories.
Though he played golf at two high schools in Kentucky, Perry didn’t take a formal lesson until his freshman year at Western Kentucky University. It took five years for him to win on the PGA Tour – at the 1991 Memorial Tournament – but the initial victory propelled him to great heights.
Perry always enjoyed spending time with Palmer and won the King’s event at Bay Hill in 2005. As a rookie, in 1986, Perry played a practice round with Palmer before the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic in the Coachella Valley.
“During our round, I’ll never forget it, Mr. Palmer hit a drive about five yards past me and pushed his chest out and said, ‘Not bad for an old guy, huh?’” Perry recalled. “I was tripping out and said, ‘No sir, Mr. Palmer, you’ve still got it.’”
Perry, who won in the desert in 1995, also remembers Palmer encouraging him to be a good steward of the game.
“Arnie would always grab me by those Popeye forearms and say, ‘Please, just protect the game.’ He wanted me to keep growing it, protect it and cherish it,” Perry said. “I thought that was neat, and I was so lucky to win Bay Hill.”
Perry also had a close friendship with Nelson before the all-time great died in 2006.
“Hanging out with Byron Nelson was just really cool because he would sit me down and tell me stories about his 11-win season,” Perry said. “He would tell me details like what he had for lunch before the third round of his fourth win. His mind was so sharp it was remarkable.”
But as much as Perry loved playing in the Byron Nelson Classic – the tournament he “wanted to win the most” – he never added the event to his victory total.