News & Opinion

Perez stands out from Tour’s gilded class

ATLANTA – There is one thing missing from this week’s Tour Championship. (Well, three if you count Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson, who didn’t qualify.)

Underdogs.

The 30-man field for the Tour Championship features the richest of the rich. No one won more money or amassed more FedEx Cup points this season. Now these golfers will play for a $10 million FedEx Cup bonus, in addition to the $8.75 million purse (tee times: http://bit.ly/2d5pHyV; reset FedEx Cup standings: http://bit.ly/Wy720S; FedEx Cup scenarios: http://bit.ly/2xbxmV7)

This isn’t a case of the rich getting richer. It’s the richest getting even richer. Tell socialist Bernie Sanders to look away before it’s too late.

Lacking much history, the FedEx Cup long has been a cash grab, and it’s successful because it coerced the game’s best players to tee it up for four events at the end of the season. Still, you, the average fan, may have a tough time getting worked up over whether former FedEx Cup champ Jordan Spieth adds another giant check to the almost $45 million that he already has won and the estimated $150 million that he has made in endorsements by age 24. Or whether Rickie Fowler needs another $10 mill when he seemingly is in every other commercial during each golf telecast. He doesn’t need a wallet. He needs a rake. 

There are some exciting new faces at East Lake Golf Club here this week who should have long, lucrative careers, such as Patrick Cantlay, Tony Finau, Xander Schauffele and Jon Rahm. They’ll make more in the next decade than they can spend.

So where are you going to find an underdog whom you can get behind?

Enter Pat Perez.

At 41, he is the oldest man in the field. He has come back from shoulder surgery that could have ended his career. This is his first Tour Championship.

“I didn’t think it was going to take me 16 years to get here, but it has,” Perez said. “I’m just going to enjoy every minute. It’s awesome to be here; that’s all I can say.”

He’s an old guy (relatively speaking) in a young man’s game and a short hitter (relatively) in a long hitter’s world, and he knows it. He speaks colorfully and without a filter, which makes him engaging and funny and as real as you want. Some classic Perez from Wednesday:

On what’s behind his late-career surge: “It took me a lot longer to mature, if you can even use that word for me.”

On the rise of young players such as Spieth, McIlroy, Jason Day and Hideki Matsuyama, among others: “Everybody misses Tiger [Woods] and wants Tiger to come back, but we’re talking about a 20-year gap since Tiger, and a new generation has taken over. They’re playing amazing. I just go about my business, stay under the radar, try to make a lot of money and move on. I’ll be very proud of what I’ve done this year because these guys are so good. They hit it a mile past me. The fact that I kind of kept up has been amazing.”

On how tough it is to win a tournament (Perez won the OHL Classic at Mayakoba this season): “I can only imagine what kids 15 to 21 are thinking watching Jordan and Justin Thomas and Hideki and these young kids: I’ve got to beat that or I’m not going to be that great. I had Tiger, and that’s what everybody had to compete against. He was just one guy, and you knew you were going to lose to him at least nine times a year, which was fine because that gave you a lot of other tournaments to win. Now, any of these kids can win. They’re winning 15, 16 times a year combined. That doesn’t leave a whole lot. I’m already thinking about the Champions Tour: carts, a couple of beers, nightlife and three-day golf. I can’t wait.”

On not ranking among the Tour’s longest drivers (he’s 110th, at 291 yards): “It’s frustrating because I see these guys, perfect builds, they're tall and skinny and they've got all this strength. Then there's me, who kind of waddles around. I don't like working out. I like to sit and do nothing… My game’s a lot harder to play than Dustin Johnson or Jason Day or Justin Thomas, guys who fly it 320. If I could play from their drives, who knows how much money I could make? But I can’t. I’m 60 yards behind them.”

On his chances of winning the FedEx Cup from the 11th position on the points list: “For me, it’s about the same odds as Powerball, because all of the top guys would have to play bad, which they haven’t done all year, and do it all at once, and I’d have to win.”

On whether he plays Powerball: “No chance. I bought a can of chew instead. I got more enjoyment out of that.”

On how he’d spend $10 million if he somehow were to win the FedEx Cup: “Quickly.”

An underdog is in the house.

Gary Van Sickle has covered golf since 1980 for Sports Illustrated and Golf.com, Golf World and The Milwaukee Journal. Email: gvansick@aol.com; Twitter: @GaryVanSickle