News & Opinion

Perez whistles his way down Magnolia Lane

AUGUSTA, Ga. – A year ago, Pat Perez was home in Scottsdale, Ariz., watching the Masters. With his left arm in a sling after surgery for a torn labrum and downing Percocets for the pain, Perez wondered whether he would play again. At age 40, he had to face the possibility that his career was over.

After seven months of rehabilitation, Perez was ready for golf but needed a place to play. He found it via a sponsor exemption into the CIMB Classic in Malaysia, where he would tie for 33rd. After a T-7 in the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, Perez broke through the next week with his second career victory, at the OHL Mayakoba Classic, regaining fully exempt status on the PGA Tour and a spot in this week’s Masters.

 “The funny thing about that whole thing is, if I didn't get that spot (in Malaysia), I may not have started until Sony (in January in Hawaii),” Perez said at Augusta National Golf Club, where he is making only his third Masters appearance in 16 seasons on Tour. “So, you think about it that way, I could have been watching this tournament again, 13 tournaments in, wondering if I'm going to be able to get my card in three more events (via a major medical extension). I'm just excited as hell to be here and be back and to win again, and nothing's going to bring me down.”

Perez arrived Friday at Augusta, where he tied for 45th in 2003 and missed the cut in 2009. He played 18 holes on Saturday andSunday, attempting to reacquaint himself with the course.

“It's longer than what I thought,” Perez said. “The biggest thing here is getting to know the greens. If you haven't played here in seven years, the greens are so hard. I've hit thousands of putts on this course the last four days, just to try to get the speed, because I think some of the green speeds are different.

“I think 10 and 16 are the fastest on the back nine. One is obviously very difficult. Six is just position. Five's the same way. So, I'm just trying to get as much work in as I can, and I'm in a position where I want to be the most prepared.”

Since returning to competition in October, Perez, now 41, has made 11 cuts in 12 starts, earning $2,556,033 and improving his world ranking to No. 62.

In 2016, before his surgery, Perez made only three cuts in 11 starts and earned $47,840.

“I feel like my game's in the best shape it's ever been for a major,” Perez said. “I'm excited to go out here and play.

“Before, I never would have thought I could play that well in a major, and I haven't,” said Perez, whose only top-10 finish in 18 major championships was a T-6 in the 2005 PGA at Baltusrol. “I actually feel like this time my game's in good shape. My putting's good. I feel like I'm in good shape.

“Thursday, obviously, it's going to be tough,” he said, alluding to a forecast that calls for winds of 20-30 mph, with gusts of 40 mph or more. “It's just more of a position game, which I like. When I won in Mexico, it was blowing like hell, too. So just keep the ball down. I'm just tickled to death to be here.”

Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: alex@morningread.com; Twitter: @AlexMiceli