News & Opinion

At 42, Perez enjoys career revival

Pat Perez makes his home in Arizona, and through the years has become friends with a handful of pro baseball players. There’s something about those guys that leaves Perez a bit envious.

“They play games at 7 p.m.,” he said. “Man, for me, that would be phenomenal.”

Night golf. Sign him up. Perez, 42, doesn’t follow the beat of a different drummer as much as he has his own eight-piece drum kit, the microphones turned up high and his cymbals forever clanging. He’ll tell you exactly what he thinks, always. That’s refreshing.

Perez has been playing so consistently well that it’s far more relevant to listen to what he is saying. A lot of players fade away once they hit 40; Perez got more comfortable with his place in the game, has improved immensely as a player under swing coach Drew Steckel, and has his life in a terrific place. He is days away from being a first-time dad.

Pat Perez
Pat Perez likely won’t be in France for next month’s Ryder Cup, but he has posted an amazing career resurrection at age 42.

© GOLFFILE/EOIN CLARKE
Pat Perez likely won’t be in France for next month’s Ryder Cup, but he has posted an amazing career resurrection at age 42.

"I've had a hell of a two-year run," said Perez, his career earnings now creeping toward $25 million, top 50 all-time. "I really can't bitch about too much. After where I was [career-threatening left shoulder surgery in 2016], it’s fun just to still be around."

Oh, he's around. Perez will tee it up at this week’s Dell Technologies Championship at TPC Boston (tee times) on the inside of that tenuous top-30 bubble, at No. 27 in the FedEx Cup playoff standings. He made it to his first Tour Championship at East Lake just last year, in his 16th year as a pro, and would like nothing better than to return. For some of the game’s more established stars, getting to East Lake would appear to be a birthright. To Perez, in his 17th PGA Tour season, it carries a good deal of meaning.

“If you could give me Maui [Tournament of Champions] and Atlanta [Tour Championship] every year,” he quipped, “I would whistle Dixie and be gone.”

Perez, who captured two of his three PGA Tour titles after his 40th birthday, put himself deep into the mix at the summer’s final two majors, which was seldom-visited territory. He opened beautifully at Carnoustie in the British Open, shooting 69-68. He played Saturday in the penultimate group with England’s Tommy Fleetwood, struggled, and eventually tied for 17th. Still, it marked his second-best major showing in what was his 25th career major start (his best being a T-6 at the 2005 PGA at Baltusrol).

At Bellerive for this month's PGA, Perez opened with a pair of 67s, earning a third-round tee time alongside Adam Scott and Justin Thomas. That’s tall cotton. His overall play at Carnoustie made him believe that, given the right setup (at T-123 in driving distance this season, he is by no means a bomber), Perez could get his nose in there at a major championship one Sunday. Anyone with a pen, notepad and computer should pull hard for such an occasion.

“I’ll have to putt better, for sure,” he said. “I thought I had a good chance at Carnoustie when I played the course on Wednesday, and I did. I just played terrible on Saturday, or else I could have been in that mix a little more. That’s the kind of course that’s kind of more my deal. The U.S. Opens have kind of become a joke, though the next few [notably, Pebble Beach in 2019 and Torrey Pines, where he grew up, in 2021], I’m really excited. Pebble next year, the USGA can’t really screw that one up too bad, at least with the length. They can let the greens go … we’ll see.”

Perez made a run at making last autumn’s U.S. Presidents Cup team and thought he was off to a solid start this season with a spot in the Ryder Cup in mind. He won his first start of 2017-18, at the CIMB in Malaysia, and tied for fifth his next time out, at the CJ Cup in South Korea. How many Ryder Cup points did he haul in? Um, zero. Perez didn’t start adding points this season until he tied for 24th at the WGC HSBC Champions, the lone fall event that counted toward the Ryder Cup.

Accordingly, there is little if any mention of Perez being anywhere in the picture as U.S. captain Jim Furyk narrows down his choices for four captain’s selections. Perez, who finished 39th in the point standings, is realistic enough to know that getting on any U.S. team at this point in his career might be a dream that has sailed on past.

Not that he doesn’t think he’d be an awesome addition to any U.S. team. He would be great entertainment, for sure.

"I’d be amazing with anybody on that team. Anybody,” Perez said at Bellerive. “Put me anywhere on that team, and I guarantee I’d be just like peanut butter and jelly. I’d be amazing with anybody on that team, because I know them all so well now. Maybe I could be an assistant captain. I think that would be amazing. I just need to get the right guy that’s captain.…”

Furyk still has some openings, especially if Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are competing, though Perez might not be just the fit for Furyk and Paris. Next year’s Presidents captain is Woods. He and Perez are the same age and go back to their junior days in Southern California. But on "Out of Bounds," a Sirius/XM radio show that Perez co-hosts with former caddie Michael Collins of ESPN, Perez gave short shrift to a Woods comeback early in 2017, right after Woods shot 77, then withdrew, in Dubai (it was his final official round of the year).

Woods eventually would undergo a fourth back procedure. Before he did, Perez opined on air, “He knows he can’t beat anybody.” His comments lit a fire within the Twitter world, which Perez opted to depart shortly after. He later tried to clarify his comments, saying nobody in golf is rooting harder for Woods than he is, but Woods has a long memory, and forgiveness never has been his strongest suit.

Back at Bellerive, still mulling his future options to be an assistant captain somewhere, someday, Perez added, “It sure as hell won’t be assistant captain next year on the Presidents Cup team. I know that. I couldn’t be a pick … even if I made the team, I’d probably get kicked off.”

Maybe, but he'd manage to make that fun, too. That’s Pat Perez, still pounding those drums, and longing for later tee times.

Jeff Babineau is a former president of the Golf Writers Association of America who has covered golf since 1994, writing for such publications as The Orlando Sentinel, Golfweek and Golf World. Email: jeffbabz@att.net. Twitter: @jeffbabz62